The Foreign Affairs Committee had the privilege and pleasure of hosting Swedish lawyer Conrad Wallenrodhe, who explained to a large gathering the rules and principles for practice of the legal profession in Sweden. It should be explained upfront that Sweden is not among the countries with a dual system of legal professions—unlike Poland, there is no division of lawyers into attorneys (radcy prawni) and advocates (adwokaci). There is one profession, and the practitioners hold the title of advokat.
The fascinating lecture by our guest was not limited to this profession. A relatively high proportion of law graduates in Sweden find work in the courts and the prosecution system (26%), and another large number in the state and local administration (together 17%), and the tax and social insurance system. The career path chosen by a lawyer depends in large measure on his or her intellectual capabilities, psychological predispositions, and financial expectations.
In the case of advokats, their earnings range widely depending on the field, tenure and—naturally—where they practice. An advokat can earn more in Stockholm than in other cities and regions of the country. The monthly salary of a lawyer fresh from university is SEK 26,000–35,000 (PLN 13,000–17,000), which may be regarded as decent pay considering the conditions in which Swedish advokats work. The legal market is unregulated, access to the profession is broad and easy, and, unlike Poland, Swedish law does not recognize the notion that parties must be represented by professional counsel. Anyone can appear in court as an attorney for a party in civil proceedings or to represent a defendant privately, with the exception of certain family matters and criminal matters. Advokat Wallenrodhe pointed out that the courts do have various problems with such non-professional representatives, who can prove burdensome to the system due to their lack of legal knowledge, which does not encourage efficiency in the proceedings, but these problems are somehow dealt with in practice.
Interestingly, in Sweden not only is there no second profession alongside that of advokat, but the profession of notary also does not exist. Notarial functions, as they might be understood in Poland, are performed by some advokats who decide to take on this additional work. Another thing that could come as a surprise to a Polish audience is the gender proportion, or rather disproportion, in the profession of advokat. Women make up only 28% of the bar—a sorry figure if one looks to Sweden as the vanguard of the global revolution of feminism and gender equality. (Or perhaps this stereotypical view of Sweden is inaccurate. For example, Sweden does not have statutory quotas for women and men among candidates for election, but any rules in this respect are adopted voluntarily by internal decision of the political parties.)
What kinds of matters do advokats handle? Commercial practice predominates (60%), with other fields including family, criminal and social law and the law of refugees—of whom, as is well known, there are many in Sweden, as it is not just a friendly country but also wealthy. As in Poland, there are court-appointed cases. There is no obligation to take such cases, but many advokats are eager to handle such cases because it makes economic sense to do so. The hourly rate for court-appointed cases is SEK 1,276 + VAT, which works out to PLN 640 + VAT, with a separate rate for “wasted time.” In defining and calculating the number of hours actually worked to determine the fee, certain “abuses” may be encountered, but that would be too strong and insulting a term for Swedish advokats, so we may refer instead to unconventional and controversial behaviour, such as including in the hours worked the time it takes to travel from a lawyer’s office to a nearby court. Apart from setting the hourly rate for court-appointed cases, Swedish law does not interfere in the amount or method of calculating advokats’ fees, leaving those arrangements up to the parties. Internal bar regulations merely provide that the fee must be “fair.” When the court orders the losing party to reimburse the prevailing party for its attorneys’ fees, it should also guided by the principle of fairness, which in large, complex cases may mean fees running into many millions of kronor.
As mentioned, many of the solutions presented by Advokat Wallenrodhe differ significantly from those applied here in Poland. But this is not the case with the bar association, which, as in Poland, is mandatory (that is, membership in the bar association is mandatory), and advokats are subject to supervision by the bar, which may commence disciplinary proceedings for violation of rules of professional ethics. The relevant bar authorities have a wide range of sanctions at their disposal, which may include a reprimand, censure, censure with a fine, and, finally, in the most serious cases, disbarment and stripping the offender of the title of advokat. The severest sanction is not applied often, with about one advokat being disbarred per year on average, and over 90% of disciplinary cases are dismissed. There are a total of about 600 disciplinary cases per year, which is not very many considering the number of advokats and the number of cases they handle, estimated at 500,000 per year.
Advokat Wallenrodhe’s lecture concluded with a presentation of the professional “afterlife” of Swedish advokats. During retirement, one of the main ways they spend their free time is serving on supervisory boards of joint-stock companies. They offer the boards their experience, knowledge of the law, and skill at reflection and looking at matters with the proper distance, which is an important quality to have in such positions.
The event ended with a lively discussion, with the audience raising numerous questions which our speaker fielded patiently and eloquently. The great interest in this event among the members of the bar association and the wealth of interesting and practical information shared with us about the practice of law in a nearby European country suggests that it would be worthwhile to schedule similar events as a regular part of the work of the Foreign Affairs Committee.
The author is an attorney-at-law and a member of the Foreign Affairs Committee