The State Advocate: the nation’s attorney

The origins of State Advocacy date back to the early part of the fourteenth century. The specific title of ‘State Advocate’ has been conferred on one individual since 1879. Reimer Veldhuis is the current State Advocate.


In the fourteenth century, cities in the Netherlands decided to call in a permanent attorney to edit by-laws and letters and to negotiate with foreign powers. These attorneys were also known as pensionaries, and received a 'pension', or fee, for their advice and services.

Advocate of the nation

After a while, provincial authorities started to employ the services of a permanent attorney as well. In the Province of Holland, this attorney was given the title 'advocaat van den lande' or 'advocate of the nation'. The first 'advocaat van den lande' whose name we know was Barthout van Assendelft (1480 - 1489). Although he also acted as the province's legal representative, his position was primarily administrative.

Changing job description

The position of 'advocaat van den lande'/grand pensionary was initially mainly administrative. Its administrative nature was not altogether without risk - as famously illustrated by State Advocate Johan van Oldebarneveldt, who was put to death in 1619. He was the last attorney to be called 'advocaat van den lande'. After his death, the positions of State Advocate and Grand Pensionary were held by two different people. State Advocates as we know them in the legal sense first appeared in 1653 and remained in existence until the French rule. When independence was restored in 1814, two State Advocates were appointed, until in 1879 only one State Advocate was appointed. There has only been one State Advocate at a time since, although he is assisted by several deputy state advocates. The title is granted by Royal Decree and was originally appointed by the Minister of Finance; since 1965, the Minister of Security and Justice has been charged with that task. In 2018, the title of State Advocate was granted to Reimer Veldhuis, a partner at Pels Rijcken.

The role of the modern State Advocate

Like many other companies and organisations, the State uses the services of a permanent, independent and external attorney who works in accordance with the rules that apply to all attorneys in the Netherlands. The State Advocate is not employed by the State. All Pels Rijcken's lawyers work in the State practice. The obligations applying to the State Advocate also apply to all his colleagues in the firm. Between them, they handle over a thousand new cases for the State every year. In addition, Pels Rijcken's lawyers work for other clients.

The State Advocate's obligations are laid down in a contract

The State and the State Advocate have contractually laid down the obligations to which the State Advocate and the other attorneys inthe firm are subject.  While the State is not obliged to employ the services of the State Advocate, the State Advocate must be prepared to act as attorney for the State. The State Advocate and the other attorneys in the firm may never act against the State in legal proceedings.

The State Advocate and the other attorneys in the firm represent the State in many cases, but not exclusively, as the State employs its own legal specialists and also calls in the services of other attorneys. Besides acting in legal procedures, the State Advocate also gives advice and provides legal assistance for large projects.

A 'regular' attorney

Obviously, intended legal proceedings, contracts to be concluded and intended decisions can potentially also affect policy issues. If that happens, the State Advocate acts as he would for any other client, studying the legal aspects of a case. He  then advises on a number of issues, such as the risks of a case and its chances of success, whether there it might be possible reach a settlement either in or out of court, and the strategy with which the case is brought. The client makes the decisions - political issues are never decided upon by the State Advocate or another attorney at the firm.

Pels Rijcken's practice for the State

Pels Rijcken has over 130 attorneys, who between them are specialised in a considerable number of legal areas. They are assisted by a team of support lawyers. Together they build upon a collective memory within the firms' practice concerning all legal issues that may be faced by the State. With this source of knowledge the State Advocate and his firm are able to provide excellent legal support specifically suited to the needs of the State.