Everything you should know before hiring a trial (or any other) lawyer in Germany

First of all: German civil law is a codified system (more here). This means that pretty much everything you can think of as being relevant for a client-lawyer relationship is regulated by black letter law anyway. Thus, if you need a German lawyer (their official German title is Rechtsanwalt) quickly, feel free to just hire him or her by fax, email or even on the phone.

The Merits of Codification

In Germany, there is no need for written client-attorney engagement contracts, fee agreements or extensive “know your client” paperwork (especially not in private client business). Why? Because the obligations of a German lawyer towards his or her client are clearly laid down in various federal statutes of German law.

The most important ones being:

This central code of German civil law stipulates how agreements (including client lawyer contracts) are being entered into, what the general contractual rights and obligations between the parties are (here between the client and his/her German lawyer) and what remedies are available if the client does not pay or the lawyer malperforms or violates the obligations of a German legal counsel towards the client.

This Federal German Lawyers Act regulates (i) how to become a licensed lawyer (Rechtsanwalt) in Germany and (ii) what the core obligations of any German licensed lawyer towards his/her client are, from confidentiality obligations and conflict of interest to handling of client funds and mandatory malpractice insurance. If a German lawyer violates any of these statutory obligations towards his or her client, the German Bar Association will reprimand the attorney and – if the breach if severe enough – revoke the license to practise as a lawyer in Germany. Thus, you as the client of a German lawyer (Rechtsanwalt) are fully protected even if you do not enter into a written agreement. 

The federal statutes of the BRAO (above) are complemented on a more granular level by the Rules of Prefessional Conduct for German Lawyers which are binding for every German licensed lawyer (Rechtswanwalt). These rules are constantly being amended and supervised by the Federal German Bar Association of Lawyers  /  Bundesrechtsanwaltskammer (BRAK). In all forensic matters (as opposed to out of court legal advice), the rights and duties of a German litigator are of course also regulated in the German Code of Civil Procedure or specific procedure codes for other legal areas (German Labor Court Porcedure Rules, German Criminal Procedure Rules, German Administrative Court Procedure Rules etc.)

The RVG determines the remuneration a German legal counsel can charge his or her client. The basic idea behind the fee structure contained in the RVG, as well as the German Act on Court Fees, is that the actual fees due are linked to the amount in dispute, i.e. the monetary value of the case. You can get an idea of the basic costs of a German law suit from this cost calculator for German legal fees: FORIS Litigation Costs Calculator 

German lawyers are, however, entitled to agree fees which differ from the statutory RVG fee table. Well established law firms and experienced lawyers usually do charge significantly more than the base fees according to the RVG and its fee tables (Kostentabellen). Hourly rates of qualified German law firms range between EUR 200 net for associates to about EUR 800 net for very senior partners. For details about legal costs in Germany see the post: How Expensive is a german Lawsuit? 

Thus, in the light of all the existing statutory law, detailed letters of engagement are quite redundant and therefore uncommon in Germany. German lawyers are usually instructed rather informally by way of a meeting between the client and the lawyer or even just a phone call. 

Fee Agreement and Power of Attorney

However, even in Germany, potential clients are in most cases asked by law firms to sign a fee agreement (Honorarvereinbarung), especially in international cases. These German style fee agreements are usually significantly shorter (mostly just one page) than what a British or U.S. lawyer would ask the client to sign.

What clients are also usually asked to sign is a power of attorney or letter of authorization (Vollmacht), because it is customary – and sometimes even legally required (see sec. 174 German Civil Code) – for a German lawyer to provide written evidence of having been instructed as legal counsel. The other party’s lawyer or the court sometimes demands to see such formal power of attorney. Otherwise and until then, they refuse to discuss the matter or disclose confidential information.

GrafLegal Engagement Letter, Fee Agreement and POA for U.S. Clients

You can download the fee agreements and POA forms which GrafLegal uses on our law firm website in the section “forms & downloads”.

In case you wish to instruct GrafLegal, please contact us by phone or email. We will then send to you our retainer agreement (USA clients) as well as a bilingual power of attorney form. In case the U.S. client is a corporation or other business entity, we may have to undertake some form know your client and anti-money laundering checks. 

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.