Turkey: Success And Lawyers´ Fees The Situation In Turkey

Last Updated: 10 November 2008
Article by Cumhur Kemal Turam

The Istanbul Bar Association was founded in 1878 by 62 members. By the end of 2005, there were more than 20,000 lawyers registered as members actively practising law. More than 1/3rd of the members are women.

The total number of practising lawyers in the whole of Turkey are approximately 48,000. The population of Istanbul is about 1/6th of the whole country. However, almost half of the lawyers practise in Istanbul. It is also important to note that the capital city of Turkey is Ankara, not Istanbul.

Presently there are many Law Schools in various universities in Turkey and more than 2000 new lawyers are admitted into the Istanbul Bar Association each year. The number of lawyers retiring or leaving the profession every year is much lower than the number of incoming new lawyers; so it is safe to assume that the number of lawyers actively practising in Istanbul will be growing significantly over the coming years.

Issues about the legal profession are codified by Law. A detailed statute which has close to 200 articles set the rules in this field.

The Local Bar Associations (like the Istanbul Bar) cannot set or change rules and regulations; however, the Turkish Bars Union, of which the regional Bars are members, can issue rules and regulations for streamlining the legal profession. However, these rules have to comply with the existing Law. In this respect a set of Rules of Profession issued by the Turkish Bars Association is in existence.

The issue of lawyers fees is mainly dealt within the Law. Article 164 pertains to this matter and a part of this clause translates as follows:

Article 164

... "Upto 25% of the value of the claim or the value awarded by the judgement can be designated as the fee.

Agreements made according to the above paragraph may not have clauses to the effect that the claimed value or rights, with the exception of money, pass on to the lawyer in full or in part as payment of fees.

A fee below the minimum tariff cannot be agreed upon. The lawyer must notify the Boards of the Bar if he/she accepts a pro-bono case. In cases which no agreement on fees has been made, the fee will be decided according to the minimum fee tariff if the case is not a quantitive case in monetary terms. If the value of the case can be established in monetary terms, then the authority empowered to resolve fee disputes will decide on a fee based on the success of the lawyer and the work put in by the lawyer, that will be between 5% and 15% of the value of the case."...

There is also a minimum fee tariff. This is a very detailed tariff and sets out in great detail what the minimum fee can be for various types of legal work. In general the minimum fee tariff is a sliding scale which sets out the legal fees in terms of a percentage of the claim; the higher the claim goes the lower the percentage falls. The minimum fee tariff is not related to success; at the latest the fees are payable at the completion of the case. Therefore, as far as the fees set in the minimum tariff are involved, ending a claim by winning it should have the same result as loosing it.
For the purpose of orientation, the minimum fee set in the tariff for a litigation worth a monetary claim of Euro 100,000.- will be calculated at Euro 11,280.-

The arrangement made in Art 164 is that

  • A success fee can be agreed upon by making the fee a percentage of the value to be awarded by the judgement.
  • In cases which there is a case which has a monetary value and no fee has been agreed upon, it will be up to the judge to decide what the fee will be based on the work and success of the lawyer.

The limitations which apply are

  • The success fee cannot be more than 25% of the value of the claim or the final judgement.
  • The claim itself cannot pass on to the attorney in whole or in part as payment of the legal fees.
  • The fee cannot be below the fee stated in the minimum tariff.

In conclusion the system in Turkey allows for a modified sort of pactum quota litis. The lawyer can make a fee agreement with the client based on the result (success), provided that

  • The fee does not end up being below the minimum fee tariff
  • The fee earned due to the result does not end up exceeding 25% of the result
  • The share of the result is paid in money and not in kind.

Such an agreement is a compromise: the results of which are not so different from a pactum de palmario.

So, the system regarding success fees is a liberal system in Turkey,. However, it stops short of allowing the lawyer to "own" the claim.

Two other relevant and important rules set in Art 163, are that

  • No claim can be made in relation to a fee agreement once the terms of the agreement have been fulfilled and the agreement has been executed.
  • If any part of the fee agreement is in breach of the law, only that part will be void and the rest of the agreement will survive

The high number of practising lawyers in Istanbul create a very competitive environment and the culture in general is very result-oriented. The combination of these two factors make the success fee an acceptable and usual way of operating. In fact, the limitations about the minimum tariff portion of the fee not being a success fee can be quite commonly ignored.

Since under Art 163 executed contracts cannot be argued any longer, there seems to be no serious consequence for the client to enter into an agreement with fees below the minimum fee tariff.

In November 2005, The Turkish Bars Union sent out a letter to most of the banks in Turkey. The letter explained in great detail how the banks were violating the law by having fee agreements with lawyers which were effectively below the minimum fee tariff. (Announcement number 2005/102)

The Bars Union criticised such agreements claiming that it was harming the legal profession.

It is interesting to note that in the said letter the Turkish Bars Union identifies the rapid growth in the number of practicing lawyers as causing competition between lawyers to the extent that they accept these agreements which are below the minimum fee tariff.

The Turkish Bars Union also recognizes the fact that there is no conflict between the contracting parties about these agreements, but there is a conflict between the agreements and the minimum fee tariff.

In this letter the Turkish Bars Union notes that it is not sufficient to penalise lawyers by disciplinary procedures for accepting these agreements and that it should be the duty of the Bars to work towards getting these contracts amended to reflect terms in compliance with the minimum fee tariff.

The letter sets out various suggestions on how the existing agreements can be materially amended so that they do not conflict with the minimum fee tariff.

With the exception of one or two banks which amended their fee structures to a complying level, this announcement brought about no significant improvement.

On the other side of the equation are the lawyers who were and still are working for these fees which fall out of the scope at the lower end. Since the lawyers fees are dealt within the Law, any dispute relating to fees is first and foremost settled at Court. The Courts quite naturally deal with the matter as they would with any other contractual dispute. Consequently the fight is usually about getting paid or getting paid more. The Courts rarely, if ever, hear arguments about lawyers agreeing for fees under the accepted minimum amount.

The Disciplinary Organs of the Bars and of the Bar Unions is not much different in this respect: a lawyer charging in excess or going after more than he/she should be entitled to is always considered as being a disciplinary offense. However, agreeing to work for less than the minimum fee tariff has never been considered as being a punishable offense. The remedies so far have been seen as being purely economic.

The Turkish regulations on the success fee matter are fairly liberal: the implemention of them is even more liberal. The main reason for this must be the highly competitive environment. The more established a lawyer gets, the less likely he or she is to agree on success fee terms. Even if there is to be a success fee in part, the portion of this will be less the more established the lawyer is. But ,of course, new and upcoming lawyers are fully open to be exploited by clients in this area.

The advantages of having a success fee are that

  • the lawyers will be more result- oriented
  • lawyers will tend to be part of the solution as opposed to be being part of the problem
  • the liberal existence of success fees allows for vertical mobility: new lawyers will always find an opening to enter the market and to get business and the better ones will build a career very quickly.

The disadvantages of having a success fee are that

  • the lawyer may get involved too much and lose his/her objectivity
  • the quality of the legal profession can be affected by inadequate fees. The high level of competition means that there are always a significant number of lawyers who don't get enough work and are motivated to go for even lower fees.
  • the overall efficiency of the judicial system may be jeopardised: winning or losing at Court can become more important than the efficiency of the judicial establishment. Not loosing by delaying or even preventing the Court from reaching a decision can be consiedered as being the success of the defending counsel.
  • These factors may lead to the judicial system itself being compromised in the long run. There is a difference between a lawyer acting as a professional with extensive knowledge of the law and a lawyer acting as a party to the dispute with extensive knowledge of the law.

In conclusion, I believe that the rules are set for a good system in Turkey. A minimum fee, which is probably not success related, serves as a stabilising factor reducing the disadvantages listed above. The possibility of accepting a fee variation based on success is, on the other hand, enough to motivate the lawyer and to allow the client to have a lawyer who is result oriented.

This is a balanced system.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

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