Eugenia Gay Rosell: interview with a President of the Catalan Bar Association


Eugenia Gay Rosell — Dean of the Barcelona Bar Association, President of the Catalan Bar Association.We talked to her and asked what the situation is with the jurisprudence in Spain.

When did you become a lawyer? And why did you decide to go into jurisprudence?

I graduated in Law at the University of Barcelona-CEU Abat Oliva and from a very young age I always knew that I wanted to be a lawyer; a vocation that my father -also a lawyer- passed on to me and from whom I have learned to love this profession. I admire his tenacious fight for fundamental rights and for doing the impossible to improve the legal profession from his position in the world of justice.

Generally speaking about Barcelona: how are things going with the legal profession?

The legal profession is one of the professions that has undergone the greatest transformations over the last few decades; changes that have accelerated with COVID-19 and the digitalisation of society.

For the legal profession, it has been a year of great adaptations, as the governmental authorities have issued a veritable tsunami of regulations with the aim of mitigating the impact of the pandemic in social, economic and legal terms. Regulations which the lawyers have had to assimilate, along with other types of agreements and resolutions regarding the organisation and functioning of the judicial bodies during the confinement and de-escalation towards the so-called new normality.

On the other hand, it has been an opportunity to advance in the implementation of remote working and the holding of all types of judicial proceedings by means of virtual presence. The law firms have demonstrated that they are technologically prepared for the changes to come.

How to become a lawyer in Spain? What procedure should a person go through?

After obtaining a university degree (formerly a Bachelor’s Degree) and passing a master’s degree in accordance with the provisions of Law 34/2006, of 30 October, the person must go to one of the 83 Professional Bars that exist in Spain, and become a member of a professional Bar in accordance with the provisions of the General Statute of the Spanish Legal Profession.

Is it a paid procedure? If so, how much will it cost?

There are certain economic rights that vary according to each Bar Association, as well as others that correspond to the Spanish National Council Bar, the highest body representing the legal profession in our country.

Let us not forget that, as is the case in any professional organisation of this type, members are obliged by statute to support the expenses of their Bar Association.

How long does it take to study in order to become a lawyer?

Undergraduate university studies are planned for 4 years, to which we must add another year to complete the Master’s Degree for Access to the Legal Profession in accordance with the provisions of Law 34/2006, of 30 October.

Although this time may vary depending on certain situations, as well as the individual’s own pace; for example, if you combine your studies with a job or if you decide for an academic itinerary that contemplates obtaining a double degree, combining your Law studies with others such as Business Administration and Management, Politics, Economics or any other.

In average, how many lawyers graduate and how many of them become lawyers (advocates)?

The legal profession is a very demanding profession in which it is essential to have a solid vocation; of the approximately 20,000 law graduates in Spain, around 5,000 aspire to enter the profession, which would add to a census of almost 155,000 practising lawyers in Spain.

In the area of the Barcelona Bar Association alone, the number of new members registered last year was 538 people, the majority of whom (87%) were practising lawyers.

What are the most popular law / counseling firms in Barcelona?

Barcelona is a city in which many of the most important law firms in the sector have settled, either because they have opened an office here or because they have been established in the city from the beginning.

Within the ICAB’s sphere of competence, there are around 1,200 groups of lawyers who have joined together to practise collectively under the Professional Partnerships Act, although there are also many colleagues who practise individually in their own offices.

What is certain is that at the Barcelona Bar Association we try to ensure that law firms have the tools they need to be able to offer the best service to the public at all times; it is the responsibility of each lawyer to position his or her firm and personal brand in the market.

Are there foreigners among lawyers? If so, what procedure do they have to go through to be able to practice in Barcelona?

Yes, indeed. In fact, the Statute of the Barcelona Bar Association establish that registered Community lawyers are those who, with a professional qualification obtained in another Member State of the European Union, are registered in the Bar Association’s Register of Community Lawyers in order to practise the profession on a permanent basis.

Furthermore, registered Community lawyers are subject to the same rights, obligations, prohibitions and incompatibilities as other members of the Bar.

Is it possible for a Ukrainian citizen to become a lawyer in Barcelona?

Yes, if the necessary conditions are met in accordance with the Statutes and in line with the regulations in force on the freedom of establishment of the legal profession in Europe.

What are the most common spheres of law?

The four most common areas are those corresponding to the major jurisdictions into which the Administration of Justice is divided: civil, criminal, contentious-administrative and social.

However, we live in an increasingly complex world where the ramification of law into more specific areas is a logical consequence of the evolution of society itself; and it is normal to find, within each of the jurisdictions, areas that – by their very nature – receive differentiated treatment by specialised bodies: family, commercial, capacity, gender violence or minors, among others.

On the other hand, although without losing the general vision of the law, there is an increasing demand for greater legal specialisation in accordance with the needs of the sector in which our clients operate, and which we must understand in order to offer comprehensive and appropriate advice.

Can a lawyer in Barcelona be a mediator?

One of the functions of the legal profession is to mediate in order to resolve litigation, since one of the principles deeply rooted in our professional ethics is to always prioritise the consensual way and the rapprochement of the parties.

On the other hand, the simultaneous practice of both professionals is possible -always preserving confidentiality and avoiding possible conflicts of interest- if the necessary conditions and qualifications are met, which in the case of the professional mediator consists of obtaining a specific qualification.

Is there a fierce competition among lawyers?

The legal profession is one of the sectors where competition has grown the most. The number of male and female lawyers has increased exponentially over the last few decades, so that whereas in 1980 there were fewer than 28,000, today there are around 155,000 practising lawyers.

On the other hand, many international firms – including consulting and auditing firms – have long since settled in Spain, having consolidated and taken up a significant share of the market. In addition, other types of competitors have emerged that, relying on the possibilities of Legal tech, offer alternative products to those that until now have been dispensed by law firms.

Finally, we have to bear in mind that there are other types of professionals who, although we cannot consider them as competitors in the strict sense of the term, make functions related to the world of law and which may overlap with those made by lawyers, such as social graduates, administrative managers or real estate agents.

What about unfair competition? If so, is there any punishment provided? Is there some kind of code of ethics for lawyers?

One of the essential functions of Bar Associations within their territorial scope is, precisely, to ensure harmony and collaboration among their members, preventing unfair competition among them.

On the other hand, although a few years ago advertising was a forbidden field for the legal profession, nowadays it is allowed to advertise in a broad sense and with the only limit of respecting the regulatory rules on unfair competition, as well as the respect of the deontological rules of the profession.

The Bar Associations, within their territorial scope, must ensure that lawyers act diligently and loyally in the setting of fees, prosecute professional intrusion – which is also an offence under Article 403 of the Criminal Code – and punish conduct that contravenes the Code of Ethics and the statutory rules of the profession.

How are things going with the use of IT solutions in jurisprudence?

New technologies are now inseparable from our professional practice; and not only because they are mandatory as a way of relating to the Administration of Justice in accordance with Law 18/2011 of 5 July, but also because of their undeniable strategic sense when it comes to optimising the internal procedures of law firms.

The pandemic has brought to light a paradoxical situation, because although law firms and legal services companies have long had an acceptable degree of digitalisation, during the almost three months that the confinement has lasted in our country, they have hardly been able to work beyond advice and proceedings considered urgent and which could not be adjourned.

Does an electronic court work in Barcelona?

One of the first demands of the Barcelona Bar Association when the first state of alarm was declared was that the holding of those proceedings, that had not been suspended because they were considered urgent and could not be postponed, could be carried out by videoconference.

Furthermore, the possibility of holding all types of judicial proceedings by means of virtual presence has been provided for as a priority in Law 3/2020, of 18 September, on procedural and organisational measures to deal with COVID-19 in the field of the Administration of Justice.

Likewise, although this possibility has been envisaged on a temporary basis linked to the situation we have been forced to face, the use of new technologies has been one of the pillars on which the modernisation of the Administration of Justice has been based, as it could not be otherwise given the times in which we live.

Can attorneys apply to court remotely?

Professionals are obliged to deal with the Administration of Justice using the technological means that have been made available for this purpose; thus, as a general rule, documents addressed to the judicial bodies must be submitted virtually.

Moreover, the virtual presence for the celebration of all types of acts is a possibility that professionals can request from the judicial bodies. However, the exceptions for which judicial acts must be carried out in person before the judge are specifically regulated.

Has quarantine become a catalyst in this matter?

The pandemic has been a turning point in many aspects; and in terms of the use of new technologies, it has highlighted the need to invest in them, not only to ensure compliance with health and social distancing measures, but also to optimize the functioning of the Administration of Justice.

What are the average terms of consideration of cases (criminal, civil).

According to the document Justicia dato a dato published annually by the statistics section of the General Council of the Judiciary -the governing body of the Judges in Spain- the average time taken to process (civil) cases before the Courts of First Instance is around 7.9 months. While criminal proceedings, in their investigation phase, take an average of 2.4 months and their prosecution before the Criminal Court takes around 9.2 months.

However, experience tells us that it is common – more than would be desirable – to come across proceedings whose processing takes much longer than this estimated average. And as Seneca said, “nothing resembles injustice more than delayed justice”.

Do Barcelona lawyers have problems with law enforcement bodies? (denial of access to clients, artificial obstacles in work, etc.)

In Europe, under Article 82 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU), several Directives have been issued with the aim of harmonising an area of freedom, security and justice, to facilitate police and judicial cooperation in criminal matters with a cross-border dimension and to ensure compliance with minimum standards and rights for the defendant.

In this sense, European Directive 2013/48/EU of 22 October and Directive 2012/13/EU of 22 May have regulated the minimum content that the legislation of the Member States must contemplate in matters as important as legal aid or the right to information for citizens in criminal proceedings, including access to police reports, so that the defendants and the professionals who assist them can exercise a defence with all the guarantees.

Can a lawyer be disciplined? If so, what for?

The Organic Law of the Judiciary regulates a disciplinary regime that all civil servant and professional bodies acting in the field of the Administration of Justice must respect.

Thus, and in accordance with art. 546.2 of the Organic Law of the Judiciary, the professional practice of the legal profession is subject to civil, criminal and disciplinary liability, as appropriate. Disciplinary corrections for their actions are dealt by the Courts and Tribunals themselves in accordance with the procedural laws.

Likewise, when an action contravenes any of the obligations foreseen in the Statutes of the Legal Profession or of the Professional Bar in whose territorial scope it takes place, the Council or the Commission in which it has delegated may apply the corresponding sanction.

What do you do about unscrupulous lawyers? How do you deal with them?

The General Statute of the Spanish Legal Profession establishes a sanctioning regime that classifies the conduct that is reproachable in disciplinary terms; and according to the seriousness of the same, the sanctions may even entail temporary suspension from the professional practice or even expulsion from the Bar.

Is there an association that protects the rights of lawyers? What protection mechanisms are used? What immunities do lawyers have?

The main association that protects the rights of lawyers is precisely the Bar Associations; an institution that has been specifically provided for in the Magna Carta and which, in accordance with Law 2/1974 of 13 February on Professional Associations, has the essential purpose of representing and defending the professional interests of the group, among others.

Likewise, art. 542.2 of the Organic Law of the Judiciary provides that “in their actions before the courts and tribunals, lawyers are free and independent”; independence being included in the Code of Ethics of the Legal Profession as an essential value of the profession, and that in a State of Law it is as necessary as the impartiality of the judge.

Is there an attorney – client privilege? How secure and supported is it?

Confidentiality and professional secrecy between lawyer and client are one of the maximum guarantees of the right of defence – and therefore of effective judicial protection – having been included as such in the Harmonisation Directives regulating criminal proceedings in Europe.

This guarantee is also provided for in the Organic Law of the Judiciary, whereby lawyers must “keep secret all the facts or news of which they have knowledge by reason of any of the modalities of their professional activity, and may not be obliged to testify about them”. It is therefore a privilege in the legal sense of the term, but also a duty that guarantees independence in professional practice and the right of defence of citizens.

Are there cases when lawyers go into politics? Why do they change their profession?

Many politicians have a legal background and some have even practised as lawyers.

Law is one of the careers that gives you the greatest perception into the work of the Institutions and when you feel the vocation to do everything possible to materialise the contents of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 1948 or the Constitution, it is legitimate to want to do so in politics as well.

How does communication take place within law firms? With help of which programs?

Numerous IT solutions and specific software have been developed to facilitate communication in law firms.

Some even have virtual offices where clients can deposit and share documents securely so that the authenticity of the information is preserved.

The important thing for law firms is to incorporate into their business planning a strategy that specifically considers how to make their communication with clients, partners, collaborators and even colleagues who defend the interests of the opposing party as smooth and efficient as possible.

Is there a software product that makes life easier?

The wide range of LegalTech, understood in a broad sense as technological solutions applied or placed at the service of the legal sector, means that there are various options that adapt to the needs of each law firm.

Case file management programmes with the possibility of noting down notices of deadlines and procedural terms, or databases for consulting laws and jurisprudence, undoubtedly facilitate our day-to-day professional practice.

What about the judiciary, how many judges are there in Barcelona?

According to the latest information published by the statistics section of the General Council of the Judiciary, there are 829 judges and magistrates in Catalonia, and it should be pointed out that most of the judicial districts in the Autonomous Community (25 of the 49) belong to the province of Barcelona, with most of the judicial bodies concentrated in the city of Barcelona.

Can a lawyer become a judge? What is your highest point in professional career?

Yes, because one of the requirements contemplated in the Organic Law of the Judiciary for access to the judicial career is to have a degree (bachelor’s degree) in Law; therefore, if the other requirements are met and the selection process provided for in the law is passed, either by open competition or through the so-called “fourth shift” through a competition between jurists of recognised competence and more than 10 years of practice, it is possible for a lawyer to become a Judge or Magistrate.

Undoubtedly, a milestone in my career that I would highlight would be the honour of having been able to serve as President of one of the most important Bar Associations in Europe – which represents more than 24,000 members – and, as stated Voltaire, having the privilege to work from this institutional responsibility in defence of the interests of a profession is the most beautiful thing in the world.

___________________

The interview was prepared with the assistance of a lawyer – Rostyslav Nykitenko.