In June 2014 the project submitted by the Foreign Commission of the Warsaw Bar Association won 2nd place in the competition for the best project involving international cooperation by the regional bars, organized by the Foreign Commission of the National Bar Association.
As part of this project, attorney-at-law Radosław Radosławski represented the Warsaw Bar Association on a study visit to Barcelona on 1–5 December 2014, combined with pro bono activity, at the invitation of the Barcelona bar—Ilustre Colegio de Abogados de Barcelona (ICAB).
An essential element of the winning project and the visit as well was to learn more about the rules and mechanisms for operation of self-governing professional associations abroad—in this case the Catalan bar—with particular attention to such aspects as how legal fees are determined, what training is offered to members of the bar, and how the disciplinary system works.
But the main theme was undoubtedly legal aid for persons unable to cover the costs out of their own resources. In this area, the Catalan system (and more broadly the Spanish system) employs solutions very different from those used in Poland. The state has entrusted performance of tasks related to administration of the legal aid system to the bar association. The bar association is authorized accordingly to verify statements of financial standing submitted by citizens seeking free legal assistance. The financial thresholds for eligibility for legal aid are set by law. In organizational terms, this system is praised by both attorneys and clients. Signing up for legal advice is conducted via Internet, using special online forms, and the applicant is then notified of the time and date for the initial consultation. The average waiting time is about 3 weeks. In urgent cases, clients can show up in person at the “Torn d’Ofici,” where a number of abogados are employed to provide legal advice. To say that queues gather there every day from the early morning would not be an exaggeration. There are usually several dozen clients waiting in line, and every day about 150 free legal consultations are provided. (The advice is free for the clients, but the lawyers are paid by the government of Catalonia—promptly, on a monthly basis.)
During his visit, our delegate Radosław Radosławski also offered free legal assistance for Poles living in Catalonia, arranged in cooperation with ICAB and the Polish consulate. The most common legal problems were family matters (such as cross-border divorces, child care, and parental kidnapping) and administrative matters (such as how to obtain Spanish citizenship). Advice on Spanish law was offered by abogado Bartłomiej Michałowski, who operates the Bartlex law practice in Barcelona. There was a great deal of interest in this initiative, and the Poles attending the event asked many specific questions. The presence of both Polish and Spanish attorneys made it possible to provide comprehensive and exhaustive treatment of the problems raised by the attendees. It appears that this formula for cooperation well suits the needs of the Polish community abroad.
Our cooperation with the Barcelona bar has just begun. Our Catalan colleagues expressed a desire to sign a bilateral cooperation agreement, providing among other things for an internship program for young lawyers and cooperation in the area of legal information.