Becoming a Lawyer in Syria: Is the Process Overregulated?

Having an attempt at the law may seem like a daunting thought at first for many prospective undergraduates. But once they put in the hard work that is required of them, they are rightfully rewarded in the end with a license to practise law. In many countries, the process of actually becoming a certified lawyer- or solicitor, barrister, attorney or counsellor, depending on which jurisdiction you are talking about- after having sat the numerous exams that give you an adrenaline rush is quite a straightforward process.

In the United Kingdom, aspiring solicitors initially undertake a three-year law degree after completing secondary school, or the equivalent one-year Graduate Diploma in Law if they possess a degree in a different subject, before they commence the Legal Practice Course for another year. They then hope they have a two-year training contract waiting for them with a prestigious law firm. Only once they have completed their training contract can they become certified solicitors.

For their counterparts across the pond, the situation is a bit different. Students in the United States first attend college for four years before moving on to law school for an additional three years. They then sit the Bar Exam in their respective state and if they successfully pass it, they become certified attorneys. One notable exception to this rule is the New York Bar Exam, which can be sat by graduates with an English law degree. Interestingly enough in this case, simply undertaking a three-year law degree grants an individual the right to sit the New York Bar Exam and become a certified US attorney without the need to pursue a training contract back in England. Similarly for American students who study English law, they can bypass seven years of college before becoming lawyers.

In France, students enroll in law school straight after their secondary school baccalaureate for a period of three years, which is similar to the British system. They then continue with a Master’s degree for two years where they specialize in a particular area of law. After doing so, they start revising for the Bar Exam, which takes a further 18 months of preparations to complete. Once they successfully pass the Bar Exam like in the United States, they become licensed to practise law.

While we may be acquainted with how the legal education systems work in these countries, it is worth getting an idea of what is in store for hopeful Syrian law students. Despite the influence of French civil law principles in the Syrian legal system, the process to become a lawyer in Syria is closer in nature to its British counterpart since it hinges on securing a law degree from a Syrian university, which takes four years to complete, and a two-year training contract. Additionally, trainees will have to write a thesis and undertake an oral examination before they can become certified lawyers. The statute that is relevant to us in this case is the Legal Profession Law 30/2010. According to its provisions, an individual intending to practise law must be a member of the Syrian Bar Association and his name must be registered on the Roll of Attorneys.

What follows is a brief commentary on some of the rules and procedures that may seem counterproductive and unnecessarily bureaucratic for would-be lawyers to follow. By making this information more accessible to readers, interested and experienced parties can start to offer their feedback on whether the process should remain as it is or if it should be subject to some alterations. It is obvious that there are currently more pressing concerns at hand in the country but the point here is to at least get the debate started on this issue. We then draw the attention of our readers to a table containing all the procedures that lawyers must comply with before they can commence practising their profession. It will show that while many of these measures may appear credible and are actually applicable in other countries, others amount to needless bureaucratic hurdles that should be reconsidered.

Before going forward, there is one noteworthy distinction we should mention. What separates the Syrian system from other jurisdictions is that the Syrian legal profession is exclusive in nature. With certain exceptions for Arab lawyers, it is mainly restricted to Syrian nationals. We have already discussed the fact that foreign law firms are not entitled to set up practices in Syria in a previous post, which can be found here. Since that article provides an in-depth analysis on the advantages and disadvantages of permitting foreign law firms and lawyers to operate in Syria, there is no need to elaborate further on this subject.

By joining the legal profession, Syrians are more or less not allowed to engage in any other field of work. At first glance, this does not seem like an unfair condition given that lawyers who involve themselves in other industries might potentially create conflicts of interest for themselves. But rather than a prohibition, maybe all that is necessary is a duty imposed on lawyers to declare all other business interests they might have so that at least there can be some oversight. It is clear that the law as it stands does not favour this approach since prospective candidates to the legal profession must obtain a number of public documents to prove that they are not connected to other activities. It could be argued that the end result is simply the creation of more bureaucratic work for individuals and the public authorities, which is a further drain on resources.

In addition to this restriction, candidates aspiring to become lawyers must not have attained more than 50 years of age unless they have already practised the legal profession or have been a member of the judiciary for at least seven years. Is it really necessary to prevent someone above 50 years of age from changing career paths into law if that is what they want to do? The legal profession might have something to gain from older and mature persons with sufficient life experience joining it and providing new perspectives. In England, the Law Society held that 7.9% of solicitors that were admitted to the profession in 2011 were above 40 years of age. While it may seem like a small number, it is still meaningful to mention. Furthermore, the Indian Supreme Court recently ruled that age was no barrier to practising law in that country.

Another requirement is that candidates must make available a medical report that proves that they have not been diagnosed with a disease that hinders their ability to practise law. The drafters of this provision may argue that clients should be protected against the possibility that their lawyers could have medical problems that might interfere with their duties towards them. Nevertheless, is there really any value added by asking for a medical report and making good health a precondition for admittance to the Bar Association? The fact that an individual is capable of earning a law degree should be enough to negate the need for a medical report. Moreover, lawyers might develop medical complications later on in their careers so how does a prequalification screening address this issue? The point is that it does not seem compelling to make the delivery of a medical report a prerequisite to practise law. Any health problems that might materialize later on can be dealt with on a case by case basis.

What is more is that the ability of lawyers to practise their profession is linked to the fulfillment of their military service obligations. Linking conscription with obtaining a legal license or any other type of license for that matter may create impediments for individuals and lead to more time and energy-consuming interactions with public authorities that could be better exerted elsewhere. After all, a number of Syrians and potential lawyers had in the past sought careers abroad in an effort to avoid military service. While we are not debating conscription in this article, particularly since it is a delicate topic at present, the point is that this policy calls for proper deliberation when the time is more appropriate.

The abundant supply of documents to the Bar Association in order to complete an application is symptomatic of the red tape culture that complicates the process as opposed to facilitating it. They include gathering relevant declarations from universities, courts, local authorities, doctors, the lawyers under whom they will train, the Civil Status Registry, the Civil Service Registry, the General Establishment for Social Security, the Military Service Department, the Ministry of Defence and the Ministry of Education. All these tasks take up time and it is not clear whether they add much value to a candidate’s application. While some of the data that the Bar Association collects from an applicant may indeed be significant, other information could be discarded as it may not go directly to the core concerns of practising law. In contrast, the requirements in New York consist of a straightforward application form- where applicants make their own declarations regarding employment and other business interests- and references attesting to the candidate’s good character.

So now we have to return to the question: is the process of becoming a lawyer in Syria overregulated? From the perspective of this article, the answer is yes. There are a number of rules and procedures that have to be complied with before an individual is finally able to practise law. While the regulation of any profession is perfectly legitimate, overregulation can create a deterrent and block a person’s ambitions. The system should work in a way to make it easier for candidates to pursue their professions. But that is just one opinion. The objective here is to initiate a discussion among interested parties and experts in this field who can provide their own feedback and recommendations as to what should be done. In this instance, we can learn from other jurisdictions and see what experiences we can adapt from them that suit our interests. It might be that the method by which the profession is currently regulated is the most efficient way or that only minor changes to it are welcome. But we will not know for sure unless we start debating these issues.






A candidate applying to practise the legal profession must:

  • Have full civil capacity;
  • Possess a law degree from a Syrian university or one that is deemed to be equivalent;
  • Not have attained more than 50 years of age unless he has already practised the legal profession or has been a member of the judiciary for at least seven years;
  • Hold Syrian nationality for at least five years or possess the nationality of another Arab country that grants reciprocal rights to Syrian lawyers;
  • Maintain good character;
  • Not have been convicted of any crimes;
  • Not have been convicted of any offences that are incompatible with the practice of the legal profession;
  • Not have his name stricken from any syndicate for disciplinary reasons and must not have been discharged from employment in the public sector;
  • Maintain permanent residence in the jurisdiction of the Bar Association branch in which he is registered; and
  • Present a medical report that proves that he has not been diagnosed with a disease that hinders his ability to practise law.


If the candidate fulfills these conditions, he must only apply to his respective branch of the Bar Association where he is resident. He does so by submitting the following documents:

  • Written evidence that he will undertake a training contract under the supervision of a lawyer who has been certified for a minimum period of five years;
  • A certified copy of his law degree;
  • A declaration from the Civil Status Registry, which lists basic information about his identity;
  • A declaration from the Civil Service Registry that he is not employed by the public sector;
  • A declaration from the General Establishment for Social Security that he is not an employer or an employee;
  • A judicial declaration confirming that there are no court judgments filed against him;
  • A declaration from the relevant local authority that he is resident in the jurisdiction of his respective Bar Association branch; and a
  • A declaration from the Military Service Department, which is affiliated with the Ministry of Defence, that he does not have any pending military service obligations.


After the applicant has submitted all the required documents to his respective branch, the latter will correspond with all the other remaining branches in the country to ensure that the applicant has not filed other applications with them. If there are no objections, the applicant is then required to submit the remaining documents:

  • A declaration from the Ministry of Defence that he is not affiliated with, nor is he contracted with and nor does he work with the Ministry; and
  • A declaration from the Ministry of Education that he is not affiliated with, nor is he contracted with and nor does he work with the Ministry.


Afterwards, he must perform the following tasks before the Bar Association:

  • Obtain sponsorship from three certified lawyers; and
  • Pay the required fees, which are calculated according to his age.


Once he has fulfilled these tasks, he shall swear an oath before the President of the Court of Appeal and in the presence of his branch leader, or the latter’s representative, at which point he officially becomes a trainee lawyer.


As a trainee lawyer:

  • He shall attend court sessions and relevant law-related lectures.
  • He is not permitted to represent clients in any of the courts with the exception of the Magistrate of the Peace, the lowest body in the hierarchy of the court structure.
  • He is not permitted to establish a law firm.


After the two-year training period is complete, the trainee lawyer will be required to:

  • Submit a certificate evidencing the completion of his training to his branch;
  • Submit a thesis on a legal subject to his branch, which he will be required to defend; and
  • Undertake an oral examination conducted by his branch to test his knowledge of Syrian law.


If no objections are received, the applicant then has the right to register his name on the Roll of Attorneys.