7. Legal Education in Germany

HANS LESER

ALTHOUGH I intend to touch on legal research as well, I have chosen to emphasise legal education and shall address the issues currently under discussion in relation to legal education in Germany. It is an appropriate time to discuss these questions, because the reciprocal recognition of professional legal qualifications in the European Community obliges us all to be aware of the differences in legal education in the different jurisdictions. Additionally, to a comparative lawyer, the differences between the common law and the civil law systems must necessarily be a source of continual interest.


I. The current regulation of German legal education

1. Lawyers as servants of the State

For the last two centuries the State, not the courts or professional organisations, has monopolised legal education in Germany. My university, for example, the University of Marburg, founded in 1527, has in its very constitution the express goal of educating good servants of the State in its faculty of law. As a result the German system of legal education is, to the present day, a divided one. Academic legal studies are in the realm of the Universities. However, vocational training falls under the direction of the Ministries of justice in the respective States of the federation. Moreover, the examination which comes at the end of the academic phase is also under the exclusive control of the Ministries of justice. Hence its name: the Justizeingangsprüfung, or, more commonly, 'the first State examination'.

The vocational component of German legal education provides graduates with training in different areas of the law such as the judiciary, public prosecutions, various State administrations and private practice. Graduates undertaking vocational training are supported by the respective State Ministries of justice with sufficient means to secure a modest standard of living.

Upon completion of the vocational component of their education graduates sit a final examination, called 'the second State examination', which is also under the exclusive control of the respective State Ministries of justice. The second State examination qualifies graduates as Einheitsjuzisten. This term describes a comprehensive and uniform professional qualification which is the prerequisite for practice in all areas of the law in Germany. It gives graduates the unlimited right to practice without the need for further specialisation. I shall refer to it as the 'uniform professional qualification'.


2. Academic legal education--university studies

Academic legal education is provided only by the universities--not colleges of advanced education or polytechnics. State laws dictate the core subjects of the university syllabus and those subjects that will be examined upon completion of academic studies.

The core subjects correspond to a large extent with the various codifications of the law, or parts thereof, for example, the civil code, criminal code, the Constitution and the commercial code.

Our teaching methods are quite similar to the English. Lectures, practical exercises and seminars convey the contents of the codes. There are however, no examinations at the end of a semester or at the end of the academic year. Practical exercises are marked, but these marks have no impact upon the final grade achieved by students in the first State examination.

The core subjects to be taught at university and the contents of the first State examination are legislatively prescribed. The manner and emphasis of teaching is, however, left to the universities. As a result there exists a divergence between that which is examined and that which is taught. Certainly, a traditional framework of examination topics and questions exists. That framework is however, somewhat independent from university teaching, which can be seen as a weakness in German legal education.

Prospective candidates are free to choose when they will apply to sit the first State examination. This is often a difficult decision for the individual, as no guidance can given by academic staff, or student colleagues who are in the same situation. This is certainly a further weakness of the German system. Wilhelm von Humboldt, founder of the Humboldt University in Berlin in 1809, conceived of a course of study that left students free and responsible only to themselves. Today this is, however, an outdated ideal.

The result of all of this is that German students spend too long at university, on average five to six years including examinations, notwithstanding that legislation prescribes a four year course of study. All current reform proposals seek to address this issue.

-91-

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