Unlike the situation in the United States, where we basically have a unified legal profession with a single type of lawyer, the Czech legal profession contains several different categories of legal professionals. While most Czech legal professionals have a common university education in law (see the previous post), they are classified by different categories which are determined by the role they play, and, to a lesser extent, by the nature of the three years apprenticeship that the individual law student completes following law school.
Czech educated lawyers are divided into three basic categories: advocates (or lawyers), public prosecutors, or judges. While there is some movement between these categories, most members of the legal profession spend their careers in one category or another. In addition to these three categories, some lawyers also serve as public notaries. Czech notaries are a sort of public official who provides important services related to inheritance and the drafting of legal documents. Notaries are appointed and their numbers are limited by statute. Importantly, notaries are viewed as neutral public figures who provide necessary services, but who do not represent their clients in the same way that advocates do.
In addition to lawyers who have been educated in the Czech Republic and licensed to practice law, lawyers may provide legal services if they fall into one of the following categories:
- Lawyers who have been educated in other countries but who can pass an examination in Czech or Slovak that tests their familiarity with Czech Law and rules of professional conduct.
- Lawyers from other countries who already reside in the Czech Republic who can establish that they have successfully practiced law for three years in the country, or who can convince a commission of the Czech Bar Association that they have the necessary knowledge of Czech Law and rules of professional conduct.
- Citizens of a member country of the European Union who have been admitted to practice law in their own country (or in any other EU country) who have registered with the Czech Bar Association. In regard to certain areas of law, EU lawyers may be required to consult with a member of the Czech bar while representing Czech clients. (This appears to be similar to our pro hac vice notion.)
- Lawyers from any other country, so long as they limit their practices to the law of their home countries and international law.
The years between the Velvet Revolution of 1998, which led to the collapse of the Czech Communist government, and the country’s entry into the European Union in 2004 were a period of transition for the Czech legal profession, and even more than a decade later a process of “sorting out” the boundaries of the legal profession is still ongoing.
Under the statutes currently regulating the practice of law, lawyers may practice as solo practitioners, in office-sharing relationships, and in firms. Once rare, increasingly larger law firms are beginning to dominate the practice of law in the Czech Republic, especially in the larger cities. A substantial number of firms based in other countries, including the United States, have established branch offices in Prague.