Lawyers with Madrid’s permission

Next Saturday law graduates who have completed a related course or a Master’s will sit the bar exam. As stated under Article 7 of the 34/2006 Act, “the assessment of professional aptitude” sought to ensure that candidates have enough practical training to practise law, as well as an understanding of professional ethics. This was a commendable goal and, having completed their college education, the test was intended to be a follow-up to the graduates’ training, where they were expected to learn practical skills to do with lawsuits and litigation. They had to show an understanding of how to devise a legal strategy based on a specific example from any jurisdiction (criminal, civil, labour, common and so on); in other words, a practical case. Inexplicably, though, order PRE/404/2014 defined the test as consisting of 75 questions, 50 of which would be on professional ethics,  general matters and legal counsel (core subjects) and 25 would deal with civil and trade law, criminal and administrative law, and labour and administrative torts (specific subjects). The legal community had historically demanded better training for law graduates looking to start their legal practice. That’s why the exam was meant to be totally practical, as it is in countries with a long legal tradition, such as Germany or Italy. Well, as it turns out, the end result is just a fraud. A theoretical examination is a scam because it’s deceiving the graduates who have been waiting to become practising lawyers and because it doesn’t guarantee that society will be served by better lawyers. An exam like that is a complete waste of time.

Not only did the two ministries involved (Justice and Education) fail at the design of the test, but when organising its administration, the Ministry of Justice saw an opportunity to centralise the sitting, something that shouldn’t go unnoticed. Under Article 125.4 of Catalonia’s Statute, the regulation of professions requiring a degree is a fully devolved matter, provided that the reserved matter of professional and academic qualifications and Articles 35 and 139 of the Spanish Constitution are observed. The matter includes setting the requirements and conditions for graduates to practise their profession, their rights and obligations and their incompatibility regime. What’s more, in its ruling of 7/2011 Catalonia’s Consell de Garanties Estatutàries (1) confirmed that this is a devolved matter and that the law is in accordance with the Spanish Constitution. We must reiterate that, once again, we are faced with blatant meddling with a devolved matter, a result of the Spanish government’s obsession with centralising any policy or issue, even if it is unnecessary, inconsistent and unfair.

This exam is unfair, indeed, because it discriminates against graduates who do not live in Madrid. According to Ministry of Justice figures, there are 378 graduates signed up to take the test in Spain; 172 live in Madrid, 84 in Catalonia, 75 in Murcia and 27 in Navarre (I’m only mentioning the regions with the most candidates). We at the Bar Council of Catalonia have repeatedly requested to set up an exam centre in Catalonia, offering to cover all the expenses incurred, so that Catalan graduates wouldn’t have to travel. Nevertheless, the examination is set for tomorrow, June 28, in Madrid’s Universidad Complutense. It’s easy to draw your own conclusions: a Madrid candidate will spend under three euros to travel to the examination site on the underground, whereas someone from Catalonia, Murcia, Navarre or Andalusia will have to spend between three and five hundred euros, depending on where they live, to sit the same exam and enter the same profession.

Also, we find that the examination is interventionist because only one of the six members of the assessment committee appointed by the authorities represents the legal profession. The other five are employed by the administration (17 vs 83 per cent). It should be pointed out that Catalonia’s own Ministry of Justice, which has appealed against the process before the Constitutional Court, has offered to have half the members of its hypothetical assessment committee selected from the legal profession.

And to add insult to injury, let’s not forget that the test is only available in Spanish, with no chance to take it in Galician, Basque or Catalan; and it barely touches on Catalonia’s own civil law.

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(1) Catalonia’s Consell de Garanties Estatutàries (Council for Statutory Guarantees) is an avisory institution that opines on whether a piece of legislation conflicts with the Spanish Constitution or the Catalan Statute.