In the autumn of 1990, work for the developing of the new Bar Association Act was started. The main problem was whether to proceed from the Estonian Bar Association Act of 1938 or take modern acts adopted in the Western countries as a basis. The ones favouring the first version won. It was decided that differently from the act of 1938 the texts of the act and the statutes were to be assembled into separate acts. On 10 December 1991, the Supreme Council adopted an act of the Republic of Estonia about the Estonian Bar Association.
On 19 and 20 February 1992, a general assembly of the advocates took place, where the Estonian College of Advocates ended its activity and the Estonian Bar Association was declared its legal successor. With this the Estonian Bar Association liquidated on 1 March 1941 had been restored.
In October 1992, the Estonian Bar Association was accepted as a full member of the International Bar Association (IBA), who together with the so-called European Bar Association has acknowledged the Estonian Bar Association as an independent trade association of advocates.
The activity of the modern Estonian Bar Association started in 1992, when the Estonian College of Advocates operating during the Soviet Republic of Estonia ended its activity and the Estonian Bar Association restored the Estonian Bar Association liquidated in 1941. Such changes became possible in relation to the re-independence process of the Republic of Estonia and the act of the Republic of Estonia on the Estonian Bar Association adopted in 1991. Starting from 1992, Estonian Bar Association is a member of IBA and starting from 1999 an observer member of the association uniting the bar associations of the European Union (CCBE), in addition to this Estonian Bar Association participates in several international forums and has close contacts with the bar associations of several other countries.
The need to keep up with time and specify the norms regulating the advocate’s activity the preparation of the new Bar Association Act was started in 1997. Riigikogu adopted the Bar Association Act on 21 March 2001.
As important changes, giving of a status of a person in public law to the Bar Association, establishing of a professional liability insurance requirement of the advocate and inclusion of judges and representatives of the Ministry of Justice in the activity of the bodies of the Bar Association should be mentioned. The separate chapters of the act deal with issues related to the acknowledging of the professional qualification acquired in a foreign country and the right of activity of the advocate of a foreign country in Estonia.
Proceeding from the Bar Association Act on 24 May 2001, the general assembly adopted the internal rules of the Estonian Bar Association. The activity of the Bar Association is also regulated by legal acts adopted in several general assemblies: code of ethics, statutes of the symbols, procedure for payment of the membership fee of the Bar Association, procedure for remuneration of the work performed by the advocates in the interests of the Bar Association and procedure of remuneration of state legal aid.
Bar Association is an independent legal person and acts through its bodies, which include the general assembly of the Bar Association convened once per year and other bodies elected by it for the organization of the activity of the Bar Association: chairman, Board, audit committee, professional suitability assessment committee and court of honour. Bar Association is an open organization. Every person meeting the requirements established to the advocates can become a member of the Bar Association.
Members of the Bar Association or advocates are professional and independent representatives and legal assistants. For the performing of his/her duties more extensive rights for the gathering of information, documents and evidence have been granted to the advocate by law, also safeguards to preserve the confidentiality of the client-advocate relationship and immunity of the advocate have been established. The freedom and independence of the activity of the advocate is one of the most important safeguards of human rights. The duties of an advocate include protection and legal counselling of the client in an honest manner within the limits of all legal and ethical possibilities, thereby being free of direct or indirect influence and preserving the information acquired from the client and by helping the client, confidential information received from the client and in relation to assisting the clint. Advocates are expected to have thorough legal knowledge, but in addition to this the profession of an advocate establishes also high legal and moral obligations to the clients, courts and other state authorities, other advocates and the public.
At present the number of advocates in Estonia exceeds eight hundred. The members of the Bar Association – attorneys-at-law, senior assistants of attorney-at-law and assistants of attorney-at-law – have passed a thorough qualification exam and been declared suitable for the profession of an advocate by education, knowledge as well as personal characteristics.
Advocates operate in law offices and provide different legal services: assist at administration, prepare document drafts and legal opinions, represent and defend clients in courts and administrative agencies in criminal and misdemeanour cases as well as in civil and court disputes, participate as experts at the preparing of legal acts, represent at negotiations and provide other similar services. Attorneys-at-law can also operate as trustees in bankruptcy and arbitrators and conciliators.
Additional information on the Estonian Bar Association and the law offices operating in Estonia can be obtained from the Board of the Estonian Bar Association or directly from the law office of interest.