29 November 2002

Bonjour from Brussels

Elizabeth Wallace completed a Trainee Solicitor exchange with Brussels law firm Bartholomeeusen & Associés.

Elizabeth, who speaks French, remarked, "In Brussels I carried out civil and commercial work under the supervision of Daniel Antoniou, one of the partners in the firm. I went to court often, drafted legal arguments and helped interview clients with the assistance of Nicolas Babikow, a trainee at the firm. It was challenging to live and work in another country for a month".

The exchange highlighted many differences between the two legal systems. Belgium is a bilingual country and it is not uncommon to deal with both French and Flemish speaking clients. There are no barristers in Belgium and the lawyers take on the dual role of both solicitor and barrister. They plead in court wearing 'une toge' (a gown) but no wigs. Even the most junior lawyers are self-employed. They have a very flexible approach to work and this has its advantages if you are not an early riser!

Trainees earn a commission or a percentage for the work that they do on a case and they can have their own clients as well. They have no obligation to practise certain areas of law. As part of their training however, they must take on cases for people who do not have enough money to pay for a lawyer.

Elizabeth said, "It was interesting to experience the different law and practices in Belgium. Learning more about our European neighbours can only be beneficial."