Belgium International Trade in Legal Services

Belgium International Trade in Legal Services


Is there legislation governing the legal sector

The Belgian Judicial Code Act of 4 July 2001 on the Structure of the Bar

Under what title do lawyers practise?


How does an individual lawyer obtain a "licence" to practise law? How often must this be renewed?





In order to hold the title of  Belgian 'avocat', 'avocaat' or 'rechtsanwalt', a lawyer must be a citizen of Belgium or of another Member State of the European Union (article 428 of the L 02-07-1975). Becoming a lawyer requires the completion of 5 years of university study and registration with the relevant local Bar in order to become a trainee lawyer. Trainee lawyers are then required to undertake 3 years of supervised practice, undertake a number of training courses and pass professional examinations before they can be registered as full lawyers in their own right. Registration with the relevant Bar, requires candidates to submit to their local Court of Appeal: their original degree certificate, proof of nationality and a certificate of good conduct, along with details of their trainee supervisor. They are then required to swear an oath.

Does this entitle the holder to practise throughout the country? If the law license only permits one to practice on a sub-national level, please explain the jurisdictional limits

The licence to practise in Belgium is a national one but requires registration with a local Bar.


Are there certain activities that are "reserved" to those who are licensed to practise law in the jurisdiction?

Pleading and filing briefs of arguments before any court before the Courts is an activity reserved for fully qualified Belgian lawyers. 

Do you need to hold local nationality to be eligible to practise law?

Article 428 of the Belgian Judicial Code stipulates that nobody can use the title of lawyer or practise as a lawyer if he or she is not Belgian or a citizen of an EU Member State. The nationality requirement is derived from Royal Decree of 24 August 1970 (Belgian Official Journal of 8 September 1970).  Foreign lawyers may practise in Belgium as legal consultants.

What legal forms can lawyers work in? (e.g. self employment, partnership, limited liability partnership, multi-disciplinary partnership, incorporation)

Lawyers can use the following forms:  A civil company taking the form of commercial company (sociétés civiles empruntant la forme des sociétés commerciales - s.c.r.l.); a limited liability cooperative company (société coopérative à responsabilité limitée - s.p.r.l.),; or a private limited liability company (société privée à responsabilité limitée).  An individual lawyer may organize his or her practice as a civil company taking the form of a single shareholder private limited liability company (société civile empruntant la forme d’une société privée à responsabilité limitée unipersonelle)

What other ethical or regulatory requirements must a licensed lawyer comply with? 

Lawyers must comply with a body of additional ethical rules and requirements. The Brussels Bar association publishes a collection of these rules every year at
In addition, the CCBE Code of Conduct for European lawyers applies in cross-border dealings with lawyers in other member states of the European Union or from countries whose Bars are associate members of the Council of European Bars and Law Societies (CCBE).

Do law firms need to receive a "license" (or permission/approval) to practice law?

There is no requirement for a law firm licence but the different bar associations have their own requirements for notification by lawyers of the establishment of a firm and/or its authorization.

Which authority issues licences? Are there different authorities for individuals and firms? 

All lawyers must be members of their local Bar. The Ordre des Barreaux Francophones et Germanophone (OBFG) groups together all the local bars of the French-speaking and German-speaking communities in the country. The Orde van Vlaamse Balies (OVB) is the umbrella organisation for the local bars of the country’s Dutch-speaking community.



Are there any explicit rules or restrictions other than visas on fly in fly out practice of law? Ie. Do you need to obtain a licence for temporary practice?

EU, EEA and Swiss lawyers who hold recognised professional titles and European nationality may provide temporary services in Belgium on an unrestricted basis. Unregistered third country citizens may also provide services in areas other than Belgian law. 


Can a foreign lawyer obtain a visa to visit clients or to market but not to practice?

Belgium is one of the 25 countries in Europe that has signed the Schengen agreement. This allows a non-EEA national to obtain a visa to enter one or more of the Schengen countries for business or tourism purposes on a single visit of up to 90 days, or to make multiple entries to the Schengen area on any number of occasions over a 180 day period, provided none of these is for longer than 90 days.  A number of non-EEA countries are exempt from visa requirements.

Can a foreign lawyer obtain a licence to establish and practise as a foreign legal consultant and what is the scope of this limited licence?

Qualified lawyers with European nationality and a professional title recognised in 98/5/EC must register with the Belgian Bar if they intend to establish in Belgium. Lawyers pursuing their activities on a full-time basis who are not nationals of a Member State of the European Union may (but do not have to) request registration on the list of associated members of the Brussels Bar (liste des membres associés du barreau de Bruxelles, sometimes referred to as “B-List”). Registration is necessary for lawyers who wish to enter into agreements of partnerships or cooperation with fully qualified lawyers, European lawyers or practise Belgian law indirectly. The practice of Belgian law is subject to limitations for associated members of the Brussels Bar: they must solicit the advice of a Belgian lawyer registered on the list of fully qualified lawyers, or of a trainee lawyer with a seniority of at least one year and who has passed the professional education courses, or of a lawyer having the same qualifications and who is a member of another Belgian Bar. There are no restrictions on the professional activity of an associated member of the Brussels Bar when practising European or foreign law. There is a specific agreement between the Brussels Bar and the American Bar Association of August 6, 1994 (Annex 9 to the Recueil) which applies specific rules to American lawyers. This agreement requires an American lawyer to register with the French or Dutch Bar of Brussels within six months of his or her establishment. 

Are there any conditions that must be fulfilled once a foreign lawyer has been granted a limited licence (e.g. residency requirement)

Foreign lawyers may use the denomination “associate member of the Brussels bar” («membre associé du barreau de Bruxelles»)if this mention is immediately followed by the origin of the foreign bar membership. The English version can only be added to the French, Dutch or German one and cannot stand alone. 


Are there any conditions that must be fulfilled for a foreign lawyer to qualify for a limited licence? (e.g. prior practice)

Maintenance of a local presence is required for regular practice. Non-EEA licensed professionals are subject to a labour market test and their employer must apply for a work permit. In order for a non-EU national to work as a self-employed person, he or she must apply for a Professional Card and the application process can take up to a year.

Are foreign lawyers permitted to undertake arbitration and mediation? Rules on mediation can be found in the 7th part of the Judicial Code, nothing in the statute prevents foreign lawyers from undertaking mediation. However, mediators are required to be well-versed in the field in which they are mediating and be able to show that they have a qualification or experience in mediation (article 1726 of the Code). They must be accredited (article 1727).
Rules on arbitration can be found in the 6th part of the Judicial Code, nothing prevents foreign lawyers from undertaking arbitration.
Are foreign lawyers allowed to appear in court under any circumstances?

European Union/EFTA and Swiss lawyers may all appear in court provided they do so in association with a local lawyer. Other nationals are not permitted to appear in court.

Can foreign lawyers requalify as local lawyers? Nationals of EU or EEA Member States or Switzerland may requalify either by undertaking an aptitude test or following three years of continuous and effective practice in Belgium in association with a Belgian lawyer.  In the case of non-EU nationals requalifcation is dealt with on a case by case basis and reciprocity is applied. Lawyers from other countries who wish to requalify are required to have been domiciled in Belgium for at least three to six years and their applications are examined by a committee of the Bar.


Can a foreign law firm obtain a licence to open an office?

Law firms are not licensed separately from individuals, so if a foreign firm is setting up in Belgium and has lawyers who are registered with the Bar, it must also inform the Bar of the intended place of establishment.

Even if a foreign law firm does not require a legal licence must they register in some form in order to set up an office? (e.g. with a ministry of company affairs etc)

In order to set up a company in Belgium, a firm needs a registered office, as well as a bank account at a Belgian bank and a local accountant.  Companies may be branches or subsidaries.
Are there different types of foreign law firm 'licence'  (e.g. Joint Law Venture, stand alone foreign licence etc)


Is there a quota on the number of licences available? No
Are there geographical restrictions on foreign firm licences or on the number of branches a foreign firm can have? No
Are there "scope of practice" rules that apply directly to foreign law firms (as opposed to lawyers themselves)? (e.g. home, host, international law), if so, what are they? There are no scope of practice rules that apply to firms as opposed to individual lawyers.
Are there restrictions on the corporate form a foreign law firm can take? Article 477 of the Judicial Code provides that the establishment of a grouping of lawyers may be refused if it includes persons who are not members of the profession. This is assumed to be the case if at least one of the following conditions is satisfied :a) the capital of the grouping is held entirely or partly by persons who do not have the status of lawyer within the meaning of the provisions of the Judicial Code ; b) the name under which it practices is used by persons referred to in a) ; c) the decision-making power in that grouping is exercised, as a matter of law or practice, by persons referred to in a).
Are there rules about the name a foreign law firm can take? No
What entity grants a 'license' to a foreign law firm? If that entity is on the Internet, please provide the URL Licensing is not required for firms but foreign lawyers will be expected to register with the bar association in the place in which they wish to establish. See


Are there restrictions on the ownership share of foreign lawyers in a law firm?


May a domestic lawyer be employed by a foreign lawyer or law firm?

Employment is not permitted but Belgian lawyers who are not partners in foreign law firms may work as independent contractors under contracts which guarantee their independence (e.g. Flemish Bar Council decision of 08.06.2005 'A lawyer must practice his profession as an independent practitioner, to the exclusion of any subordinate relationship').

Can a domestic lawyer enter into partnership with a foreign lawyer?


Can a domestic lawyer or domestic law firm employ a foreign lawyer?