In the context of a dispute with a lawyer, which may typically involve opposing claims: a claim against the lawyer for a failure to perform under his contract of services, for professional negligence and/or malpractice and a claim against the client for the non-payment of fees, but also in other cases, lawyers often assert a right to hold onto clients’ documentation.
This typically forces the hand of the client, who may often be more concerned to proceed with his plans (and necessarily, make use of his documents) than to dispute the lawyer’s fee claims. Would clients be less amenable if they realise that such assertions by lawyers are on thinner ice in Bulgaria than they may be elsewhere?
Unlike other legal systems (eg, the rights that English solicitors may be able to exercise), Bulgarian law does not envisage the possibility of a lien by an advocate.
On the contrary, there is an express statutory obligation on advocates to return to his or her client his or her original documents, after the end of an instruction (art. 47 (1) Bulgarian Bar Act). General rules as to the right of lien would apply only insofar as they are strictly compatible with the provisions of the lex specialis, here, the special provisions of the Bar Act. The use of the rights of lien would thus appear to be strictly limited to certain cases and certain narrow conditions, interpreted against the proposer of a right of lien.
Bulgarian law in this area would appear to relate to the distinction between official and private documents. A lawyer may be able to withhold a contract, proxy, statement, court claim or in general a private document drafted by him- or herself on his or her client’s request, in case the client has not paid.
But at the moment this document becomes “official” – in the broadest meaning of this word, namely the contract, proxy, etc. is certified by a Notary, a draft statement of claim is filed at court, the lawyer would not have the right to refuse to hand over the document to the client. The one area where a right of lien may remain as a residual right would relate to the drafts of official documents – notary deeds, writs of execution, freezing injunction order, notary certified agreement or declaration or to documents which are otherwise entirely private but would never extend to “official” documents.
A win in an insurance exclusion clause dispute at the Supreme Court
NBLO's dispute resolution team, led by Yordan Neshkov, secured a success against a large Bulgarian insurer in a claim brought on behalf of a UK national, who had lost her property in a fire. The insurer had refused to pay out under the insurance, on the grounds that a widely drawn clause in its general terms allegedly excused it from paying whenever there was a breach of building regulations, even if (as was accepted in this case) this breach was invisible externally, could not be discovered through reasonable investigation and was not caused by the insured. NBLO had good reasons to argue that this position was unsupported in the Bulgarian Insurance Code or civil law generally and persuaded the Supreme Cassation Court to back it. This is covered more fully in an article on our website.
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