NEWS

Provincial lawyers fear for future

Lawyers are bracing for the their profession to be opened up to competition, saying they already face problems due to the present glut of lawyers. They claim the government is working to further the interests of big firms against independent lawyers. The government has undertaken to open up closed professions – which include truck and taxi drivers, notaries public and pharmacists – as part of a package of reforms agreed to in a memorandum with the International Monetary Fund and the European Union. One measure involves scrapping geographical restrictions on legal practices. Provincial lawyers are especially concerned by this, saying they will be swamped by lawyers from elsewhere. This follows the imposition of value-added tax on legal services. The country’s bar associations list 40,000 registered members. This means one lawyer for every 209 people, when in France the ratio is 1:1,368 and in Finland 1:2,971. This makes Greek lawyers very protective of their turf. Nikolaos Pagidas, head of the bar association on the island of Syros, which covers several Cycladic islands, notes that lawyers are struggling to survive. «Do we want lawyers who are independent and battle-ready or lawyers in the employ of multinationals? With the memorandum, with regulations that do not exist anywhere else in Europe, the government is harming lawyers,» Pagidas told Kathimerini. «Why does the financial crimes squad not go after the big-shot lawyers who don’t pay taxes and make an example of them? The squad is raiding the offices of bar associations preparing protest action, in a bid to cow them, but it leaves alone those who never pay taxes.» He added, «It’s obvious that they have chosen to blacken the image of the whole profession to serve their communication needs.» Fifteen provincial bar associations issued a statement saying the government «is opening up the legal profession, not to the benefit of the citizen but to the benefit of insurance and financial services companies, the multinationals, the big law offices of Athens and foreign companies.»