Boost for foreign firms as Bulgaria’s Bar Act brings legal market in line with EU rules

International firms practising in Bulgaria are celebrating after the country’s government amended its bar rules to accept foreign firms.

Anna Rizova-Clegg
Anna Rizova-Clegg

On 9 June the Bulgarian government made the first of two readings of amendments to its Bar Act that will bring it in line with European Union rules.

The first reading enables international firms to practise in the Bulgarian market under the name of their EU member firm. Firms will no longer be required to have a name that refers to a member of a local practice.

The second reading, expected after parliament ’s summer recess, will amend regulation that currently allows only Bulgarian ­citizens to practise local law.

The result sees the end of a two-year battle between local and foreign firms that resulted in Bulgarian ­Competition Protection Committee (CPC) fines for DLA Piper, Cerha Hempel Spiegelfeld Hlawati, CMS Cameron McKenna and CMS Reich-Rohrwig.

Prior to the first reading, the Bulgarian Supreme Administrative Court rejected the firms’ appeal against their fines at the European Court of Justice, choosing to rescind Camerons’ fine but uphold the others.

Anna Rizova-Clegg, ­managing partner of DLA’s Sofia office, said while the decision was confusing, bringing the country’s legal market in line with EU competition rules represented a “significant evolutionary milestone” for the country.

“The final message from the government is the one we’d hoped for,” said Rizova-Clegg. “It was a battle and a war – the fine was a small detail but the implementation of EU rules is the war.”

Managing partner of Camerons’ Sofia office David Butts said while he was pleased the court overturned Camerons’ fine, he did not agree with how the court differentiated between it and the other firms.

He added: “The end result was worth the wait.”