The French Lawyer (avocat)05.07.17
How many lawyers in France?
More than 55,000 French lawyers (“Avocats”) are registered in France.
French lawyers are admitted to one of the local bar associations (“Ordre des avocats”). 179 bar associations are registered in France. The different bar associations vary widely according to their size: the bar association of Paris is by far the largest in France: with approximately 23,000 lawyers admitted to the Paris bar, it brings together 41% of French lawyers. With approximately 900 lawyers, the bar association of Strasbourg is one of the 10 largest bar associations in France.
How do you become a French lawyer?
In order to be admitted as a lawyer in France, prospective lawyers either have to:
- obtain a qualifying law degree (“Master 1”), which is obtained after a four-year university training program in law, and pass the entrance exam of the law school of the local bar association, followed by an 18-month traineeship in the school. However, most candidates obtain an additional degree after a one- or two-year university course in order to specialize in a specific practice area and have better chances of passing the very competitive admission exam. Some candidates choose an LL.M. program in a foreign law school after a year of study abroad
- or, if the candidate is already admitted as a lawyer in another EU member state, sit a qualifying exam before the competent examination office. In this case, the prospective French lawyer has to pass four exams based on the four core law subjects, one of which is a written exam. A lawyer who is already admitted in another member state of the EU can also obtain admission to a French bar association if he or she has more than three years of professional experience in a French law firm. It is therefore extremely important for a client to check if his or lawyer has not only the title of a French Avocat, but also real training plus professional experience in French law.
Fully qualified lawyers are entitled to exercise in all practice areas. However, generally speaking, a lawyer specializes in one specific practice area in the course of his or her career. If a lawyer has more than five years of professional experience in a specific practice area, he or she is entitled to take an examination in order to obtain the “specialist lawyer” qualification. In France, only lawyers who have passed this examination are entitled to call themselves “specialist lawyers.” Pursuant to a recent reform, the list of possible specializations has been greatly expanded. Today, there are specialists in the following practice areas in France:
- Tort law for personal injury
- Insurance law
- Immigration law
- Criminal law
- Rural law
- Environmental law
- Public law
- Intellectual Property, trademark and patent law
- IT and communication law
- Commercial, business and competition law
- Banking law
- Transportation law for goods and passengers
- Corporate law
- Association law
- Tax law
- Labor law
- Social Security law
- Consumer protection law
- Enforcement and warranties
- International corporate and business law
- Health law
- Arbitration law
- Sports law
- Trust law
What is the role of a lawyer in France?
Just like in Germany and most foreign countries, French lawyers represent their clients in French courts, provide legal advice in non-litigious matters and draft agreements and other legal documents. Since the global legislative framework is becoming more and more complex and extensive, the counselling aspect is becoming a more and more significant part of a lawyer’s activities.
Unlike Germany, and pursuant to the French Code of Ethics for lawyers, it is still mandatory today to be represented in court proceedings by a lawyer who is admitted at the local bar association in the district of the court. If a person is involved in proceedings before a court in a district other than the one where his usual lawyer is admitted, his lawyer is still in charge of the management of the case: he will draft the briefs, prepare the evidence and plead the case in court. However, a second lawyer (known as an “avocat postulant”) who is admitted in the district of the court must intervene in order to officially represent the client in court and carry out the formalities during the proceedings.
What are the ethics rules a French lawyer has to respect?
Just like German lawyers, French lawyers are considered an independent body of the legal system (“auxiliaire de justice”) and promote the achievements of the public services of Justice (“mission de service public de la Justice”).
The French mentality is very much influenced by this basic idea, which is still very present in current practices: for example, the official salutatory title for a lawyer in France (as well as for a notary or a bailiff) is “Maître” and the robe of a French lawyer is much more elaborate than those of lawyers in Germany or the USA.
Another important difference in the German lawyers’ code of practice is that the correspondence between French lawyers is confidential as a matter of principal. Therefore, French lawyers are free to carry out confidential negotiations with their lawyer colleagues on behalf of their clients, and the lawyer of the opposite party may not inform the Court about the existence or the content of these negotiations, which could harm his client before the Court. Only correspondence that is explicitly declared “official” (“official”) between French lawyers is not confidential. This particularity of the French practice is often very helpful in, for example, the settlement of negotiations between employers and employees.
In comparison to Germany, French lawyers follow a considerably different practice code, both before courts and among each other. It is therefore recommended to ask the advice of a French lawyer, who applies this practice code on a daily basis and is familiar with it – for this reason, he will immediately be taken seriously.
How is the fee regulated for a French lawyer?
Unlike Germany, the fees of French lawyers are not stipulated in an Act. French legislation even forbids making regulations that determine lawyers’ compensation. The French lawyer’s fees are therefore always negotiated individually between the lawyer and his client: in most cases, lawyers charge an hourly fee according to a billable hour structure, but the fees can also consist of a lump sum for straightforward cases or a combination of an hourly fee and a lump sum (especially for certain court proceedings). Unlike German or American practices, contingent fees are prohibited in France.
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By Françoise Berton, French business lawyer