WHERE IS MY JURY?

Everything you know about litigation as a U.S. lawyer is wrong for a German lawsuit. Brace yourself for a court room culture shock.

 

WHO’S TALKING?

German trial lawyer Bernhard Schmeilzl heads the litigation team of Graf & Partners LLP, a German law firm for Anglo-American clients.

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Check the National Register of German Attorneys at Law

The official professional title of a German lawyer is Rechtsanwalt (male) oder Rechtsanwältin (female). Only fully qualified German lawyers who have passed both legal exams are entitled to refer to themselves as “Rechtsanwalt” or – in short – “Anwalt”. The use of the word “Anwalt” in Germany corresponds with ths use of “counsellor” in the USA.

The German legal profession is not divided into two classes of lawyers (solicitors and barristers). Instead, as in the USA, a German counsellor is permitted to appear and represent clients in court. Unlike in the USA, the right to practice law in Germany is not restricted to a certain German state (Bundesland) or region. Instead, while they take their bas exam in a certain state and are members of a local bar association, all German lawyers are admitted to all courts throughout the country. Thus, a Bavarian litigation lawyer from Munich may, for instance, appear in a Berlin court, without any need for prior registration or getting the licence registered in that state.

The only exception is the Bundesgerichtshof (German Supreme Court), where only specially accredited German lawyers have the right of audience in civil matters. Those lawyers are referred to as Rechtsanwälte am Bundesgerichts (for a list of these lawyers see here).

If you need to hire a German lawyer and you are uncertain whether the lawyer you have found on the web is actually admitted to practice law in Germany, there is a very easy way to check and verify the name and professional address of said lawyer online. Simply visit the official register of German lawyers on the website of German Bar Association (Bundesrechtsanwaltkammer). The same is true in case you are being contacted by an alleged German lawyer and something appears fishy. Simply go on the official register and contact the address given there to verify.

For legal advice on German civil procedure and how to successfully litigate in Germany, contact the international litigation experts and trial lawyers of GrafLegal and visit our YouTube channel

Copyright & Disclaimer All posts are copyrighted material. This blog is made available by Graf & Partners for educational purposes as well as to give you general information on German law, not to provide specific legal advice. Simply reading this blog does, of course, not result in any attorney client relationship between you and Graf & Partners. The blog should not be used as a substitute for competent legal advice provided by a licensed professional attorney in a specific legal matter.


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Why are German Wills often successfully challenged and voided?

As in most jurisdictions, a German Last Will can be challenged if the testator, at the time of making the Will,

(i) lacked mental capacity (in German: if he or she was “testierunfähig”); or

(ii) was under undue influence, e.g. pressured or threatened (“bedroht”); or

(iii) was under some false impression (“im Irrtum”), i.e. erred about certain circumstances.

These are the most commonly known standard legal reasons based on which a Will can be made void. German inheritance law, however, has a few surprises to offer.

More legal grounds for challenging Wills under German Succession Laws

Under German inheritance law, there are additional grounds for challenging a will which are unknown to most Common Law systems. These are the so called “Anfechtungen wegen Übergehung eines Pflichtteilsberechtigten”section 2079 German Civil Code (Bürgerliches Gesetzbuch).

These rights to challenge and make void an otherwise perfectly fine German will often surprise and take aback even German beneficiaries and their lawyers. The idea behind these statutes is to protect the interests of the surviving spouse and of children if the Will has been set up at a time when the testator was not yet married to said spouse or the (additional) child has not been born. In these circumstances, if the testator does not amend, i.e. update, his or her “old” will, the spouse or child not mentioned therein can make this will void by appealing to the German probate court (Nachlassgericht), which must be done within certain deadlines.

The details on how to formally challenge a Will in Germany are explained in this blog here. and in the post “Contentious Probate in Germany

More on litigation and legal costs in Germany:

For legal advice on German civil procedure and how to successfully litigate in Germany, contact the international litigation experts and trial lawyers of GrafLegal.

Copyright & Disclaimer All posts are copyrighted material. This blog is made available by Graf & Partners for educational purposes as well as to give you general information on German law, not to provide specific legal advice. Simply reading this blog does, of course, not result in any attorney client relationship between you and Graf & Partners. The blog should not be used as a substitute for competent legal advice provided by a licensed professional attorney in a specific legal matter.


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Corona forces German courts into de facto lockdown for 2020

If you want to end a German legal dispute in the foreseeable future – settle!

If you have beef with a German business partner, do not count on any help from German civil or business courts during spring and summer 2020. While German civil courts are officially still open and working, oral hearings (mündliche Verhandlungen) are being postponed, stayed or outright cancelled.

In theory, pursuant to sec. 128a German Civil Procedure Rules (link to the English translation of the statute available here) German court hearings (mündliche Verhandlung) can be conducted via video conference (skype, zoom etc), but most German judges are sceptical and unfamiliar with these options. Pre Corona, this was simply not necessary and virtually no German civil or business court judge has felt a need to consider an online video conference hearing.

Without such oral hearings, the court cannot decide the case, unless the parties agree on settlement terms which will then be confirmed and sealed by the court.

Corona forces parties to settle unless they are prepared to wait 6-9 months

Therefore: Try hard to settle any legal disputes as soon as possible! Even after the factual lockdown has ended (whenever that may be), it will take the German civil and business courts many months to get a grip on their backlog of cases.

Another important aspect to consider: Due to the unavoidable recession in Germany and around the world, in Summer and Fall of 2020 many German defendants will be bankrupt.

Thus, even if you eventually win the case, it will not do you (or your client) any good because chances are you (your client) will not be able to enforce the claim against the (bankrupt) German defendant anymore. So, settle the dispute, cut your losses and run!

More information on litigation and legal fees in Germany is available in these posts:

For legal advice on German civil procedure and how to successfully litigate in Germany, contact the international litigation experts and trial lawyers of GrafLegal.

Copyright & Disclaimer All posts are copyrighted material. This blog is made available by Graf & Partners for educational purposes as well as to give you general information on German law, not to provide specific legal advice. Simply reading this blog does, of course, not result in any attorney client relationship between you and Graf & Partners. The blog should not be used as a substitute for competent legal advice provided by a licensed professional attorney in a specific legal matter.


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The Process and Main Stages of Civil Litigation in Germany

Filing a Civil Complaint

In order to initiate a civil lawsuit (Zivilprozess) in Germany, the plaintiff (Kläger) files a complaint with the competent German court (see here). This complaint is called “Klage” or “Klageschrift”, which means “statement of claim”.

After due registration by the court and a very preliminary compliance check with regards to the formal requirements set out by the German Civil Procedure Rules, the complaint is then served to the defendant. In most cases, the court itself takes care of the service procedure, but only after the claimant has either paid the court fees (Gerichtskosten) or has been granted legal aid by the court, which requires the claimant to demonstrate reasonable chances of success.

Personal service of civil litigation documents is normally not required in Germany and – as long as there is a valid address of the defendant within Germany — the claimant does not have to bother with any matters of service at all (for details see here).

In addition to the Klageschrift (complaint) itself, the court will serve to the defendant a letter setting a deadline for the defendant to inform the court whether they wish to dispute the claim. This deadline is usually 2 weeks if the defendant is resident in Germany but can be significantly longer if the defendant resides outside Germany. The court documents will contain detailed explanatory notes on the rights and obligations of the defendant. If the defendant misses this deadline, the German court will issue a default judgment (Veräumnisurteil), which is explained here.

In the Klageschrift (civil complaint), the plaintiff or their lawyer first explain why this specific German court has jurisdiction (Zuständigkeit) and demonstrate that all other formal requirements are satisfied, for example that the plaintiff is duly represented by a German licensed lawyer which is required on the High Court level and up (Postulationsfähigkeit), that the case is not already pending elsewhere (anderweitige Rechtshängigkeit), and that the lawsuit is not frivolous (Rechtsschutzbedürfnis). This part of the complaint is called “Zulässigkeit der Klage” (admissibility of the complaint).

The second part of the German statement of claim, the so called “Begründetheit der Klage” (justification of the claim), deals with the actual legal merits of the claim. In this part of the civil complaint, the German plaintiff’s lawyer describes the nature of the injury and damages and lays out how the defendant caused the harm.

The actual “application for relief” (Klageantrag) is usually stated right at the beginning of the complaint (i.e. on page 1 or 2). Some old-fashioned German litigation lawyers, however, put the demand for relief at the end of the German civil complaint. In the Klageantrag, the plaintiff may seek a wide variety of remedies, inter alia the payment of a specific amount of money to compensate for the damages (Zahlungsanspruch), or a court order against the defendant to stop a specific conduct (Unterlassungsanspruch). A German civil court may order many other types of relief, for details see this post.

Preparation of a German Civil Case

As we have explained in other posts (here), there is neither any discovery procedure under German civil procedure rules, nor are there any depositions or written witness statements. There is also no jury and no cross-examination of witnesses. German civil cases are much more centered around the judge (or panel of judges). These judges do not appreciate showboat lawyers trying to create a spectacle (to impress their client). Instead, these German judges want to be presented the relevant facts. Calmly and without aggressively attacking witnesses or experts. Remember that nowadays approximately 50% of German high court judges are female. They are usually not a fan of too much lawyer testosterone in the courtroom.

Since there is no jury and since the professional German judges are already well aware of the facts of the case from the submitted briefs, there are usually also no closing arguments. Once the relevant witnesses are heard (questions are asked by the judge!), the judge gives the parties an opportunity to discuss the case, especially to consider a late stage settlement. If this fails, the oral hearing is usually ended rather abruptly and the court adjourns.

This German style of a rather “mellow approach to civil litigation” often creates considerable frustration for US clients and their US attorneys because they feel that their side is not being presented as it should be. And a reasonable dose of US style aggressiveness in a German courtroom can work wonders. We frequently use these “shock and awe” tactics for our international clients. However, overdoing this in a German courtroom can be counterproductive. German trial lawyers who represent US or UK clients in Germany must explain the options and openly discuss strategy.

All this leads to a very different preparation of the civil lawsuit compared to the USA or the United Kingdom. In general, the oral hearings themselves are much less dramatic and also much less important for the outcome of the lawsuit. The lawyer’s briefs (Schriftsätze) together with reports of expert witnesses (Sachverständige), who are selected, instructed and questioned by the court – not by the parties, are generally what decides the case.

Settling a German Lawsuit

To avoid the stress, delay and expense which come with a formal trial, German civil procedure rules encourage litigants to attempt to reach any amicable resolution of the legal dispute. Thus, it is not only permitted but highly recommended and expressly encouraged by German civil litigation judges to settle a lawsuit – at any stage. The German system of statutory legal fees (both court and lawyer fees) also incentivises settlements. To be blunt: German lawyers earn more fees if they can get their clients to settle. More on this in the post: How to Settle a Lawsuit in Germany.

Oral Hearing in German Civil Proceedings

As explained above, there is no jury. Thus, oral hearings in German civil lawsuits are much shorter. If there is no need to hear witnesses or experts, and if the parties are unwilling to discuss a settlement, the hearing can be over in 10 minutes. For more on oral hearings in a German civil procedure see here .

The taking of evidence in a German civil trial is explained in this post here. Further major differences between civil litigation in German and the USA are that (i) there are no verbatim records or transcripts of what is said in the German oral hearings (details here), much less are there any video cameras or live broadcast; and (ii) the court documents are not public record.

How are Judgments issued by German Civil Courts?

Once all evidence is presented, expert reports have been obtained and once there has been at least one oral hearing, the court decides whether there is the need for another oral hearing or whether the court is willing to allow the parties to submit one final statement within a specific deadline (Schriftsatzfrist).

Whenever the court is satisfied that all relevant aspects have been duly dealt with and both parties have had sufficient opportunity to state their arguments and to present their evidence, then the court informs the parties about the date on which the judgment will be handed down (Verkündungstermin). Again, since there is no jury, this is a rather undramatic. In the vast majority of cases, neither party shoes up for the rendition of the judgment (Urteilsverkündung), because that would be over in 2 minutes since the judge only reads the operative provisions (Urteilstenor), i.e. who has won the lawsuit. In practice, both parties’ lawyers have a paralegal call the court on the day of the Urteilsverkündung and ask the court clerk to fax or email an advance copy of the judgment. The official copy of the German judgment will then be sent by post within a few days. Usually, the judgment is served to the parties’ lawyers who will then evaluate the reasons given by the court. Based on this evaluation, they will then advise their clients on whether it makes sense to officially appeal the German judgment.

More information on litigation and legal fees in Germany is available in these posts:

For legal advice on German civil procedure and how to successfully litigate in Germany, contact the international litigation experts and trial lawyers of GrafLegal.

Copyright & Disclaimer All posts are copyrighted material. This blog is made available by Graf & Partners for educational purposes as well as to give you general information on German law, not to provide specific legal advice. Simply reading this blog does, of course, not result in any attorney client relationship between you and Graf & Partners. The blog should not be used as a substitute for competent legal advice provided by a licensed professional attorney in a specific legal matter.


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What is an “Unterlassungsklage”?

If you start a business in Germany, it is hard to avoid being taken to court by a competitor who files a German cease and desist order lawsuit against you in order to tell you what you are allowed to do and what you are not. Why so?

Germans have a lot of rules. An old saying is “Alles muss seine Ordnung haben” which means “everything must be in order”. But what good are rules if no one bothers to obey them?

Unlike the Italians and the Greek, who – at least on paper – also have a lot of laws and regulations, which – however – in everyday life no one seems to care about, Germans cannot bear if someone continuously does not play by the rules. There is the cliché of the German pedestrian waiting for the traffic light to turn green at 3 a.m. in the morning with no car in sight.

Getting sued in Germany is a matter of weeks!

That is why an extremely popular litigation tool under German law is the “Unterlassungsklage”, the German version of a cease and desist order application. This is used in all areas of German life, business and private. A neighbor repeatedly parks his car in your driveway? File a cease and desist order to prevent that from happening again. Someone sends you unwanted advertising emails? File a cease and desist order. A business competitor does not comply with German trade regulations on his web shop? File a cease … Well, you get the picture.

Sounds funny, but this can be a serious obstacle for non-German businesses starting up in Germany. We have had cases where a British or US business was confronted with 50+ cease and desist lawsuits by German competitors within the first month of trying to do business in Germany. For more on the German tradition of stress testing any newcomers see this post: Harsh Unfair Competition Rules in Germany

More information on litigation and legal fees in Germany is available in these posts:

For legal advice on German civil procedure and how to successfully litigate in Germany, contact the international litigation experts and trial lawyers of GrafLegal.


Copyright & Disclaimer All posts are copyrighted material. This blog is made available by Graf & Partners for educational purposes as well as to give you general information on German law, not to provide specific legal advice. Simply reading this blog does, of course, not result in any attorney client relationship between you and Graf & Partners. The blog should not be used as a substitute for competent legal advice provided by a licensed professional attorney in a specific legal matter.

 


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“I can’t do any literary work for the rest of this year because I’m meditating another lawsuit and looking around for a defendant.”

– Mark Twain

THE EXPERT LAW BLOG CATEGORIES

German Statutes

All relevant Codes of Procedure and more for German Lawyers.

Pre-Trial

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Filing a Petition

How to file a German lawsuit: formal requirements, tactics and strategies.

Settlements

Know the benefits and risks of settling a German legal dispute.

Taking Evidence

No jury, no deposition, no cross-examination. Be prepared for differences.

Court Hearings

How to prepare for and what to do in a German trial court hearing.

Appeals

What are the options if a German court has ruled against you?

Legal Costs

Everything you need to know about German Court and Lawyer Fees.