Over the years, a significant number of Swedish people have sought to spend their time in the sunny Marbella and Costa del Sol, whom have either partially or completely moved to and settled down in this paradise. This means that a need for a market of Swedish-speaking services has emerged, not least in the case of providing legal assistance in Swedish regarding primarily property law, corporate law, tax law and family law. Law is an area that can often seem complicated and difficult to understand, and if you are in a foreign country where you do not fully master the language, it can feel safe to know you have the option to hire assistance from someone who speaks your own mother tongue.
When you are looking for help with legal advice, there are usually two main professional titles that you come across: legal advisor and lawyer. Although they can work in many of the same fields and offer equally competent services, there are still some important differences between the titles.
When you talk about legal advisors, you usually refer to someone who has obtained a law degree at the university. In Sweden, the Law program consists of 9 semesters, or 4.5 years, of full-time studies, after which one receives a law degree and is then called a legal advisor (those who started their education before July 1, 2007 were after receiving their degree called a Bachelor of Laws, LLB, a term that has survived even though the official degree title changed its name).
It is important to bear in mind, however, that legal advisor is not a protected title, and can in principle be utilized by anyone. The person does not need to have a law degree or even have studied law at a university, although this is usually the case.
In order to become a lawyer, you must first obtain a law degree from a university, and thereafter be admitted as a member of the Swedish Bar Association. In order to be admitted as a member, it is necessary to have at least three years of qualified work experience as an associate at a law firm or at your own law firm, after obtaining your law degree. In order for the application to the bar association to be granted, it is also required that the applicant fulfils certain suitability requirements. This includes having an orderly economy, being trustworthy (reliable, honest and responsible) and otherwise suitable for the legal profession.
The Swedish Bar Association has an international department for members who practice law abroad. These lawyers often speak the language of the country in which they operate and possess knowledge of the country’s law. They can also be members of the bar association in the country of operation, as there is no obstacle to being a member of more than one bar association. Even if these members conduct their activities abroad, they are covered by the same regulations as their colleagues in Sweden.
Lawyer is, unlike legal advisor, a protected title in Sweden, and only those who are members of the Swedish Bar Association may call themselves a lawyer or their business a law firm. Using the title of lawyer without being a member can in some cases lead to a fine. According to the Bar Association, the title should function as a seal of quality, and an assurance that the members work based on the legal profession’s core values: independence, confidentiality, freedom from conflicts of interest and client loyalty. Lawyers have a special position in a society governed by the rule of law, where their primary obligation is to show fidelity and loyalty to their client.
Law firms are obliged in all their activities to follow the rules of legal ethics, established both by law and in other forms, and this includes all persons employed by the law firm, regardless of whether they are lawyers or not. The lawyers who run a law firm are responsible for ensuring that other staff such as paralegals and administrative staff follow the rules.
The legal rules can be found first and foremost in the Swedish procedural code. It’s also in the procedural code where you can find the provision that a lawyer is one who is a member of the Swedish Bar Association. The basic ethical rules for lawyers in Sweden can be found in the Bar Association’s guiding rules for good legal practice, as well as in the commentary to the guiding rules. Rules on lawyers’ professional duties are also found in the association’s statutes.
Lawyers’ obligations under the law
In the eighth chapter of the procedural code, you can find a number of rules that govern the activities of lawyers. In addition to the requirement to be a member of the bar association, it is also established that lawyers must carry out their duties in accordance with good legal practice, and that there is a duty of confidentiality regarding what a lawyer becomes aware of in the course of their professional practice. However, exceptions to the duty of confidentiality apply if the client has agreed to it or if there is a statutory obligation to provide said information. A lawyer is also obliged to keep money and other assets belonging to their principals separate from their personal belongings, which is why a special client funds account that is governed by the Rules of the Bar Association is usually opened.
Lawyers practice under the supervision of the Bar Association’s Board of Directors and Disciplinary Committee, who are responsible for examining matters of disciplinary action against lawyers. A lawyer who intentionally acts in violation of the law, or otherwise behaves dishonestly in his practice, risks in the worst case to be excluded from the association. In less serious cases, a warning or reminder can be given, which, if there are special reasons, can be combined with a fine to the association.
Good legal practice
The law states that lawyers must work in accordance with good legal practice, without further explanation of what this means. For this purpose, the bar association has therefore developed its framework “Guidelines on good legal practice”, which sets out detailed guidelines for the lawyer’s actions in their business activities.
The absolute foremost duty of a lawyer is to show fidelity and loyalty towards their clients. The lawyer must act as an independent adviser and safeguard and represent the client’s interests. The client must be able to feel complete trust in their lawyer and be sure that the assignment and all tasks are handled thoroughly and with care.
In addition to the above-mentioned duty of confidentiality regarding the information that the lawyer receives from his clients, conversely a duty of information applies towards the client. This means that the lawyer must keep the clients up-to-date on what is going on in the case, as well as answer the questions the client asks without unreasonable delay.
As an additional protection for the client, the lawyer is required to have liability insurance, which covers economic damage caused to the client or third parties through the lawyer’s error or negligence in their professional practice. The membership fee to the Bar Association includes basic insurance, but in the rules of good legal practice there is also a requirement to take out extended insurance if this can be considered necessary with regard to the conducted legal practice.
If a situation arises in a case where the lawyer cannot follow good legal practice, or alternatively completely disagrees with the client about how the case should be handled, the assignment must be terminated. There may also exist conflicts of interest which prevents a lawyer from being assigned a certain case, for example if there is a previous relation to the other party. On the other hand, a lawyer may not simply resign from an assigned case without valid reasons. When resigning from a case, the lawyer is obliged to state the reasons for this to the client, and at the client’s request to provide written notification thereof. The lawyer must, if possible, provide the client with reasonable time to hire another lawyer before resigning.
As stated above, there is absolutely no reason for there to be any difference in the quality of the work performed by a legal advisor or a lawyer. In the vast majority of cases, they have gone through exactly the same education, and can in addition work within exactly the same fields and possess equivalent work experience and competence.
What separates them is instead the ethical rules of conduct that lawyers and law firms are subject to, whereby the professional title serves as a guarantee that the hired representative is obliged to practice their profession in a certain way. Of course, all serious and professional legal advisors also strive to maintain the same high standards, but for a prospective client who feels unsure, the title of lawyer can provide additional assurance that their case and all related tasks are being handled in accordance with the rigorous regulatory framework that a lawyer has to oblige with.
As a Swedish-Spanish law firm, Franke & De la Fuente is working both in accordance with the Swedish and the Spanish frameworks for lawyer ethics and client loyalty. Our clients can therefore feel secure that their cases are handled in accordance with the same standards maintained by lawyers in Sweden and Spain respectively. We always put our clients’ interests first and treat our duty of confidentiality and the client’s trust with the utmost respect. Our goal is for the client to feel well informed and cared for in all phases throughout the entire process.
If you are in need of legal services on the Costa del Sol, do not hesitate to contact Franke & De la Fuente for an initial free consultation!