Recht van nu 9 English 9 The Lawyer

The Lawyer

5 sep, 2022

Lawyer, advocate, attorney, barrister, solicitor and attorney at law. These are all English and/or American (English-speaking) terms that are often translated (into Dutch) as “advocaat” (or, in plural, as “advocaten”). However, this is not (always) correct.

As an example, reference is made to the term “lawyer.” Although this is often translated into Dutch as “advocaat”, the term “jurist” is usually a better translation. This is because a lawyer will generally deal with the law, but does not always have the same powers as a Dutch “advocaat”. For example, many lawyers may not litigate in courts or tribunals. Also, not all lawyers have professional secrecy or privilege.

Terms do not have a uniform meaning

The powers and responsibilities of the various titles differ. They also differ (sometimes to a lesser extent and other times to a greater extent) from the powers and responsibilities of (Dutch) “advocaten”.

More than that, between different countries or legal systems, the powers and responsibilities may even differ for each title.

The use of the terms in everyday speech.

Although not entirely pure, it will generally not cause any problems if the different titles are used interchangeably and/or translated as “advocaat.” After all, in most cases it will be clear what is meant by a specific term. And in the event that it is not clear, a clarification can always be obtained.

The requirements for “advocaten” and their firms (in the Netherlands)

However, “advocaten” and their firms are in the Netherlands subject to higher requirements in their communication. On February 8, 2021, the Court of Discipline ‘s-Hertogenbosch ruled on the use of the term “professional support lawyer” by a law firm. The firm in question used this term to refer to its legal staff (who were thus lawyers but not “advocaten”). 

No general prohibition

The court found that the use of the term professional support lawyer by “advocaten” and their law firms was not in itself unacceptable or intolerable. A general ban on the use of the term professional support lawyer was therefore not appropriate, in the opinion of the court.

There should be no confusion

If “advocaten” use that term, however, they should be aware that its use can lead to confusion. In that context, law firms may be expected to prevent such confusion.

Such confusion can, first of all, be avoided by not using the term. When “advocaten” (and/or their firms) do want to use this term, they are expected to ensure that when used externally, for example on a website or under a letter, it is immediately clear to everyone upon first reading that the professional support lawyers are not “advocaten”.

Whether or not the term professional support lawyer may be used in a specific case will always be judged by the circumstances.

The use of the term professional support lawyers was confusing in this case

The Court of Discipline ruled that the firm had made an inaccurate or incomplete representation. The Court was of the opinion that the firm should not have displayed the professional support lawyers, who are not “advocaat”, on the same webpage next to the “advocaten”. By doing so, the firm had not made it (sufficiently) clear that the professional support lawyers have a different qualification/function than that of an “advocaat”. In the English part of the website this distinction was not made clear either. The Court of Appeal considered creating or allowing unclarity about the qualification and function of these persons in this way to be inappropriate.

After further consideration, the firm itself was also (and already) of the opinion that it had created ambiguity with its practices. For that reason, it had already adjusted this in the meantime (prior to ruling).

Our office

We find it pleasant and important to contribute to the education of future professionals. For that reason, we supervise student-trainees  and offer side jobs to students.

For these students, this is a great opportunity to get acquainted with the legal field from the perspective of a law firm. They also gain knowledge and experience, which helps them to work as independent professionals in the future. In this way, they will eventually be able to represent the interests of you and others independently.

It goes without saying, for us, that none of this should affect your matter that is being handled by us. Your interests are too great for that. For that reason, an “advocaat” will always be responsible for your file.