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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Law Backs Private Legal Companies

Petrov, Ivanov & Associates and hundreds of other private Russian law firms may soon hang out their shingles outside their offices, if a draft Justice Ministry law is approved.

The draft, presented to the press on Thursday, gives official endorsement for the first time to lawyers wishing to set up private practices in a move likely to expand the variety of legal advice available to the public.

"The new law allows individuals to establish their own firms or set up operations as individuals," Deputy Justice Minister Anatoly Stepanov said Thursday. "Yet they will have to be members of the bar in order to open their practices."

A handful of private Russian law practices have already opened up shop in recent years, but, on the whole, regional bar associations still organize lawyers in the old Soviet system of legal advice offices. There are 17,200 lawyers nationwide working out of 2,500 legal offices, according to the Justice Ministry.

The new law will allow only one authoritative bar organization to exist in each region. Today there are eight rival bar organizations in Moscow alone. The new system calls for the single bar organization to certify new lawyers and then issue them certificates allowing them to practice, a system common in the West.

The group of lawyers and government officials who presented the new legislation -- due to be discussed by the State Duma in the fall -- said it contains measures to protect lawyers, allowing them to operate with greater independence and effectiveness.

Such measures are needed because lawyers are still subject to Soviet-style pressures from the state from time to time. For example, Vladimir Smirnov, head of the Sverdlovsk Regional Bar Association, said that prosecutors recently imprisoned two lawyers in Chelyabinsk for a day because they did not like their aggressive approach to a case.

The Justice Ministry draft will force lawyers to continue to act as public defenders for those seeking legal aid; those who refuse can lose their licenses. Lawyers typically earn about 5,000 rubles a day from such work, Stepanov said.

As at present, foreign law firms will not be able to argue cases in Russian courts under the proposed law, but they will be able to work as legal and business consultants, officials said.