In retaining the services of a foreign attorney concerning a private party dispute abroad, the following guidelines may assist you in protecting your interests.
I. Selecting an Attorney
When you receive a list of attorneys, we recommend that you contact several attorneys and briefly describe the nature of the services you desire. Before you decide which attorney to employ, ask for a written schedule of fees generally charged for the services you need, whether the attorney is fluent in the English language, and if possible become acquainted with a particular attorney. Do not turn over your documents or funds until you are certain that the attorney understands your problem and is willing to handle your case.
II. Notaries Public**, “Notarissen/Notaires”* and “Deurwaarders/ Huissiers”
In Belgium, notaries public, “notarissen/notaires” and “deurwaarders/huissiers” can perform many of the functions performed by attorneys in the United States. For example, notaries frequently draft instruments, wills and conveyances. In Belgium a notary is a public official, appointed by the Ministry of Justice, whose functions include not only the preparation of documents, but the administration and settlement of estates. Such notaries may serve as repositories for wills and are empowered to serve legal documents.(In some countries “huissiers/deurwaarders” serve documents.) They hold law degrees. But do not plead cases in court.
* The Belgian “Notaris/ Notaire”: Every Belgian Commune (city or township) has officials, appointed for life, who administer estates and who are qualified to draw up legal instruments such as deeds, powers of attorney, mortgages, wills, and marriage contracts. They also act as interim administrators in transfers of property.
** Notaries public, as the term is used in the United States, do not exist in Belgium. Their duties are usually performed by Burgomasters (Mayors) as well as by Notaires/ Notarissen, who are empowered to acknowledge signatures and to administer oaths on documents prepared for use in Belgium.
III. Assistance of the U.S. Embassy or Consulate
Should your association with a foreign attorney prove unsatisfactory, a U.S. consular officer can contact the attorney on your behalf in an effort to ease and expedite your mutual communication. In addition, complaints against foreign counsel whose names appear on the list of attorneys may result in the removal of their names from the list.
IV. Coordination with Counsel in the U.S.
American attorneys may not be in a position to represent your interests abroad, particularly because they will not be permitted to participate in foreign court proceedings under the laws of the foreign country. American attorneys experienced in international law may be helpful in explaining the complex international issues involved in your case and some may have associates or partners abroad to whom they can refer your case.
V. Legal Aid Associates
There are facilities in Belgium for low cost or free legal services. If information about such assistance is not included in the list of attorneys, ask the local bar association, (with offices attached to each individual court), or the Ministry of Justice about the availability of legal aid. You may also wish to consult the “Directory of Legal Aid and Advice Facilities Available Throughout the World” published by the International Legal Aid Association. The United States Office of the Association is c/o The International Bar Association, 501 Fifth Avenue, New York, N.Y. 10017. See also, “The availability of Legal Services to Poor People and People of Limited Means in Foreign Systems”, International Lawyer, Vol. 6, No. 1, p. 128, 1971.
VI. How to Deal With Your Foreign Attorney
a. Find out the attorney’s qualifications and experience.
b. Find out how the attorney plans to represent you. Ask specific questions and expect the attorney to explain legal activities in a language that you can understand.
c. Find out what fees the attorney, “notaire/notaris” or “huissier/ deurwaarder” charges and how the attorney expects to be paid. “Notaires/ Notarissen” and “huissiers/ deurwaarders” are usually government officials who must charge fees established by their government. Some attorneys may expect to be paid in advance; some may demand payment after each action they take on your behalf, refusing to take further action until they are paid; and some may take the case on a percentage basis, collecting a pre-arranged percentage of the moneys awarded to you by the foreign court. In 1976, the Law Library of the Library of Congress prepared a report entitled “Payment of Attorneys Fees in European Countries”. You can obtain a copy of the report by contacting the Library of Congress directly at Room 240, James Madison Bldg., 101 Independence Avenue, S.E., Washington, D.C.. 20540, tel: (202) 287-5065.
d. Ask that your attorney keep you informed of the progress of your case according to a pre-established schedule. Remember that most foreign courts work rather slowly. You may, therefore, wish the attorney to send you monthly reports, even though no real developments have ensued, simply to satisfy your doubts about the progress of the case.
e. Have your attorney analyze your case, giving you the positive and negative aspects and probable outcome.
f. Do not expect your attorney to give a simple answer to a complex legal problem. Be sure that you understand the technical language in any contract or other legal document prepared by your attorney before you sign it.
g. Keep your attorney fully informed of any new developments in the case.
h. If you need to provide complex or technical documents to your attorney, you may wish to consider having the documents translated into the native language. Remember, an elementary knowledge of English may not be enough to enable the attorney to understand the documents you provide.
i. Be honest with your attorney. Tell the attorney every relevant fact in order to get the best representation of your interest.
j. Find out how much time the attorney anticipates the case may take to complete.
NOTE: In some countries the courts recess for a period of several months. In addition, even if the case is resolved, currency control laws may delay the transferring of funds awarded to you from the foreign country for an indefinite period of time.
k. Request copies of all letters and documents prepared on your behalf.
VII. Assistance of the Department of State
If you have additional questions, contact the consular section of the American Embassy, the telephone number is 02/5082878 or 02/5082385 or email: email@example.com. You may also contact the appropriate division of the Office of Citizens Consular Services, Room 4817, Department of State, Washington, D.C. 20520.
VIII. Complaints Against Foreign Attorneys
If the services of your foreign attorney prove unsatisfactory, in addition to notifying the Department of State and the U.S. embassy in Brussels, you may address your complaints to the Belgian bar association.
Please click here for viewing the document presenting a list of English-speaking attorneys, which can help you should you incur legal problems during your stay in Belgium.
CAVEAT: The American Embassy at Brussels assumes no responsibility for the professional ability and integrity of the persons or firms whose names appear in the list given below. The names listed are arranged alphabetically, and the order in which they appear has no other significance.