In Poland, any person holding a Magister's degree in law (Polish: magister prawa) is called a "jurist" or "lawyer" (Polish: prawnik). According to Polish legal doctrine, a lawyer should be understood as a person who graduated from law school with the aforementioned degree, even if such a person does not practice law after graduation.
Because an agent can act for any person under Polish law, some lawyers do what in the UK is done by solicitors. Thus, specialized persons write legal agreements, conduct negotiations, or execute debts. Polish law expressly permits persons with Magister's degree in law to provide legal counselling.
In the reasons for judgment of the Constitutional Tribunal of 26 November 2003 (ref. no. SK 22/02), the view was expressed for the first time that the provisions in force in Poland allow persons holding a Magister's degree in law to carry out legal counselling on their own account. A consequence of the judgment was the legal sanctioning of legal counselling offices run by persons who graduated from law schools but do not belong to bar associations. The person with qualifying legal education can work as:
counsel of the State Attorney Office (Polish: radca Prokuratorii Generalnej Skarbu Państwa), a legal representative of the Treasury where significant State property is at stake, their representation is also mandatory in all trials involving the Treasury at central courts,
legislative counsel (Polish: legislator), a legal profession whose practice consists in providing professional assistance to public authorities in the law-making process,
advocate (Polish: adwokat), whose primary function is to provide legal assistance, prepare legal opinions and drafts of legislative acts, and represent persons before a court in civil, administrative and criminal trials;
attorney at law (Polish: radca prawny), whose primary function is to provide legal assistance, prepare legal opinions and drafts of legislative acts, and represent persons before a court in civil, administrative and criminal trials;
bailiff (Polish: komornik), a public officer (but not an official) whose primary function is to execute court's decisions concerning civil claims.
Some legal professions may also be performed by graduates in other specific disciplines, such as economics or engineering. They require an appropriate admission examination to be passed; as such, lawyers are authorised to represent persons before courts in matters related to their profession. Such professions include:
tax advisor (Polish: doradca podatkowy), whose primary function is to advise persons in tax matters, represent them before courts and State authorities in tax matters and perform other activities related to tax law;
patent attorney (Polish: rzecznik patentowy), whose job consists of providing legal assistance in industrial property matters.
In modern Polish language, mecenas is an honorific title addressed to a person working in a legal profession and authorised to appear in a court of law on behalf of a client - advocates and attorneys at law.
In the 16th-century, lawyers of that time were called procuratores mercenarii, i.e. paid substitutes in litigation. In this way, they were distinguished from non-professional substitutes called procuratores. From the phrase procuratores mercenarii, the term mecenas was created by gradually eliminating the first segment and the "r" in the second word. It appeared as early as the 18th century in its modern form and became popular in the 19th century.
The title of mecenas is purely a matter of courtesy and is not protected by the law. It is most commonly used to address advocates and attorneys at law and can be loosely compared to the English counsel.
In 2014, the Press Office of the National Bar Council of Advocates called for the title of mecenas to be reserved only for advocates and attorneys-at-law, but this remained without impact on the practice of the media and legal community.
The distinction between advocates and attorneys at law
The division between adwokat and radca prawny was created by a 1959 law that forbade advocates from advising socialised economy units (primarily state enterprises and cooperatives, which were the dominant form of economic activity in the People's Republic of Poland) and introduced the new profession of radca prawny for that purpose.
Advocates: The National Bar Council of Advocates (ca 7,600 members);
Attorneys-at-law: The National Bar Council of Attorneys-at-Law (ca 50,000 members).
Currently, admission to the National Bar Council of Advocates is open to the National Bar Council of Attorneys-at-Law members and vice versa. Lawyers can be members of both bar associations simultaneously; however, they cannot practice both professions concurrently.
Since 2015, the position and rights of advocates and attorneys at law are identical in almost all matters, leading to public discussion on the unification of the two professions. Legal regulations regarding the two professions slightly differ:
Attorneys at law can enter into any employment contract while practising their profession; however, if they defend persons charged in criminal trials, they cannot remain employed under an employment contract;
Attorneys at law are allowed to publish information about their services (advertisement is forbidden); advocates' rules in this matter are much stricter;
Advocates are subject to significant limitations applying to the kind of business activities that they are allowed to undertake; the following actions are forbidden by the Advocates' Code of Ethics as colliding with the advocate's profession, while they are fully allowed to be performed by attorneys at law:
- holding the manager's position in another person's business entity;
- holding the position of a member of the management board or proxy in commercial partnerships and companies, except for law firms;
- acting as a regular commercial agent;
- running the same office with a person rendering other services, if they collide with advocates' ethical rule
While the Polish term radca prawny was usually literally translated to a legal advisor, in 2018, the bar adopted attorney at law as the official translation to avoid a misconception that its members only provide legal consultation and advice, rather than the full range of legal services, including representing their clients in courts.
There are no bar associations for judges and public prosecutors. The Ministry of Justice is in charge of the administration of the professions, while the President of the Republic of Poland appoints judges. Advocates, attorneys at law, notaries, bailiffs, patent attorneys, and tax advisors have their bar associations.
There are several ways of admission to the bar. As to advocates and attorneys at law, the following options are available:
Bar training for advocates and attorneys at law lasts for three years and consists of theoretical and practical courses. Each trainee (Polish: aplikant) has a patron, who must be a practitioner from the respective bar. The bar examination is a written exam that lasts four days and consists of preparing various documents and briefs in the following areas: criminal law, civil or family law, commercial law, administrative law, ethics.
Bar training for notaries is slightly shorter (two and a half years) and covers different areas of law.
National School of Judiciary and Public Prosecution
The National School of Judiciary and Public Prosecution was established in 2009 in Kraków.
The body in charge of training for future judges and public prosecutors is the National School of Judiciary and Public Prosecution in Kraków. After one year of general training, the candidates proceed to specialised training for another thirty months. Then, trainee judges serve apprenticeships as law clerks (twelve months) and as referendaries (Polish: referendarz). A similar apprenticeship is required for future public prosecutors.
^In the resolution of 22 September 2018, the National Bar Council of Attorneys-at-Law concluded that "legal adviser" and "legal advisor" can be used by people who have not completed legal studies. Therefore, it is not an accurate translation for Polish doradca prawny, which requires qualifying legal education (Polish: magister prawa).