Practicing Law for 300 Euros a Month

Eighteen months of obligatory indentured labor after having earned a law degree

Ellie Ismailidou, published April 27th, 2010 ‘To Vima’ print and online edition
See original story in Greek here (online edition)
See print edition here:


Chronically underpaid, laymen armed with hard-earned law degrees are employed for a monthly salary of just 300-400 euros. Thousands of young lawyers endure a grueling eighteen months of obligatory indentured labor as interns, registered with the local Bar Association. After graduation the new lawyers put on their best suits and show up for the first day at the office; that’s when the excitement fades and the nightmare begins. For the next eighteen months they will work without rights to minimum wage or insurance coverage. They will perform every kind of odd-job from filing court documents and issuing statements, to answering phones, making coffee and taking the boss’s suit to be dry-cleaned. And they’ll do all this for 200-400 euros a month – if they’re lucky!

“The root of the problem is the lack of a substantiated minimum wage for training lawyers. The majority of interns end up earning 30% of the salary of an unskilled laborer, comments Ms. Natasa Athanasiadou, a practicing attorney in the city of Thessaloniki. Various Bar Associations have adopted training compensation guidelines which, however, still remain unenforced.


Uninsured

The training lawyers work under precarious conditions pursuant to current legislation, which allows them to work legally while uninsured. “The current legislation fails to recognize interns as either lawyers or employees. Consequently their employers have no legal obligation to insure them! Imagine a first year training lawyer working in the crumbling trial court building in Athens. Who would be responsible for his care were he to be injured by a falling ceiling tile? Who would compensate him?” Mr. Nikolas Koutkias, president of the Young Lawyers Coalition of Athens, asks.

“We do have the right to insure ourselves so that, at the very least, we could have access to medical care if something were to happen. When the majority of first year trainees earn 200-300 euros a month, however, it’s not difficult to imagine what percentage is willing to contribute additional money for insurance,” comments Ms. Eliza Kazili, a first year training attorney from Thessaloniki.

“Unfortunately most young professionals in possession of a law degree limit themselves to doing mundane chores on behalf of the lawyers they work for, like going to the bank and to the tax offices, filling procedural court documents or even going to the supermarket and the drycleaners! All these tasks could easily be performed by an unskilled secretary or clerk.
The thing is that secretaries and clerks are simply better paid!” remarks Mr. Vasilis Arhimandritis, who, after having completed his mandatory eighteen months of training, is sitting the Athens Bar Association exam this weekend in order to obtain his license as a full-fledged practicing attorney.

“We all need to take initiative in order for the process to evolve,” comments Mr. Giorgos Georgopoulos, a training lawyer from Thessaloniki who decided to enroll in a post-graduate program at the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki Law School while working nine hour days interning at a legal firm. “I’m under constant pressure, but at least I’m gaining knowledge which makes up for it” he adds.
Trials
50% of attorneys in Athens participated in fewer than 5 trials in 2009
50% of attorneys in Thessaloniki participated in fewer than 9 trials in 2009
19.15% of attorneys in Athens didn’t participate in any trial in 2009
21.25% of attorneys in Thessaloniki didn’t participate in any trial in 2009

...and Clients
There is 1 lawyer for every 210 residents in Athens and Thessaloniki
There is 1 lawyer for every 395 Spanish citizens
There is 1 lawyer for every 490 New Yorkers
There is 1 lawyer for every 1,403 French citizens
‘Associated partners’

Ms. Eleni Moka, a training lawyer in Athens and a member of the Secretarial Committee for the association ‘Salaried Attorney’s Struggle’, struggled herself last year with the legal nonexistence of her position when she discovered the firm she was training under had installed unlicensed hidden cameras to film the employees. “After I made repeated requests asking for the surveillance cameras to be removed, the ultimatum arrived: ‘You’ll be gone in a month!’ I immediately filed a complaint with the Bar Association”. The answer I received from the board was simply that “As a training lawyer I can neither be ‘hired’ or ‘fired’ because I was not a technically employed, but rather a ‘associated partner’! That’s where the case went cold,” she concludes.

“During my internship I mostly learned how to handle practical and procedural issues. Familiarity with the judicial process is useful but the crux of the matter really lies in developing in the attorney-client relationship, which is something extremely difficult to teach,” explains Mr. Michalis Kalantzopoulos, Secretary General of the Coalition of Young Interning Athens Lawyers. He finished his mandatory training five years ago and has been a practising lawyer since then. Mr. Kalantzopoulos adds that the eighteen month mandatory duration of the internship program is unjustifiably long as it currently stands. “We all trained with a lawyer for 18 months, which is a fair amount of time. I feel that it would be more beneficial if the internship time was divided into three sections: six months with a lawyer, six months in court, and six months in a legal department of the public sector. A more balanced training schedule would enable us all to gain a more spherical understanding of legal applications,” he argues.

Ellie Ismailidou, published April 27th, 2010 ‘To Vima’ print and online edition
See original story in Greek here