The Law Society signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the Hungarian Bar Association on 23 January 2016.
Why Hungary? It sounds distant and different, but I think it is in fact close and similar.
Hong Kong and Hungary have close trade relationships. Hungary is the largest export market of Hong Kong in Central and Eastern Europe. Bilateral trade between the two places grew at about 4.6 percent annually between 2010 and 2014 and amounted to about EUR 1.3 billion in 2014. In 2014, about EUR 1.3 billion or 20.5 percent of the total trade between Hungary and the mainland of China was routed through Hong Kong.
Hong Kong’s major export items to Hungary include electrical apparatus for switching or protecting electrical circuits while Hong Kong’s main imports from Hungary include telecommunications equipment and automatic data processing machines.
Hungary is also covered by the Belt and Road Initiative. In June 2015, China signed an MOU with Hungary promoting the Initiative. This was the first such document China has signed with a European country.
It is perhaps time to know more about this beautiful place and in particular, the legal profession there. I have had an informative exchange with Dr. Andras Szecsky, the Vice President of the Hungarian Bar Association, and I am grateful for what he shared with me about the Hungarian legal profession.
The Hungarian legal system is a continental European civil law legal system, which is in many ways similar to the German/Austrian/Swiss legal system, but there are traces of the French Civil Code as well.
Traditionally, the three main branches of the Hungarian legal system are civil law, criminal law and public administrative law (including constitutional law). The highest legislative body is the Parliament, but the Government, the Secretaries of the State and local Municipalities can also issue decrees.
Hungary is a member of the European Union since 1 May 2004. The laws and regulations of the EU are therefore applicable in Hungary.
The legal profession in Hungary is fused. There used to be two bars for lawyers and legal advisers and they merged in the early 1990s. There are 20 territorial Bar Associations, one for each of the 19 counties of Hungary together with one for the capital city of Budapest. The Budapest Bar Association is currently the largest Bar Association in Hungary.
The Hungarian Bar Association is the overarching organisation comprising representatives of the territorial Bar Associations and its functions are mainly regulatory.
There are currently 13,500 attorneys practising in Hungary. With roughly a population of around 10 million, there is on average one attorney in every 750 people. This overall ratio is slightly lower than, but largely similar to, that in Hong Kong where we have one practising solicitor in every 850 people. However, compared to Hong Kong, Hungary is geographically huge and most attorneys practise in Budapest where the ratio is estimated to be around one attorney in every 300 people.
Becoming an Attorney
Normally, it takes seven years for a person to qualify as a solicitor in Hong Kong, counting from the year he starts law school in a university.
In Hungary, it takes a little longer – five years at a law school plus three years of training before one is qualified to take the Bar Examination. Only after having passed the Bar Examination can one practise as an attorney.
Form of Practice
Attorneys in Hungary can either practise law as sole practitioners or in partnership with other attorneys. Approximately half of the lawyers in Hungary practise as sole practitioners and the other half in partnerships. Again, this is interestingly similar to the Hong Kong profile as we have nearly half (46 percent) of legal practices in the form of sole proprietorships.
In Budapest, there are about 50 firms with more than 10 attorneys whereas in the countryside, practice as sole practitioners is more common.
Attorneys in Hungary are entitled to provide legal advice to clients in any field of law and no further qualification is required before an attorney can practise in individual specialised areas of law. Most attorneys carry on a mixed practice but predominantly in civil law and criminal law.
The signing of the MOU lays a very good foundation for the Law Society of Hong Kong and the Hungarian Bar Association to work together to explore further collaboration opportunities for the benefit of our respective members.