A new study heralds better training for lawyers in EU law and procedure.

Simultaneously with the publication of this edition of the Gazette, there is a conference taking place in Brussels called ‘Building upon good practices in European Judicial Training’. Don’t be fooled into thinking that ‘judicial training’ doesn’t affect lawyers. One of the quirks of Euro-English is that ‘judicial’ doesn’t mean just judges.

So the conference covers training of judges, prosecutors, interpreters, court staff – and lawyers, too.

The conference is the occasion for the launch of a study on the state of play of lawyers’ training in EU law. I declare an interest because my organisation, the Council of Bars and Law Societies of Europe (CCBE), is one of the two joint authors (the other is the European Institute of Public Administration in Luxembourg). You will not be surprised to learn that the study finds room for improvement, and makes a wide range of recommendations, many addressed to the CCBE.

I don’t know if you can remember how much EU law you were taught in your law degree, or on qualifying courses to become a solicitor, or afterwards in continuing legal education. The typical answer, I believe, is ‘not much’. And even when taught, it is usually hidden – like unpalatable medicine for a sick child – in something sweeter that will slip down more easily, for instance in our own familiar national law.

To give you a flavour of how the new study proposes to tackle under-teaching, which appears to be widespread, here are some of its recommendations:

  • Given that there is free movement of lawyers in the EU, there should be a recommended EU law curriculum which all European lawyers should be taught. For instance, knowledge of how the EU works, its main legal doctrines and how they are interpreted by the Court of Justice of the European Union; knowledge of how to find, research and use EU law, and so on (there is a long list);
  • Again, given the EU’s free movement, there should be a system whereby lawyers who have undertaken continuing legal education in another member state should have that training recognised back home within the system operated by their home bar or law society – in other words, a formal system of mutual recognition, to be proposed by the CCBE;
  • To improve the quality and relevance of training in EU law, national training providers should be encouraged to ensure that their EU law training is: practice-oriented, since too much is academic and lecture-based; skill-based (advocacy, drafting, fluency in use of IT and web-based resources); and that information about it is easily accessible to lawyers;
  • There should be more educational visits and exchanges: for instance, national exchanges of lawyers to learn about other member states’ legal systems, particularly during the trainee phase; more use made of opportunities to visit the European institutions, including the Court of Justice; more use made also of existing EU exchange programmes, such as Erasmus (student exchange) and Leonardo da Vinci (vocational training), and placements in the EU institutions; and the Court of Justice should itself become involved with national training providers in educating practitioners about its litigation practices and procedures;
  • Bars, law societies and training providers should make better use of existing EU funds. There are frequent calls for proposals for EU funding for training lawyers, and they are not always used;
  • There is a European Judicial Training Network which trains judges and prosecutors (developing training standards, coordinating judicial training exchanges and fostering cooperation between EU national training bodies). What about a similar structure for lawyers?
  • More should be done about language and access problems. Small jurisdictions have problems gaining access to quality content on EU law, and so the European Commission is urged to continue to put online training material on the practical implementation of EU law. Regarding language, the report encourages the CCBE to work with national training providers to enable the reuse of existing training materials in other EU languages; and the existence of online legal dictionaries of the type used by jurist-linguists in the EU institutions (already accessible through the e-justice portal) should be publicised frequently;
  • Finally, the EU-funded project currently being developed by the CCBE to build a European Training Platform (now entering its testing phase) is significant. The purpose of the project is to construct a website on which lawyer training courses from around Europe will be uploaded by the training providers running them.

It is planned that it will be housed on completion on the European Commission’s e-justice portal, so as to be accessible to all; this should not have problems of language access because of the commission’s policy of translating material into all official languages.

The hope is that future lawyers will be better trained and better resourced in EU law and procedure.

Jonathan Goldsmith is secretary general of the Council of Bars and Law Societies of Europe, which represents around a million European lawyers through its member bars and law societies. He blogs weekly for the Gazette on European affairs