Russian ministry considers a clampdown on foreign lawyers

THE RUSSIAN Ministry of Justice is considering plans to introduce much stricter rules for foreign lawyers working in the country.

Recommendations which are understood to have found favour with the Ministry of Justice include a requirement to force foreign lawyers who want to work on domestic law to pass a Russian-language legal exam.

Currently, foreign lawyers can practise international law in Russia if they have three year's experience at a firm and have passed their home country's relevant bar exams.

But Russians lawyers are angry that foreign lawyers often get involved in domestic Russian legal work without understanding the language or the Russian legal system.

One senior partner at an international firm in Moscow said: “Because foreign lawyers are often the most senior partners at a firm they will give advice on Russian law. But they can't begin to understand Russian domestic law without understanding the language. There should be a mechanism to make sure they know what they are talking about.”

The senior partner continued: “At the moment foreign lawyers can just walk in and practise domestic law in a way that would not be acceptable in other countries, especially the UK and the US.”

Insiders at the Ministry of Justice have said they will not push any changes too quickly for fear of damaging a fairly buoyant legal market.

But Freshfields' resident partner in Moscow Jacky Baudon said that while current regulations governing foreign lawyers in Russia were very flexible, he was unsure whether the threat of foreign expatriates practising Russian domestic law really existed.

“Most of our lawyers here are Russian anyway and none of the expat lawyers get involved with Russian domestic law,” he said. “I am sure that is also true of most of the other foreign firms in Moscow.”

Of the Russian government's plans to tighten up the regulation of lawyers, Baudon said: “We have heard of that intention for a long time. We are not very impressed.”