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Attorneys-at-Law in Austria: Important Facts About the Legal Profession and Law Firms Austria

Austria has one of the most robust economies in the European Union, as well as one of the strongest legal systems.

The Austrian legal system is based on Roman law and is structured in a hierarchical order. This arrangement of laws in tiers means that subordinate laws and ordinances must comply with higher ranking laws and regulations.

Austria is also a notable investment market, which has led to increased demand in professional legal services. A 2018 report revealed that there are more than 6,000 attorneys at law (Rechtsanwalt) in Austria, and their services are vital to every individual or business who is trying to navigate Austria’s intricate legal system.

Briefly, an attorney’s responsibility is to represent the client before all courts and authorities in the Republic of Austria. Their services of Attorneys in Austria are essential in a constitutional state since they provide professional legal advice and represent the client’s best interest in a wide range of public and private matters.

Regulations for Austrian lawyers - Austrian Attorneys and Law Firms in Austria

In Austria, the attorney profession is based on self-governance, or self-rule, which means that attorneys can exercise all necessary functions without the intervention of an external authority. Austria is made out of nine federal states, and each state has a separate bar association. Then, there is also the Austrian Bar Association, which pursues the best interests of lawyers and organizes their tasks.

The regulations that Austrian lawyers must follow are laid out in the Austrian Lawyers’ Code of Practice (RAO for Attorneys Austria).

As a general rule, anyone who wishes to be an attorney in Austria doesn’t need an official appointment to do so. However, they do need to comply with several regulations and demonstrate a high level of education and expertise. The admission to practice law is obtained after meeting the following:

  • Obtain a law degree for becoming an Attorney Austria
  • Be a trainee lawyer in a law firm for at least three years (Rechtsanwaltsanwärter)
  • Complete a seven-month clerkship at court
  • Attend 42 training seminars for Attorneys in Austria
  • Pass the bar exam of Attorneys in Austria
  • Accumulate five years of professional experience (clerkship and apprenticeship included)

On average, it takes about ten years for an aspiring attorney to meet all the requirements for the list of Austrian attorneys. The training process is rigorous for soon-to-be attorneys. In addition to holding a law degree, completing the required apprenticeship and clerkships, and gaining sufficient professional experience, attorneys must also be independent and act in equal measure as advocates and advisors. A professional attorney-at-law in Austria acts exclusively in the client’s best interest in judicial, extrajudicial, private, and public matters. Attorneys are free from collisions of interest, which means that they can’t accept a mandate that does not represent your interests. They are also bound by complete confidentiality.

If a foreign attorney is a citizen of a Member State of the E.U. or a contracting state of the European Economic Area Convention or Switzerland, then they can be allowed to do the following in Austria:

  • Temporarily work as an attorney-at-law in Austria
  • Pass an aptitude exam to be included on the list of attorneys at law of the local Chamber of Lawyers
  • Set up a legal practice in Austria. This does not require an exam, and the professional title obtained in the country of origin will suffice. After three years of “effective and regular” legal practice in Austria, they can be integrated into the Austrian legal profession.

Those who want to find a competent attorney-at-law in Austria can visit the directory of attorneys published by the Convention of the Austrian Bar Association (ÖRAK), which lists all the Austrian attorneys registered with a bar association (list of Attorneys in Austria).

Austrian attorneys have a responsibility before the law to represent their clients to the best of their abilities and practice their profession in an appropriate manner. Those who do not do that, and bring the attorney profession into disrepute, can be held responsible by a disciplinary council selected by the local Chamber of Lawyers. Depending on the severity of their deeds, penalties can range from a simple warning to striking the attorney from the list of attorneys at law. Austrian attorneys are also subject to criminal and civil liability.

The duties of attorneys-at-law in Austria - Services and obligations of Austrian Attorneys, Law Firms Austria

The duties of an attorney-at-law fall into two categories: advocate and advise.

As an advocate, it is the attorney’s duty to represent one of the parties (claimant or defendant) in civil or criminal trials, argue in their support, and present relevant evidence.

As an advisor, the attorney informs the client with regards to their legal rights and responsibilities, and suggests the course of action that serves their best interests. An attorney applies the law to the circumstances faced by their clients.

A brief rundown of typical attorney activities includes:

  • Communicate as often as required with their clients (verbally or in writing)
  • Analyze the client’s legal situation and research their needs
  • Interpret laws and regulations for clients, be them individuals or businesses
  • Advise clients in private and public matters
  • Explain to clients what legal options they have and suggest the strategies that would solve their case favorably and cost-effectively
  • Represent clients in court or in before government agencies and argue on their behalf
  • Prepare all the legal documentation required for contracts, wills, lawsuits, and other legal documents

In Austria, lawyers are bound by confidentiality rules. According to the Austrian Code of Professional Responsibility, lawyers must facilitate free and open communication with their clients. It also states that the information that clients disclose to their attorneys cannot be disclosed to a third party without their consent. The right to confidentiality continues even after the attorney has stopped representing the client. The attorney also cannot testify in court against their clients or make public attorney-client communications without the client’s consent.

Types of attorneys and their areas of expertise - Austrian Attorney and Law Firms Austria

Depending on their specialization, attorneys can support clients in a wide range of legal matters. For clients, it’s imperative to understand the division of legal areas because, just like in the case of medicine, the law is a highly specialized field. An attorney that specializes in tort law may not be able to efficiently represent you in matters of corporate law, for instance, so before entering any agreement, clients are advised to research that attorney’s expertise, read reviews and testimonials, and request an initial consultation to find out how they can help.

When required, and depending on the complexity of the case, the client may be represented by a team of lawyers specializing in different areas. Here are some examples:

  • Litigation and arbitration: avoiding disputes, not taking a case to court by agreeing on a settlement, and avoiding costly legal proceedings.
  • Business law: attorneys specializing in business law can help you set up a business or branch office in Austria. They also assist clients in regards to all the legal aspects of owning a business, from choosing the right company structure to registering it, understating taxes, and planning mergers and acquisitions.
  • Claim for damages/Tort law: receiving financial compensation after suffering loss or harm. This area covers negligence, financial losses, and personal injuries.
  • Debt collection: following the legal proceedings to collect unpaid debts, both from domestic clients and those based in the European Union. 
  • Contract assessment, drafting, and settlement: helping clients draft contracts, agreements, wills, terms and conditions, rent and tenancy agreements, and so on. 
  • Real estate law: purchasing real estate, completing land transactions, reviewing and inspecting properties, handling real estate projects   
  • Construction and planning, also known as municipal law: helping clients with the legal aspects of real estate developments, such as understanding zoning law, land use, and mediating landlord-tenant disputes.
  • Corporate and commercial law: reforming and restructuring company takeovers, handling subventions and financing, intellectual property, assistance with drafting international contracts.
  • Corporate criminal law: representing your rights during investigations, filing motions to dismiss criminal charges, advising executives on how to prevent legal issues, consultancy services for criminal and fiscal offenses. 

Payment and billing of Austrian Attorneys in Austria - Law Firms Austria

In the absence of other agreements, Austrian attorneys offer their services “by tariff.” As far as billing is concerned, there are four major options:

  • Payment based on a standard rate
  • Individual services
  • Hourly rate
  • Lump-sum fee agreement

Attorneys in Austria can set the fees at their discretion, and, in general, each attorney has a preferred payment and billing system. To prevent potential misunderstandings down the line, attorneys and clients typically sign a written compensation agreement detailing the fees to be inquired.

Those who want to hire the services of an attorney-at-law in Austria need to be aware of the difference between uniform rate-based billing and billing based on specific services rendered. Thus, uniform rate-based billing refers to a statutory fee arising from the Austrian Attorneys’ Fees Act and can include a surcharge of 50% or 60%, depending on the assessment. With some services, the surcharge can be two or three times higher. This payment model usually applies for billing a court or an opposing party, and all ancillary costs, such as phone calls or meetings, are already included in the price.

Meanwhile, with billing based on specific services rendered, the client must pay for all individual services, such as phone calls, e-mails, or meetings. The right type of billing varies from case to case, which is why clients who have never hired a legal professional before can calculate the rates of Austrian attorneys using online tools.