On 16th July 2013, Italian Competition Authority (“ICA”) decided to open an investigation on Consiglio Nazionale Forense (“CNF”), the Italian Bar Association, for infringement of Article 101 TFEU.
ICA’s investigation is aimed at verifying whether two separate practices by CNF limited the ability of Italian lawyers to fix their own fees and to advertise their own law-firm on the internet. The alleged anti-competitive behaviour can be summarized as follows:
- CNF published on its website the table of fees, that was repealed by the Italian Government in 2006, along with a letter (“Letter”) pointing out that a lawyer asking for a fee below the minimum value set forth in the Table may be sanctioned for breaching the professional Code of Conduct;
- CNF issued a memorandum (“Memorandum”) according to which lawyers cannot use the internet to advertise their own businesses as it would breach Article 19 of the Code of Conduct. In relation to the first practice, ICA believes that the Letter appears to be aimed at fixing a minimum level of fees, so impeding competition on fees between all Italian lawyers. Such behavior would be detrimental to the consumer who could not benefit from a reduction in prices of legal professional services.
As far as the second practice is concerned, ICA found that the Memorandum would impede Italian lawyers properly accessing the market. Nowadays, the internet is one of the most used means of communications and restrictions on its use would prevent either Italian lawyers from taking the opportunities offered by an important distribution channel or the consumer from being informed on professional services and comparing the different offers.
In our view, the above decision highlights the contrast between the business of running a modern law firm and the traditional stance of the Italian Bar Association which is struggling to come to terms with modern commercial practices.