The CCBE was conceived in September 1960 by passengers aboard a boat heading to Basle, Switzerland, during a congress of the Union Internationale des Avocats (UIA). After the European Economic Community was founded by the Treaty of Rome in 1957, European lawyers perceived a threat to their independence. A body was needed to represent the interests of lawyers before the EEC.
During this boat trip on the Rhine, a proposal was made to create a body of representatives from the then six EEC Member States (Belgium, France, West Germany, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands). An agreement in principle was obtained from those aboard: the presidents of the bars and lawyers' associations of the countries concerned.
The plan soon ran into trouble because the Paris and Brussels bars wanted their own organisation. In early December 1960, a meeting was held at the Palace of Justice in Brussels. There, some of the founders managed to convince their French and Belgian colleagues that a truly international organisation would be more effective.
The delegations adopted the name "The consultative committee of bars and national associations of the six States of the EEC (gathered by the UIA)". This appellation was eventually simplified to "Council of Bars and Law Societies of Europe", retaining the abbreviation CCBE.
In 1966, the CCBE became autonomous, defining its mission as "the study of all the questions affecting the legal profession in the member states of the European Community and the formulation of the solutions designed to coordinate and harmonise the practice of the profession in those states."
A significant step came with the introduction in 1977 of the CCBE identity card, a kind of passport facilitating lawyers to provide legal services in each other's countries. Propelled by extensive press coverage, the idea caught on and within two years over 700 card applications had been received.
There was a major piece of legislation affecting lawyers which also came to fruition in 1977 - the Services Directive (77/249), which permitted EU lawyers to provide temporary services in another EU Member State.
The year 1979 saw an important victory in the battle for official recognition when the European Court of Justice accepted the CCBE as an intervener in a case representing the interests of the legal profession in Europe. The case, AM&S Europe Limited v Commission of the European Communities, focused on the question of legal professional privilege for in-house counsel, and the CCBE produced an impressive survey of the law on the topic among the Member States for use by the court. As a result, the CCBE established the Permanent Delegation to the Court of Justice. In 1988, the CCBE Code of Conduct, regulating the cross-border activities of lawyers, was agreed and implemented.
In 1998, the second directive specific to the legal profession, the Establishment Directive (98/5), was passed, after a long debate within the CCBE. This directive permitted EU lawyers to establish in another Member State, provided that they registered with, and were regulated by, the local host bar.
Over time, the CCBE has been consulted regularly by the European Commission and the Parliament about directives concerning the interests of the legal profession in Europe.