Regulatory framework governing fees of legal professions
Germany has a single profession of ‘lawyer’ [Rechtsanwalt] and does not distinguish between lawyers, solicitors, barristers or advocates.
In Germany, lawyers’ fees are charged either in accordance with the Lawyers’ Remuneration Act [Rechtsanwaltsvergütungsgesetz] (RVG) or on the basis of fee agreements. In principle, fee agreements are always possible as an alternative to the statutory charges. However, the provisions of § 49b of the Federal Lawyers Code [Bundesrechtsanwaltsordnung] (BRAO)] and §§ 3a to 4b of the Lawyers’ Remuneration Act must be respected. In particular, if the lawyer represents the client in court, the agreed fees cannot be less than those laid down by law. Remuneration higher than that prescribed by law may be agreed at any time.
The remuneration schedule attached to the RVG (Annex 1 to the RVG) prescribes either fixed fees or fee ranges applicable to individual activities. The fee level is normally determined by reference to the value of the claim. The ranges of fees based on claim value stipulate the maximum and minimum fee rate payable. The actual fee levels based on claim value are set out in the fees table (Annex 2 to the RVG). In each case, the appropriate fee from the prescribed range must be determined ex aequo et bono, taking into account all the circumstances, in particular the scope and difficulty of the work involved, the importance of the case and the client’s income and financial circumstances. If the lawyer incurs a particular risk of liability, this may also be taken into consideration in the assessment of his or her fees. Fee ranges with statutory maximum and minimum amounts apply in a number of special fields, notably criminal cases and matters of social law.
Bailiffs [Gerichtsvollzieher] only charge the costs stipulated in the Bailiffs’ Costs Act [Gerichtsvollzieherkostengesetz] (GvKostG)]. A set fee is prescribed for each individual activity carried out by the bailiff.
Fixed costs in civil proceedings
Fixed costs for litigants in civil proceedings
Usually, the court receives a court fee, calculated according to the value of the claim. In civil cases it is determined by the Court Costs Act [Gerichtskostengesetz] (GKG] and the Court Costs (Family Matters) Act [Gesetz über Gerichtskosten in Familiensachen] (FamGKG). The fee rates are set out in the schedule of costs (Annex 1 to the relevant Act). The fees are set out by claim value in the table of fees (Annex 2 to the relevant act). For general civil proceedings and those concerning family conflict, in particular for maintenance‑related matters, the fee rate is 3.0. For marital matters it is 2.0 and for matters relating to children, including parental custody and access, the fee rate is 0.5. The value of the proceedings is determined as follows:
- For marital matters, the value of the proceedings is determined at the court's discretion on the basis of the specific circumstances of each individual case, in particular the scale and importance of the matter, and the relative income and wealth of the spouses. Income is calculated on the basis of three times the net income of both spouses. Usually, the court fixes the value of the proceedings at three times the net income.
- For matters concerning family conflict, the value usually depends on the value of the claim. For maintenance matters, the value is based on the future maintenance payments claimed, at most the amount for one year. Arrears incurred up until the application was filed are included in the calculation.
- For matters relating to children, including parental custody and access, the fee rate is EUR 3 000.
If no agreement is reached, the fees for court representation by a lawyer are calculated on the basis of the value of the claim. The value of the claim usually corresponds to the value of the proceedings which is set in order to determine the court fees. The Lawyers’ Remuneration Act [Rechtsanwaltsvergütungsgesetz] (RVG) sets out precisely which fees can be calculated at which rate for which type of procedure. Annex 2 to the RVG sets out the fees by claim value. For the first instance of civil matters, lawyers usually receive a court fee of 1.3 times the rate and a consultation fee of 1.2 times the rate. For a settlement agreement at first instance, lawyers also receive a settlement fee at a rate of 1.0.
Stage of civil proceedings at which fixed costs must be paid
For general civil matters, maintenance matters and marital matters, the court fees are paid when the action is brought or the application is filed. For family matters, they are due at the end of the proceedings. Providing nothing else has been agreed, lawyers are remunerated for services rendered on completion of their brief. However, they have the statutory right to an advance.
Fixed costs in criminal proceedings
Fixed costs for litigants in criminal proceedings
In criminal cases, court costs are not levied until the sentence has been handed down. The level of the fee is determined by reference to the penalty imposed, and ranges between EUR 120 and EUR 900. If no fee agreement has been concluded, the lawyer, whether as defence counsel or as representative of a co-prosecutor, receives fees for particular milestones defined in a framework which the law requires to be drawn up for this purpose in each case. The amount of each milestone is prescribed by law for each case.
Stage of criminal proceedings at which fixed costs must be paid
The court costs are due after sentencing. Providing nothing else has been agreed, lawyers are remunerated for services rendered at the end of their mandate. However, they have the statutory right to an advance.
Fixed costs in constitutional proceedings
Fixed costs for litigants in constitutional proceedings
There are no court costs for proceedings before the Federal Constitutional Court [Bundesverfassungsgericht], with the exception of vexatious actions (§ 34 of the Federal Constitutional Court Act [Bundesverfassungsgerichtsgesetzes]). A lawyer must be retained only if there is a hearing (§ 22 of the Federal Constitutional Court Act).
Stage of constitutional proceedings at which fixed costs must be paid
Unless otherwise agreed, the lawyer’s remuneration is in principle payable on completion of his or her brief. However, lawyers do have a statutory right to an advance.
Prior information to be provided by legal representatives
Rights and obligations of the parties
Lawyers are obliged to give clients full information and advice, and must propose to their clients the safest and least hazardous means of achieving the desired objective. Lawyers must also point out any risks involved in the matter, so that clients are in a position to make an informed decision. The extent of the information to be provided depends on the lawyers’ perception of what the client needs to know. Lawyers must answer their clients’ questions fully and truthfully. Before a case proceeds to court, lawyers must make clear the prospects and risks involved in pursuing litigation. This includes the cost risks as well as the prospects for success.
Lawyers have special obligations to provide information in certain cases:
- If their fees are based on claim value, lawyers are obliged to draw attention to this fact before being instructed to act (§ 49b (5) of the Federal Lawyers Code).
- If an agreement is entered into concerning their remuneration, lawyers must point out that, if costs are awarded, only the statutory fees will be reimbursed (§ 3a (1), sentence 3, of the Lawyers’ Remuneration Act).
- If lawyers agree with a client that they will be paid a contingency fee, they must draw the client’s attention to the fact that the agreement has no effect on any other costs that the client might have to pay (§ 4a (3), sentence 2, of the Lawyers’ Remuneration Act).
- Before concluding an agreement to represent a client in proceedings at first instance before a labour court, lawyers must draw the client’s attention to the fact their costs are not refundable (§ 12a (1), sentence 2, of the Labour Courts Act [Arbeitsgerichtsgesetz]).
How costs are fixed – Legal basis
Where can I find information on cost legislation in Germany?
The texts of the laws relating to costs can be obtained from bookshops or are available in their latest versions, free of charge, on the Internet.
In which languages can I obtain information on cost legislation in Germany?
The information is in German.
Where can I find additional information about costs?
On-line information about costs
The latest versions of laws are accessible from the official website of the Federal Ministry of Justice. The various laws on costs can be downloaded by entering the relevant abbreviation (GKG, FamGKG, GvKostG and RVG).
Where can I find information on the average length of time that different procedures take?
The Federal Statistical Office [Statistisches Bundesamt] produces an annual series of statistical publications on the administration of justice. Series 10, subseries 2.1, for example, contains data on the length of civil proceedings throughout Germany, broken down by individual Land and higher regional court [Oberlandesgericht] district. Separate data is provided for local courts [Amtsgerichte] and regional courts [Landgerichte], on the one hand, and higher regional courts, on the other, as well as for proceedings at first and second instance. The series does not contain statistics on the length of time taken by the proceedings in different types of case.
Where can I find information on the average total cost of a particular type of procedure?
There are books that give details of the average cost risk for civil proceedings.
Value Added Tax
Where can I find information on Value Added Tax? What are the rates?
Courts and court bailiffs are not subject to VAT. Lawyers must charge VAT at 19%. It is charged separately as an expense and is not included in their fees.
Applicable income threshold in the area of civil justice
Legal aid is available upon application to anyone who, owing to their personal and financial circumstances, cannot cover the costs of the proceedings or can cover them only partially or in instalments. The intended legal action or defence must afford a reasonable chance of success and must not appear frivolous. However, litigants must use their own resources insofar as this is reasonable. Depending on their income, a party can be awarded legal aid that is not to be paid back or to be paid back in instalments. The Federal Ministry of Justice [Bundesministerium der Justiz] (BMJ) has produced a leaflet entitled Legal Advice and Legal Aid [Beratungshilfe und Prozesskostenhilfe], which answers the most frequently asked questions using examples.
Applicable income threshold for defendants in criminal proceedings
Income limits are not applicable to suspects or defendants in criminal proceedings. Legal aid is awarded in accordance with other criteria.
Applicable income threshold for victims in criminal proceedings
Legal aid is awarded subject to income thresholds. These are flexible and are determined according to the anticipated costs of the case and the social situation of the claimant (maintenance obligations, housing costs). Legal aid can also be awarded with an obligation to pay it back in instalments.
Other conditions attached to the granting of legal aid for victims of criminal offences
Victims of certain serious crimes can apply to have a legal advisor assigned to them free of charge, regardless of their financial circumstances.
Other conditions attached to the granting of legal aid for defendants
Legal aid for suspects/defendants (assignment of court-appointed defence counsel) is not subject to income limits but to legal conditions. These relate primarily to the seriousness of the offence, the threat of certain legal consequences (such as being banned from practising a profession or being confined to a psychiatric or neurological hospital), whether the defendant is on remand in custody or is the subject of protective custody proceedings, whether the previous defence counsel has been suspended, the complexity of the factual and legal situation, or whether the defendant is able to defend him or herself.
Cost-free court proceedings
Under § 183 of the Social Courts Act [Sozialgerichtsgesetz] (SGG), proceedings before social courts [Sozialgerichte] involve no costs for persons entitled to benefit (i.e. insured persons, persons on benefit including those in receipt of survivor’s benefit, disabled persons and their successors, provided that they are involved in their respective capacities in court proceedings as claimants or defendants). Claimants and defendants in proceedings before social courts who do not fall within categories cited in § 183 SGG must pay a fee in accordance with § 184 of the SGG (EUR 150 for proceedings before the social courts, EUR 225 for proceedings before the regional social courts [Landessozialgerichte], EUR 300 for proceedings before the Federal Social Court [Bundessozialgericht]). § 197a of the SGG provides for derogation from these special rules whereby the costs customarily payable under the Court Costs Act are also applicable in proceedings before the social courts, if neither the claimant nor the defendant in a case are among the persons mentioned in § 183 of the SGG.
The following arrangements apply in criminal proceedings: if the defendant is acquitted, or the case fails to proceed to trial, or the proceedings against the defendant are terminated, the costs (public expenditure) and expenses necessarily incurred by the defendant are in principle payable from the public purse.
When does the losing party have to pay the winning party's costs?
The losing party must pay the other party’s costs insofar as they were necessary for the proper prosecution of the litigation; that is to say, the lawyer’s statutory fees and expenses and the other party’s travel costs, including any loss of earnings incurred through attendance at court.
Experts called by the court receive a fee based on an hourly rate, that is fixed by law in the Judicial Remuneration and Compensation Act [Justizvergütungs- und –entschädigungsgesetz] (JVEG) and is paid by the parties to the proceedings.
The costs of an expert privately engaged by a party to prepare for litigation do not form part of the procedural costs the reimbursement of which is fixed in the judgment. These costs must therefore be claimed separately. If the party has engaged an expert to provide advice during litigation, reimbursement depends on the necessity of this in the case in question. The costs of an expert engaged by the court to give evidence are paid by the losing party or, if the parties have been only partially successful, both parties must pay their share of the costs on the basis of the relative extent to which they have won and lost.
Translators' and interpreters' fees
Interpreters and translators called by the court receive a fee that is also fixed by the Judicial Remuneration and Compensation Act [Justizvergütungs- und –entschädigungsgesetz] (JVEG) and is paid by the parties to the proceedings. Interpreters are paid an hourly rate and translators are paid by the line.
In criminal proceedings, interpretation and translation costs for defendants or interested parties, provided that they are necessary for the defence or for the exercise of procedural rights, are normally paid from the public purse.
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