Since 1992, French lawyers can be divided in two categories:
– Legal advisors, (“conseillers juridiques”)
– Litigators, (“avocats plaidants”)
As French Lawyers can practice in these two kind of activities, they are a unique support in the legal domain. Let’s explain why.
1- French lawyers : from law school to the Bar
It takes time for a student in law to become a French lawyer and to obtain the right to be a member of the French Bar.
After a minimum of four years studying at a law university in France and often one year abroad, law students have to pass a difficult law exam which enables them to attend a French lawyer’s school. Then, the law student must attend a 6 months-period law seminars, a 6 months internship in a French court, or a company and finally, a 6 months internship in a law firm.
Then the law student must pass another exam called the “Professional Lawyer’s Certificate” which gives the right to be finally considered as a French lawyer.
Before being able to register to the French Bar, the freshly lawyer have to swear an oath before the President of the Court of Appeal where he/she wants to practice afterwards: « I swear, as a lawyer, to perform my duties with dignity, honor, independence, integrity and humanity. »
2- French lawyers : a member of the Bar
It is mandatory for all French lawyers to be members of the Bar, whether while practising as a legal advisor or as a litigator.
Thanks to this membership to the Bar, French lawyers are governed by the both national and regional Bar Regulations and they must obey to a quite strict policy.
Professional secrecy is one of the most fundamental rules of the legal profession. French lawyers’ professional secrecy is general, absolute and unlimited in time. As a result, all clients can fully trust and have confidence in his/her lawyer: under no circumstances, shall any information disclosed in a French lawyer’s office can be revealed if not accepted by the client.
The Bar’s regulations also require that each French lawyer acts with proficiency, dedication, conscientiousness and caution.
Thanks to the dedication to his profession and professional body and his wide scope of expertise, the French lawyer is definitely the best person in France to give legal advices and represent you before a court.
3- French lawyers : a scope of various activities
In everybody’s mind, a lawyer is the person wearing a black and white suit (“robe d’avocat”) spending his time in the tribunals pleading in favour of his client.
Indeed, traditionally French lawyers have a monopoly on representing, assisting and representing their clients before courts of first instance and appeal, either in the judicial or public jurisdiction. There are only few courts where the monopoly is not absolute. For instance, trade unions, families or other persons can also plead before employment law courts, courts for dispute under 400€, or commercial courts.
French lawyers can assist and plead before all French jurisdictions. Yet, there is still an important procedural limitation on this wide scope of jurisdiction: each lawyer can only register a claim (“postuler”) at the Regional Bar where he is registered.
> Legal advisors
French lawyers do not only defend their clients before a court, they are also natural advisors for all matters within the legal field.
For instance, French lawyers can drafts contracts, deeds, certificates or private transactions, they can also draft any documents in corporate law (see our article on French Corporate Lawyer) and they can give legal advice in all legal matters (from the choice of your matrimonial regime, inheritance, transfer of assets, merger and acquisition, relationships with your partners, administrative bodies, insurers, bank, employers, etc.. …).
Although fluency in English is very often a requirement when being a legal advisor, very few French lawyers are able to provide full advice in English.
French lawyers acting as legal advisors can also intervene where necessary, alongside or in partnership with another law professional such as a notary, a specialist lawyer, a bailiff or an accountant. Still, French lawyers are the only legal professionals with the power to draft and formalize legal documents with the highest probative value. This high value of the lawyer’s documents has been strengthened recently by the lawyer’s act (“acte d’avocat”) which, by affixing the lawyer’s seal, attest the validity and value of the document.
> Incompatibilities and other activities
The Bar regulation forbid any French lawyer to practice any other profession and particularly, commercial activities, carried out whether directly or through an intermediary.
Despite these incompatibilities, and for a few years now, French lawyer’s field of activities has been extended to new domains.
Among the new type of legal activities, French lawyers can, for example, be a property agent, a trustee, a lobbyist, a sport and an artist agent, or a correspondent to the Data protection National Body in companies.
These kind of activities are permitted as long as stay an accessory to the traditional activities of a French lawyer.
French lawyers can also be mediators in helping litigants to settle disputes or arbitrators, and as such, acting as independent judges. Both these activities concern mainly commercial disputes, involving international parties who mostly want discretion.
It is important to note that in all these new fields of activities, French lawyers are still subject to the Bar Regulations.
As a result, French lawyers are the only legal partner able to give a high-level assistance and to defend you in all areas of law from everyday life issues of individuals to companies’ matters.