Not enough jobs for lawyers

A law degree used to be considered a guarantee for a bright future. While the profession has lost none of its prestige it is nonetheless going through a crisis, as its ranks have swelled to such a degree that lawyers themselves are talking about an overflow in the sector. Yet Greeks are a notoriously litigious nation. In 2003 alone, 210,875 suits were lodged with the Athens Court of First Instance. At present, 166,000 hearings and another 27,300 appeals are pending. Another 257,000 cases are pending in administrative court. A final ruling takes 6.5 years on average for misdemeanors and 11 for criminal cases. Rife unemployment among lawyers is due to several factors. A degree is not enough in order to practice law. First there is an 18-month stint as a trainee, during which time one’s employer is not obliged to pay for social security coverage, nor is there a minimum wage, at least until the applicant has completed 30 cases in order to be able sit for the bar exam. The new lawyer’s problems do not end there, however, as the future of the self-employed is anything but certain. Graduates either work with an established firm, being paid on commission and sharing expenses, or open their own office, taking on both the expense and the search for clients. Nevertheless, the ranks of new lawyers continue to swell, but only a third end up working in the sector; the rest are forced to find other work. «There has been a dramatic increase in the number of new lawyers, although the situation has become more difficult, as not only graduates of Greek universities sit for the bar exams but graduates of foreign universities whose degrees are recognized by the official body here,» says Nikolas Kanellopoulos, consultant to the Athens Bar Association. Andreas Tzoumanis, president of the Union of New Lawyers and Trainees, claims that just one third, or even fewer, of lawyers are actually practicing. Tzoumanis cited the example of a story that did the rounds of university halls a few years ago – when there were fewer lawyers – that the number of lawyers in Athens was equal to the number of those in all of West Germany. According to Athens Bar Association figures, there are 500 new members registered each year. Currently there are 470 candidates working as trainees, pushing the number of potential new members to 1,000. In 2000, there were 744 new registrations; in 2001, another 726; in 2002, there were 902 and in 2003, 912. This year the total number of members stands at 18,444.