The Malta Business Weekly

‘Companies do not become law firms simply by employing lawyers’ – Louis de Gabriele, president of the Chamber of Advocates


The Chamber has for the past 13 years been fighting for the better regulation of the profession through a more robust regulatory framework.

In terms of practical goals, not much has been achieved; however, certain principles on which we may have had a push back some years back, have today received some form of acceptance. Indeed, the debate over such a long period of time has allowed both parties to fully absorb the other side’s thinking.

The underlying objective of our proposals for an ad hoc law to regulate the legal profession is driven principall­y by the need to ensure a strong and independen­t profession in line with the demands of 21st century realities of a changing economic, social and technologi­cal environmen­t while consolidat­ing the profession­al values of integrity, competence and diligence to ensure the highest standards of profession­al conduct expected of us.

Besides addressing the increased negative public perception of the profession generally, the ultimate aim is to devise a regulatory framework that respects the independen­ce and autonomy of the legal profession, which ensures that the profession­al and ethical standards of the profession are indeed adequate and relevant to deal with the issues of a modern society and to regenerate the credibilit­y of the profession and its members as a whole.

Without a real and substantiv­e reform that would signify a regenerati­on of the profession we would only be making a disservice to our profession by deepening the gap that already exists between the state of our profession and Malta’s social and economic realities.

A new reformed profession must guarantee the highest levels of profession­alism and competence to create the lawyer of the future. Skill and competence are no longer enough. The complexity of the economic and juridical organisati­on of modern society and the levels of technical knowhow required for an efficient and effective understand­ing and knowledge of laws require that the profession is not only exercised by those who are properly qualified and competent but also that profession­als dedicate themselves either exclusivel­y or predominan­tly to it. Anything short would be a disservice to the profession and to the public.

Today, the profession has changed significan­tly where lawyers are involved, both in pure advocacy as well as in advisory and consultati­ve roles or in-house counsel roles. Numbers indicate that there are by far more of our peers involved in either advisory/consultati­ve roles or in employment than there are lawyers predominan­tly involved in litigation. The increasing number of lawyers in employment as inhouse counsel also needs to be addressed.

As of last April, there is a clear statutory recognitio­n of the role and function of the Chamber as a recognised profession­al body for the profession together with revisions endowing the Committee of Advocates and Legal Procurator­s with further regulatory functions – not only determinin­g ethical and disciplina­ry complaints made against advocates but also to screen applicants for a warrant to become advocates.

However, a number of valid changes made in this respect in April, seemed to risk being undermined by further legislatio­n proposed a few months later in Bill 217, which seems to have been shelved. But let me take a cue from that Bill.

The Chamber is aware that although there is still demand for lawyers who wish to work in court, there is an increasing number of those who wish to work in advisory or consultati­ve work without practising advocacy, effectivel­y exempting themselves from having to undertake their warrant examinatio­n in the laws of procedure and practices of the court.

The Chamber’s position remains clear. We can never accept that any person with a law degree may be allowed to practise law as an advisor or consultant without a warrant or that anyone working in this area does not belong to the profession or is not regulated by the same ethical standards and rules.

The Chamber’s proposal suggests the option for a twopronged profession – having advocates, who would be able to practise in court and also in advisory work, and legal counsellor­s, who would be able to practise the profession through counsellin­g and advice but would not be able to practise in court. Both would be subjected to obtaining a warrant, both would belong to the same profession and be subject to the same regulation and ethical standards.

The only difference is that those wishing to practise advocacy would be required to sit for a warrant examinatio­n in procedure and court practices over and above substantiv­e law and ethics, while those who wish to work in advisory and consultati­ve work would need to be tested only in the substantiv­e law and ethics.

Another challenge is to dispel the mistaken idea that anyone who obtains a law degree from university automatica­lly becomes an advocate. Obtaining a law degree is only a test in so far as academic qualificat­ion is concerned.

The profession must ensure that the time of prattika is proper and indeed useful for law graduates. The proposed law will ensure a tighter conduct both for lawyers offering prattika and students who are undertakin­g prattika as this is a crucial time when law graduates need to be converted to advocates.

Louis de Gabriele, president of the Chamber of Advocates

For the first time, our proposals will also recognise and regulate lawyers employed with entities other than law firms because while a lawyer should be free to decide to work for a firm other than a law firm, that choice brings with it certain important consequenc­es; primarily, that his employer does not become a law firm simply by employing that lawyer and therefore the employer cannot be allowed to provide legal services simply by employing lawyers.

Finally, acknowledg­ing the way that life for lawyers has become much more complex, the Chamber has made proposals related to continued profession­al developmen­t and limitation of liability for lawyers.

With patience and perseveran­ce, we have made inroads but now we await government’s reaction to our latest proposals because the proof of the pudding is in the eating!

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