As numerous changes introduced by the Amendment regard specifically only internal matters within advocacy, the focus of this article is narrowed to the changes relevant from the client´s point of view.
Legal trainees and professional employees
The Amendment has brought about significant modifications to the status and obligations of legal trainees. The purpose of these changes is to enhance professional level of the traineeship. Upon effectiveness of the Amendment the obligatory traineeship of the legal trainees, as an inevitable prerequisite for admission to bar exams, has been extended from the minimum of three (3) years to current minimum of five (5) years. At the same time the Amendment also invalidates the possibility to substitute traineeship of the legal trainees performed at law office or an individual attorney at law by other professional legal practice. On the other hand, practice obtained at position of an assistant of the Supreme Court of the Slovak Republic may substitute the traineeship (together also with the legal practice of judge, judicial candidate, public prosecutor, legal candidate of public prosecution and notarial practice).
Furthermore, the Amendment has also introduced so-called minimal requirements on the content of traineeship of the legal trainee, including obligatory participation at court hearings under the Criminal Procedure Code and the Civil Procedure Code. The legal trainee is obliged to prove the course of his/her traineeship by Daily Performance Record. In the event that the trainee is to be authorized to perform certain legal acts in a client´s legal matter based on a substitutive Power of Attorney, the client is entitled to request the trainee´s Daily Performance Records.
The Amendment has also altered educational prerequisites for registering in the List of the attorneys at law held by the Slovak Bar Association. As of January 1,2015 aperson requesting registration with the List of the attorneys at law will have to prove that he/she has acquired university education in law in both degrees, i.e. not only in the second level of education (master), but also in the first degree (bachelor).
As of January 1, 2013 the tutor, i.e. an attorney at law under whose supervision the legal trainee performs traineeship, may be only an attorney at law who is registered with the List of attorneys at law for at least three (3) years. Moreover, an attorney at law must not be a tutor to more than three (3) legal trainees.
In relation to professional employees of an attorney at law the Amendment expressly stipulates that a professional employee, i.e. an employee with legal education who is not a legal trainee, however, who is at the same time entitled to perform certain legal acts independently on basis of an authorization granted by the attorney at law, must not represent a client before courts, public prosecution office or any public administration office.
Performance of Advocacy
Prior to effectiveness of the Amendment a so called dual performance of legal service was permitted, i.e. an attorney at law, performing legal service as a partner of a company was upon prior agreement with the other partners entitled to perform legal service in relation to certain legal acts also independently. Nowadays an attorney at law performing advocacy as a partner of a partnership, limited partnership or as an executive of a limited liability company is not entitled to perform advocacy independently, in an association or in another company, not even upon agreement with the other partners.
The Amendment has also introduced several legal institutes which were before regulated merely by internal acts of the Slovak Bar Association. For instance as of the effectiveness of the Amendment an obligation of the attorneys at law to use the title “attorney at law” or “law office” while providing legal services, is stipulated directly by the Act on Advocacy. The name of the law office must not deteriorate dignity of the profession of attorney or breach rules of the attorney´s professional ethics. The above is subject to evaluation of the Slovak Bar Association when registering an association or a company with the respective List maintained by the Slovak Bar Association as well as at every change of business name of the association or company.
The Amendment also expressly stipulates a minimum extent of insurance compensation in the amount of EUR 100,000 incase of liability for damage caused to a client by an attorney at law while providing legal service.
Furthermore, the amended Act on Advocacy also includes provisions on presentation of performance of the attorney´s profession which regulate advertising stricter than the internal acts of the Slovak Bar Association did until the Amendment. An attorney at law is banned from acquiring clients for remuneration through third parties and is not allowed to provide or accept remuneration for cession of a client. The attorney´s advertisement may contain only factual and objective information on professional focus of the law office and its team, without any comparison. Also, when addressing public or providing comments to the media in relation to provision of legal services, an attorney at law is forbidden to accentuate his/her own person or activities. Further, it should be noted that an attorney may inform the public in commercial communication on specific legal matter or identity of the client only upon prior consent of the client, unless the attorney is able to prove that such information was publicly available before.
The Amendment has extended subjective period for submission of proposal to commencement of disciplinary proceedings against an attorney at law. Instead of the previous six (6) months, as of January 1,2013 aplaintiff is entitled to submit a proposal to commencement of disciplinary proceedings within nine (9) months as of the moment when plaintiff found out about a disciplinary misconduct committed by an attorney at law. The objective period remains in duration of two (2) years commencing as of the day of commitment of the disciplinary misconduct.
Another novelty is the introduction of general option to submit an appeal to any decision of the disciplinary senate within respective period, whether by the disciplinarily charged attorney at law or the plaintiff. Until the Amendment an appeal could have been submitted exclusively against exhaustively enumerated decisions.
The Amendment has also brought about changes to the Act No. 99/1963 Coll. Civil Procedure Code as amended, which regulates the civil judicial proceedings. The first change is an increase in the amount of claimed receivables in so-called petit disputes from EUR 500 to EUR 1,000. No court hearing is required in case of petit disputes, which makes such proceedings simpler and faster.
Furthermore, the Amendment exhaustively enumerates proceedings in which a party to the dispute is not allowed to authorize by representation a so-called civil representative, i.e. a person without legal education. As of the Amendment an obligatory representation by an attorney at law or a person with legal education (second degree) who is a so-called close person to the party of the dispute (the represented person) is required e.g. in disputes concerning protection of personality, disputes relating to bankruptcy and restructuring, protection of fair competition, violation/jeopardizing of trade secret, bills of exchange, cheques and other commercial papers, disputes with international element, disputes regarding contractual relations arisen within companies and cooperatives and exhaustively enumerated commercial contractual relations (e.g. relations arisen from bank guarantees, contracts on sale of enterprise, forwarding contracts, contracts on current/deposit account, etc.).