Norton Rose‘s former Greek office has relaunched as a chambers style set-up to avoid criminal proceedings from the Greek authorities.
The new legal entity is called Law Office Howard in Association with Norton Rose.
All nine lawyers in Law Office Howard are now self-employed. The move is to avoid the legal action faced by 10 UK firms for operating illegally.
It is hoped that the situation will be only temporary as Norton Rose has applied for registration under new regulations as a branch of a London firm.
Former Norton Rose partner Tim Howard says: “We saw registration as the right thing to do and so Norton Rose decided to close down operations in May.”
Greek authorities are claiming English firms have not registered with the local bar associations and so are practising illegally. This follows the implementation of an EU directive in May.
However, the firms, most of which are based in Piraeus, are contesting the claims, saying that Greek lawyers advised they were operating legally.
At the heart of the matter are the partnership structures that the firms have adopted which does not allow them to join the Piraeus or Athens bar associations.
Most of the UK firms with Greek offices have been operating as OEs and EPEs – equivalents to unlimited and limited liability partnerships. These partnership structures are not allowed by the Greek bar associations.
The Piraeus Bar Association has advised UK firms to wind up the existing structures and register as branches of London partnerships under local bar rules, but so far only Watson Farley & Williams, Norton Rose and one other have applied to either the Athens or Piraeus bar.
Clyde & Co, Crump & Co, Hewett & Co, Hill Taylor Dickinson, Holman Fenwick & Willan, Hughes Hooker & Co, Ince & Co, Richards Butler, Stephenson Harwood and Williamson Horrocks could all be facing legal action. However all are currently considering their positions.
The Law Society of England and Wales is lobbying the EU to challenge any criminal judgments. If found guilty, firms may not be covered by professional indemnity.
Piraeus Bar spokesman Evangelos Tsouroulis says: “Overseas firms offended both European and Greek law once they established themselves as commercial companies rendering legal services.”
Watson Farley partner Tony Rice says his firm has acted on local advice. He says: “Our Greek lawyers have put in a registration application and advise us we are not operating illegally.”