Despite the political, social and economic challenges faced by the country over the past year, law firms in France have remained mainly busy and profitable. Domestically, new financial and tax regulations have kept lawyers occupied and, thanks to the UK voting to leave the EU, Paris has found itself with the opportunity to become Europe’s second seat for banks and financial institutions looking to remain within the trading bloc. Anglo-Saxon law firms now have their feet firmly under the table but French-born firms continue to occupy the top tier of the market. In addition, a recent flowering of boutique firms means a new sector has developed, one which is vying to take work off the more established players.
France showed favourable growth in the last quarter of the last financial year (October to December 2016), with the economy growing 0.4 per cent, matching market expectations. However, beyond the economy, things have been somewhat less stable: France’s president François Hollande has experienced record low approval ratings in the lead-up to the general election in June 2017, and the country has been rocked by high-profile terror attacks over the past couple of years. However, thanks in part to its secure and well-established civil law system, the country remains an attractive proposition for businesses.
Paris remains the dominant force in the French legal market. A 2010 survey revealed that almost half of France’s 51,800 avocats practised in the capital; today, French lawyers are still heavily centred in the country’s legislative, administrative and judicial hub of Paris. Despite new entrants and boutiques emerging following cutbacks by full-service firms during the economic downturn, lawyers we spoke to observed that the main players still predominate in the market. As supporting evidence of this, top French firms Gide Loyrette Nouel, Bredin Prat and CMS Bureau Francis Lefebvre all performed extremely well again in this year’s research.
What is more, the French legal market has often benefited from a set of diverse international firms working alongside national ones. The many established international firms in Paris continue to handle a signficant share of legal work. This can be seen in our research this year: seven of the 10 firms with the most listings in our research are international firms (although the top firm overall, Gide Loyrette Nouel, is French), including Allen & Overy and Hogan Lovells, who come second and third in the listings, with 25 and 24 listings respectively.
Furthermore, lawyers practising in France are increasingly no longer French. Despite being one of the last EU countries to enact the Establishment Directive allowing foreign lawyers to train and practise French law, France has seen a healthy number coming from outside of its border to practise there. Figures provided by the French National Bar Council in 2015 revealed that approximately 2,000 foreign lawyers work in France – about 3.3 per cent of the total number, attesting to France’s increasing international appeal as a legal hub.
There have also been some other changes affecting the legal world. The International Chamber of Commerce recently agreed on new transparency laws, meaning that it will publish on its website the names and nationality of arbitrators sitting in ICC cases, and state whether the appointment was made by the court or by the parties. It will also include details of the chairperson. Data released so far, including that for the entirety of 2016, has revealed an internationally diverse list of arbitrators including some leading names such as Audley Sheppard and Domitille Baizeau.
Lawyers we spoke to were confident about France’s legal landscape overall, although they noted that there had been fewer big deals or corporate restructurings of late. Real estate has seen a good amount of activity in the commercial sector, and the country’s growing willingness to countenance litigation has led to a greater appetite among law firms and clients to pursue. Coupled with the Hamon Law and greater consumer protection laws, France may see a ramping-up of class actions cases in the coming years.
More than 180,000 people in Paris work in finance, with the city boasting Europe’s biggest bond market and the second-largest pool of asset managers. It is therefore unsurprising, given the UK’s referendum vote to leave the EU, that big names such as HSBC are suggesting that they may move jobs in their thousands from London to Paris. Indeed, France may have an unprecedented opportunity to bolster its already strong position as a global player in business and finance.
For lawyers, this could result in a strong upswing in corporate immigration work as the Brexit process unfolds. However, this may become a moot point if the UK negotiates a deal that includes bank passports for financial institutions operating in the UK, allowing them to provide services to clients and consumers across the EEA.
Even without Brexit, France’s latest finance bill has changed the country’s tax regime and set it on a marked path towards a more pro-business economy. More assertive tax recovery methods, balanced by business-friendly measures, including a lower corporation tax threshold of 28 per cent, may serve to make the jurisdiction more appealing and generate more corporate work for lawyers. But a new law included in the same bill meaning profits deemed diverted by French companies are still subject to French income tax illustrates that the government refuses to embark upon the kind of deregulation that made London and New York the undisputed hegemons of global finance throughout the 1990s.
Evidence of a strong regulatory framework can also be seen in the competition space. The French Competition Authority has continued to build on the progress of recent years, imposing a record €1.25 billion in fines collected in 2015. In November 2016, the authority jointly fined Altice Luxembourg and SFR Group €80 million for premature merger completions, marking the first decision of its kind in France.
However, France’s upcoming presidential election means that the regulatory future hangs in the balance. Depending on who wins, widespread reform could follow. Presidential candidates François Fillon and Emmanuel Macron would both likely want to reform France’s business laws, making them friendlier to corporations and bringing them closer in line with the UK or Germany. Should the far-right National Front party claim victory, a more nationalist and far more radical regime may follow. Either outcome could see French lawyers contending with a markedly different landscape in the near future.
Outside of Europe, French law firms continue to perform strongly in francophone Africa, where their energy and project finance practices are well regarded. Several of the lawyers listed in our energy and mining chapters are involved with advising and representing some of Africa’s leading energy providers, alongside handling large project finance works. In both Africa and Europe, renewable energy has become a leading issue, and the market has been diversified by countries such as China displaying an increased presence. Where national and government contracts have reduced due to a sluggish economy, international and cross-border work seems to have remained robust for French lawyers.
The OECD opined recently that France’s fundamental problem is its lack of growth. Whatever this means for the people of France, business remains stable and multinational corporations have not balked at the idea of investing in the country.
With a well-honed legal system that lacks the current uncertainties of the UK and US market, law firms in France enjoyed a strong 2016 and face favourable prospects in the coming year. New legislation and tax rules, and an invigorated competition and regulatory landscape, mean that businesses will continue to require top-class legal advice and representation. Alongside this, complications from Brexit will also surely send further work their way. France has a network of some of the best law firms in the world, both national and international; they will no doubt rise to such challenges.
This chapter identifies 22 of the top French litigators who focus on administrative law matters and related disputes between entities and government authorities.
France remains a key seat for international arbitration and as a result there is a very strong arbitration bar in France. Overall we have identified 90 of the very best counsel and arbitrators who excel at acting for clients across a comprehensive range of industries and sectors.
We list 14 practitioners in this year’s guide who are noted for their skill at providing written and oral testimony in complex domestic and international arbitrations.
This chapter identifies nine leading lawyers who have a track record of excellence assisting clients in tracing and recovering lost, misappropriated or stolen assets, including in relation to disclosure, freezing and seizure orders and recovery claims.
This chapter identifies 17 individuals who stand out for their work in the banking sector, handling regulatory and transactional work on behalf of corporate clients and financial institutions.
Who’s Who Legal has identified 31 leading authorities on criminal law relating to business proceedings. These practitioners are pre-eminent in the French market and are renowned for their capabilities in white-collar criminal proceedings, investigations, civil law enforcement matters and compliance.
In this chapter, we recognise 19 leading capital markets practitioners. The featured lawyers are identified for their expertise in debt and equity capital market transactions, advising issuers and underwriters in IPOs, secondary offerings including rights issues, placements and other debt and equity issuances.
Our research highlights 24 of France’s top litigators who handle disputes covering all sectors and industries. In addition, many of those listed have substantial appellate expertise.
The following 42 practitioners are considered the leading players in behavioural and non-behavioural competition law matters, regularly representing clients before the French competition authority and the courts.
In this section, we recognise 13 lawyers for their expertise in construction law. The featured lawyers advise clients on a range of contentious and non-contentious work, including disputes, financing, management and structuring.
In this year’s chapter, 58 individuals are recognised as the leaders in issues of taxation for corporations and commercial entities including transactions, restructuring and contentious and non-contentious work.
In this chapter, we identify five market-leading expert witnesses. The experts specialise in assisting lawyers with litigation support during the early stages of a case and also provide expert witness testimony on a wide variety of issues such as acceptable tax practices and transfer pricing valuations.
In this chapter, we recognise 42 leading energy lawyers. The individuals featured are identified for their expertise in energy law including financing, management, projects, structuring and transactions.
This chapter highlights 26 of the leading private practice environmental lawyers in France who have a proven track record in providing environmental legal advice to clients in transactional, litigation and regulatory matters, as well as strategic planning, dispute resolution and administrative procedures.
We highlight 16 leading figures in the French market, recognised for the unrivalled legal services they offer to public authorities and private parties.
This chapter features 23 leading lawyers recognised for their expertise in insurance and reinsurance law in France. The lawyers listed specialise in representing insurance underwriters, reinsurers, intermediaries and corporate insurers in contentious, contractual, regulatory and transactional matters.
This year we highlight 39 leading names in the French market for their exceptional work representing and advising management on all aspects of labour, employment and industrial relations law.
Our research identifies 37 leading lawyers practising in the pharmaceutical and biotechnology sectors, including handling matters relating to both patent and patent litigation. Below we highlight the most highly regarded in the field.
In this chapter, we highlight 16 leading corporate lawyers who stand out for their expertise in public and private M&A, joint ventures, private equity, and cross-border transactions. They are also recognised for their exceptional work advising boards of directors of listed companies and substantial privately held entities with respect to the most difficult and sensitive corporate disclosure, governance and policy issues.
Mediation continues to grow in popularity as a form of dispute resolution in France and a number of well-regarded French lawyers regularly act as mediators. We have identified 15 of the best in the business.
We identify 11 leading practitioners who provide counsel and representation to companies operating across the mining sector – many offering specific expertise relating to, among other matters, dirt law, native title law, mine financing and leasing.
Through interviewees with lawyers, experts and market sources, we have identified 24 of the leading patent attorneys in France.
We highlight 31 of France’s leading patent lawyers whose expertise covers industries including life sciences, pharmaceuticals, chemicals, technology and computing, among many others.
We list 14 lawyers for their expertise in advising high-net-worth individuals and family offices on matters relating to tax efficiency, estates and trusts, and issues of wealth and inheritance.
This chapter identifies 13 outstanding practitioners who lead the way in the market. From the structuring and investment of private funds in alternative asset classes, to compliance and strategic regulatory issues, these lawyers are well equipped to assist clients in their endeavours.
We recognise 14 practitioners in this chapter who stand out for their excellent work defending corporations in a range of product liability cases including product recall, compliance and the resolution of disputes via litigation, arbitration and ADR.
In this chapter we recognise 24 project finance experts who are renowned in the market for their expertise and experience advising sponsors and lenders on major project financing and refinancing transactions. The featured lawyers advise on major public infrastructure projects as well as enterprises in the energy, natural resources, telecoms, water, hospitality and healthcare sectors.
In this chapter, we recognise 35 lawyers. These real estate specialists excel in commercial, retail, public and private real estate transactions alongside investment, REITs and disputes.
This chapter features 20 leading individuals who are recognised for their expertise in the full range of bankruptcy, restructuring and insolvency work.
The following individuals are considered the market leaders, known for their expertise in representing clients in the sports industry.
This year, we recognise 66 esteemed practitioners for their experience representing media, technology and IT companies across a range of corporate and commercial matters including dispute resolution, regulations and compliance, M&A and issues arising under IP law.
In this chapter, we feature five of the country’s leading practitioners covering international trade, export control and customs law issues.
In this chapter we recognise 31 of the country’s premier trademarks specialists. The featured lawyers have a proven track record of advising and representing companies from a wide range of industry sectors on trademark portfolio management, infringement proceedings, anti-counterfeiting and domain names.
In this section, we identify 41 of the country’s transport specialists. These featured lawyers excel in aviation and shipping law including financing, logistics, transactions, insurance and crisis management.
WWL: France 2017 is our latest, comprehensive look at the French legal market. The 917 total listings are comprised of 776 lawyers and experts from 274 firms across 37 chapters, from Administrative Litigation to Transport. Of these 274 firms, 23 boast 10 or more listings.
Gide Loyrette Nouel stand apart with 46 listings, ahead of joint-second-placed firms Bredin Prat and Allen & Overy, who nevertheless excel with 25 listings. Other firms with an outstanding breadth of expertise in the French market include CMS Bureau Francis Lefebvre, Hogan Lovells, White & Case and Clifford Chance, who all have more than 20 listings.
We feature the 20 firms with the most listings below.
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Nominees have been selected based upon comprehensive, independent survey work with both general counsel and private practice lawyers worldwide. Only specialists who have met independent international research criteria are listed.