The Spanish Competition Authority, known as The National Commission for Markets and Competition (CNMC), announced on 22 July 2015 the opening of infringement proceedings against the Law Bar Association of Guadalajara (Colegio de Abogados de Guadalajara) for possible anticompetitive conduct concerning pricing.
In particular, the Spanish watchdog is considering whether the drafting and issuance of guidance criteria on cost taxation by the aforementioned Law Bar Association might amount to a collective price recommendation that would breach Article 1 of the Spanish Competition Act 15/2007.
This is not the first time that the CNMC has opened infringement proceedings against the Law Bar Association. Back in March 2014, the watchdog initiated infringement proceedings (case no. S/0491/13), alleging that the Association’s established requirements for lawyers providing free legal assistance are incompatible with Spanish competition rules. Under the scheme, lawyers meeting the requirements are paid by the state to act for clients who cannot afford representation. The investigation began when two lawyers, who did not agree with the provisions, filed a complaint with the Spanish regulator. The CNMC is considering whether the Association’s specific requirements might constitute barriers to entry, preventing other lawyers from providing legal aid services. Indeed, in October 2014, the watchdog extended its investigation to the Spanish Lawyers’ Association (Consejo General de la Abogacía Española), a legal body governed by public law which is in charge of representing, coordinating and governing all of the 83 law bar associations in Spain.
The investigation into case S/0491/13 led the CNMC to review different documents including its bylaws and other recommendations which, in turn, led the watchdog to believe that a different anti-competitive conduct might have been taking place.
The new proceedings are independent from case S/0491/13, which means that the CNMC now has a period of 18 months to officially investigate and decide on the possible existence of anti-competitive conduct. If this administrative body considers that the Law Bar Association of Guadalajara has breached Article 1 of the Spanish Competition Act 15/2007, it could face a significant fine and be obliged to cease implementing the investigated guidance criteria.