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Routes to qualification: the Italian picture

12 February 07

An Italian lawyer with an interest in training in different jurisdictions reports on current developments in the Italian legal system

As a keen observer of the development of legal professions in different European countries, I have found information on the current consultation going on in Scotland extremely interesting. The review of training and standards in the profession and for those seeking appropriate qualifications is a corner stone of every country's legal professional system.

The same issue has been and is still currently discussed in Italy, where the new executive is continuing a process which began several years ago, bringing to parliamentary discussion new hypotheses of reform. The aim is ambitious: to modernise the whole legal system and grant wider access to the legal professions, removing artificial and unreasonable barriers

This effort of reform and modernisation has had a different effect on the main three Italian professional bodies for legal professions.

What follows is a loose description of these current developments in the legal professions in Italy. The work is intended as an appendix - small and modest - of the very interesting work of Michael Torrance and Michael J Robertson published in the Journal, December 2006, 15 (http://www.journalonline.co.uk/article/1003675.aspx), and as a contribution to the current discussion taking place in Scotland.

Overview

There are three legal professions in Italy, all requiring a degree in law for entry to each profession:

- avvocato (lawyer);

- notaio (notary);

- consulente del lavoro (employment law consultant).

Three independent professional bodies rule the three professions:

- Ordine degli avvocati;

- Ordine dei notai;

- Ordine dei consulenti del lavoro

Each professional body fully independently oversees the training period, acts as a discipline tribunal, issues guidelines and good practice instructions. This independence is limited only by national law and by the right of trainees, legal practitioners and those making complaints to appeal to the Tribunale Amministrativo Regionale (Regional Administrative Court), the legal professions' decision-making tribunal.

Route to qualification

The prospective avvocato (lawyer) must undertake un Corso di Laurea specialistica in Legge (a full degree in law), which requires five years of study. After obtaining la Laurea, the future avvocato must look for a lawyer willing to become his mentor (his dominus) to start the training period (the tirocinio). The tirocinio requires two years of practical and theoretical training, assisting the practitioner in the office and in court.

During the training period the trainee (the discipulus) must assist his mentor in at least 20 hearings each semester (80 hearings in two years).

The aspiring lawyer must also produce, for the professional body, several studies and works related to the cases discussed with the practitioner.

After completing the training period and receiving the professional body's approval, the lawyer sits a state examination comprising written and oral tests. Success in the examination gives admittance to the profession.

After completing the first year of training, the future lawyer may also submit a request to the professional body to practise in court to defend in minor cases during his training period. The trainee may also replace one year of training with the undertaking of a post-degree academic course: the Scuola Superiore per le professioni legali.

How the training is viewed

Legal training in Italy is generally seen as efficient and as a successful balance between the previous academic background of the prospective lawyer and the experience he/she gains during the two-year period.

A major drawback of the Italian system was the ever increasing number of aspiring lawyers. A great number of lawyers complained and are still complaining, asking for major controls over the number of new trainees, assuming that an uncontrolled increase would reduce the quality of the service. From the other side, the aspiring lawyers find more and more difficulties in undertaking the training period, having to rely more on personal contacts and connections than on their effective skills and capacities in seeking their mentor.

The establishment of the Scuola Superiore per le professioni legali can be seen as an attempt to grant wider access to the profession.

An equal and meritocratic selection: two different routes

The access requirements to the other two legal professions (notary and employment law consultant) are similar, with minor differences, granting a more equal and meritocratic method of selection.

Prospective notaries, after obtaining the degree, must undertake a training period in a notary's office to sit the state examination. The only difference is that the state examination for notary does not give admittance to the profession to all the applicants who pass the written and oral tests, but only to the best ones. In fact the Ministero della Giustizia (the Minister of Justice) annually fixes the number of new notaries admitted to the profession, so that only the best examinees enter.

A different path to the profession has been established for the aspiring employment law consultants, with the dual purpose of controlling the number of applicants graduating annually to the profession and secondly to grant a better quality of service offered to the public.

As a result of an agreement between the professional body of employment law consultants and the most prestigious Italian universities, a brand new degree has recently emerged, specifically designed for students aiming to become employment law consultants. After obtaining the degree the applicants will undertake a two-year training period.

This first strong synergy between the universities and the professional body has produced concrete results, providing the aspiring employment law consultants with more focused academic instruction, so that during the subsequent training period, the future consultants, having acquired a better theoretical knowledge and understanding of the profession, can turn their attention to more practical matters.

Synergy: the “new philosophy”

The recent experience described above has given birth to a new powerful philosophy (for trainees and for practitioners) based on a common effort to improve the quality and knowledge in the legal professions, involving all the different components of the Italian legal world.

The academic and the judiciary systems, the public administration, the lawyers, the notaries, the consultants and their associations and professional bodies are slowly converging at a common focal point with the aim of building a permanent exchange-system of theoretical and practical legal knowledge and experience.

This system is considered the only useful mechanism for the necessary modernisation and updating of the whole legal world, including access to the professions. A new path for the legal world which, as happens in many more scientific fields, should also have a European and international development.

Eugenio D'Urso, Manager for Contracts and Legal Services, Council of Capannori, Lucca, Tuscany, Italy