For two weeks, I worked with a German law firm that specializes in everything from labor and employment law to criminal law. The firm, Holthoff-Pförtner, is named after its managing partner, Stephan Holthoff-Pförtner, the adopted son of media mogul Gisela Holthoff, part owner of the WAZ newspaper. Mr. Holthoff-Pförtner is also a real estate mogul and lawyer in his own right. Besides his real estate and law groups, Mr. Holthoff-Pförtner is well-connected politically, in that the former Chancellor of Germany, Helmut Kohl, and the former head of the Freie Demokratische Partei (FDP), Guido Westerwelle, were Mr. Holthoff-Pförtner’s groomsmen.
Entering the offices of Holthoff-Pförtner, I was met by my Ansprechpartner or contact partner, Mr. Ewelt, who specializes in construction and architecture law. After being showed around the office and introduced to another partner, Mr. Ewelt led me to my own office and gave me a case file on which to work. After getting a bottle of water (because water fountains are almost non-existent in Germany, water is bought in cases, which the office provided), I set to work reading the case file, which was all in German. The file consisted of pleadings from both sides, as well as emails with the client, internal memos, and court orders. The German-style of case record keeping differs from the American in that much more is still stored in analog form. Moreover, case files are painstakingly ordered and numbered. While reading through the case files, I was struck by the different writing style and form of pleadings. Unlike the U.S. common law system, most arguments are made by referring to specific statutes, specifically to particular paragraphs and subparagraphs, and then applied somewhat indirectly to the matter at hand. As a civil law system, there is very little, if any, reference to decisional precedent.
During my two weeks at Holthoff-Pförtner, I worked on various cases, including labor and employment cases, construction law, as well as more high profile matters. I was allowed to work on one case involving tape recording of former German Chancellors and the rights of personality. I also worked on a criminal case involving sexual slavery trafficking. I was also assigned to dictate drafts of client letters, again in all German. In Germany, dictation, rather than direct computer input, is used widely in drafting court decisions, pleadings, and other legal documents. he uTse of pen and paper to record minutes of court sessions is also common, with stenographers used only in criminal cases. During my time at Holthoff-Pförtner, I experienced the inner workings of a medium-sized, German law firm, which provided not only some practical education but also allowed the opportunity to discuss with Mr. Ewelt and other attorneys differences between American and German law.