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How do advocates differ from legal advisers?

Currently the difference between an advocate (adwokat) and a legal adviser (radca prawny) boils down to membership of separate bar associations. There are two separate professional self-governing organisations for professional attorneys—one for advocates and one for legal advisers.

Until mid-2015 the substantive distinction between these professions lay in the right to appear as defence counsel in criminal proceedings—only advocates could serve as defence counsel. Now, following amendment of the Criminal Procedure Code, legal advisers may also appear as defence counsel in criminal cases. Thus there are no longer any formal differences in the matters that can be handled by members of these two professions.

As a rule, advocates and legal advisers practise their professions individually or in partnership with other lawyers from one or both of the bars.

After passing an examination, foreign lawyers may be entered in the roll of advocates or legal advisers.

Who is a trainee?

In law firms (regardless of their size) a substantial part of the work is carried out by legal adviser trainees and adwokat trainees. The period of traineeship is 3 years. A trainee can be anyone who has completed a master’s degree in law and passed a traineeship examination. Only after completing the traineeship and passing a professional qualification examination does a lawyer acquire the full right to represent clients.

What principles guide setting legal fees?

Normally lawyers in Poland charge for their work on an hourly basis but lump-sum fees are also common. Conditioning the fee on the outcome of the case (contingency fees or success fees) is discouraged by professional associations, and therefore our law firm does not use this system, even though the law has recently allowed its use to a certain extent (the Class Action Act provides that attorneys can receive up to 20% of the award).

What is the scope of attorney-client privilege?

Any information acquired by adwokaci or legal advisers in connection with advising a client (including in relation to the conduct of the case) is protected by attorney-client privilege. In particular, this concerns case files.

However, this rule applies only to documents belonging to adwokaci or legal advisers. Documents drafted by lawyers enjoy no legal protection under Polish law upon their receipt by the client. Clients are therefore advised, once they have read opinions or other documents containing confidential information, to file them so that they can be clearly identified as belonging to their attorneys.

Neither an adwokat nor a legal adviser can give testimony as a witness in respect of his knowledge of his clients’ cases. However, the privilege of an adwokat or legal adviser may be waived by the court in circumstances laid down strictly by law. The lawyers in our firm are loyal to the traditional interpretation of attorney-client privilege and give absolute priority to upholding the trust clients have placed in them.

There are also provisions that require attorneys to provide certain information to competent authorities, for example provisions designed to counter money laundering.