Lawyers Can 'Bar Hop' in the EU, Adviser Says
(CN) - Italy cannot block attorneys who have passed the bar exam elsewhere in the European Union from practicing law there, an adviser to Europe's highest court said Thursday.
Italian nationals Angelo and Pierfrancesco Torresi obtained their law degrees in Italy, but became members of the bar in Spain's Canary Islands, where requirements are less stringent.
The men later petitioned the bar council in Macerata, Italy for enrollment in a section of the registry for lawyers qualified abroad. After that group ignored their requests, they appealed to Italy's National Bar Council for admittance.
The National Bar Council asked the European Union's Court of Justice whether EU law allows member states to block attorneys who obtain their licenses elsewhere from being listed in the Italian bar as well.
In his opinion for the EU high court, Advocate General Nils Wahl said that an Italian court must decide whether the Torresis worked the system to their advantage by passing the bar in Spain rather than in Italy. But he also noted that the point of EU law was to harmonize the process of practicing law between member states to make it easier for attorneys to practice anywhere in Europe.
"The right of nationals of a member state to choose the state in which they wish to acquire their professional title is inherent in the exercise, in a single market, of the fundamental freedoms guaranteed by the EU Treaties," Wahl said in a statement announcing his opinion, which was not made available in English.
Under EU law, the only thing the Italian bar needs to admit the Torresis is a certificate from the Spanish bar saying the men had been admitted to practice law.
"The EU Legislature did not intend to make it possible for member states to engage in reverse discrimination by excluding their own citizens from the rights created by that directive," Wahl added.
The adviser also cautioned the Italian bar that EU law does not permit forcing the Torresis to jump through hoops -- like an internship with a firm in Italy -- in order to be licensed there.
"If no previous experience is required in order to practice as an 'abogado' in Spain, there is no reason that it should be imposed in order to practice under the very same professional title in another member state," Wahl said, adding that only a legitimate finding that the Torresis had committed fraud could bar them from practicing law in Italy.
Wahl's opinion is not binding on the Court of Justice, which has begun its own deliberations in the case.