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5 December 2022

European debate on how to make a career in law more attractive


Foto: European debate on how to make a career in law more attractive.


Representatives of the judicial and legal professions in Europe gathered in Brussels on 2 December 2022 for the EU Forum of the Legal Professions to analyse why it is becoming more difficult to attract young people to a career in law and to discuss ways to address the problem.

Professor Matthias Kilian from the Soldan Institute at the University of Cologne presented the situation in Germany as a forerunner for the rest of Europe.

“Because of the long-term decline of the EU population, maintaining the attractiveness of the legal professions is not good enough – in order to keep the status quo, the legal professions must attract a higher percentage of those entering working life.”

He explained how the growth in the proportion of school-leavers obtaining academic university degrees had led to a peak in the number of new lawyers at the turn of the millennium, with the numbers in steady decline since then. Major demographic shifts, notably the far higher number of women entering the law, mean that the career expectations of Generation Y are starkly different from those of the Baby Boomers who still dominate senior positions but who will soon retire. He argued that the judicial and legal professions need to reform their career models to be more attractive to the future generations of practitioners.

Her Honour Judge Anuja Dhir KC of London’s Central Criminal Court spoke of her own experience of prejudice as a young lawyer of Indian origin in the UK and presented the work of the Judicial Appointments Commission to increase diversity in recruitment to the judiciary.

Giulia Guagliardi, Immediate Past President of the European Young Bar Association and a practising lawyer in Rome, demonstrated how the image of lawyers in popular culture has been damaged in recent years and called on the legal professions to work together to improve their reputation as an honourable profession.

Austrian judge Georg Stawa, former President of the Council of Europe’s Commission for the Efficiency of Justice, talked about the need for judges and lawyers to do more to make their work understandable and accessible to the general public.

Christian Lemke, Vice-President of the German Federal Bar Association, described the impact of LegalTech on both the public’s expectations of the justice system and the skills required of future lawyers. He challenged the legal professions to embrace rather than resist technological developments.

Damijan Florjančič
, President of the Supreme Court of Slovenia highlighted the importance of the initial training. Judges, besides being a national judge, are also European judges, therefore they need to apply EU law, if necessary, ask preliminary reference questions from the CJEU. The importance of this pan-European aspect and the cross-border procedures – both in civil and criminal cases – require judges also to master foreign languages. The judicial salary and the appointment procedure are the main shortcomings in Slovenia. The involvement of the legislative powers in the appointment is subject of constant debates for decades. The political influence also decreases the attractiveness of the judicial profession. Last, president Florjančič also mentioned the problem of gender imbalance, which differentiates based on the level of the court.

Patrick Gielen, a judicial officer from Brussels, the secretary of the International Union of Judicial Officers (UIHJ) started his short presentation on the Belgian system about raising the question of ageing (the average is 62 years). He mentioned that the role of judicial officers and bailiffs is not well known enough by the society, there is a rather bad image presented by the media. In Belgium there are only a few possibilities for training, however in some countries the situation is even worse, there is a total lack of training. The system of judicial officers is different in every state, there is no harmonisation in the member states like it exists for lawyers. Beside this, being a judicial officer is sometimes quite dangerous. He described in detail the process of becoming a Judicial Officer in Belgium and elaborated the decreasing interest showing some statistical data.

Alix Frank-Thomasser
, the Chair of the CCBE Corporate Social Responsibility Committee introduced the Austrian system of initial training and what are the essential technical skills for lawyers. She elaborated the soft skills lawyers need to master to become successful and mobile lawyers. Covid pandemic brought more attention to the importance to modernize the working environment in law firms. In a survey, young lawyers were asked about their fears looking in the future; one of the common answers were the salary, the poor life-balance and the toxic workplaces, but some were also afraid of difficulties of finding work. She elaborated on the gender stereotypes, and the issue of gender imbalance (either towards men or women).

In the late afternoon the Forum was concluded with some very interesting remarks by the representatives.

The EU Forum of the Legal Professions aims to provide a structured dialogue among the legal professions in Europe, where common challenges and concerns can be addressed and analysed.

Facilitated by the Academy of European Law, it brings together the European Network of Councils for the Judiciary (ENCJ), the Council of Bars and Law Societies of Europe (CCBE), the European Association of Judges (EAJ), the Association of European Administrative Judges (AEAJ), ACA-Europe, the Network of the Presidents of the Supreme Judicial Courts of the EU, the European Union of Judicial Officers (UEHJ) and the European Union of Rechtspfleger (EUR).

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