Admitted to practise in Paris and New York, Mathilde Houet-Weil leads Weil & Associés’ labour and employment law department. Mathilde has over 20 years of experience representing English and German-speaking clients in employment and labour-related matters. She counsels HR managers of global companies on their most important and sensitive employment issues. She has extensive experience advising employers with respect to matters arising out of re-organisations (downsizing, closing of plants, business transfers, international and national mobility) as well as matters involving corporate policies, employment discrimination, whistle-blower claims, breach of contract and wrongful termination claims, internal investigations, and mandatory working hours.
What inspired you to become a lawyer?
Lawyers always appeared, to me, to play an essential role in society, in that they write and speak for others, enabling communication in situations where it would otherwise be impaired by overwhelming technical detail or emotion.
Carrying a client’s voice sounded like a very noble task. Gaining the clients’ trust so they would let you represent their position seemed to me a heavy and most rewarding responsibility.
Which aspects of your practice do you enjoy the most?
The first aspect is the human part. With employment law, we interfere in real people’s lives. The human factor plays a huge role as to how things play out in an employment case. Getting to understand everybody’s position and priorities is important – even if only to disagree – so that we can best advise the client. There is a lot of psychology in employment law.
The second aspect is the international one. I find it most enriching to work on cross-border cases involving players from different backgrounds.
Which skills have proven to be key for your practice?
Knowing different cultures. Having been exposed to various backgrounds helps me better understand the positions, reactions and reasonings of all parties involved.
Being able to speak foreign languages (English and German) and being admitted to practise at the New York Bar is one thing, but embracing cultural specificities has proven even more helpful. A country’s legal system is profoundly impregnated by its culture.
Understanding not only the words and legal terms, but also the cultural context, is a huge asset to gain a foreign client’s trust. This international sensitivity also enhances legal creativity.
What is the most memorable case you have worked on and why?
It was back when the works council could easily delay its vote on a project and, with it, the implementation of said project. A works council was being consulted on the selling of the company to a Pakistani businessman with a sulphurous reputation. The employees feared that he would bankrupt the company – as he had done before in other instances – and, therefore, kept asking for more detailed information through the works council in order to stall the process. Our client, a Belgian businessman willing to acquire the same company, teamed up with the works council and they finally managed, after months of discussion, to convince the shareholders to sell him the company. Seeing a capitalist businessman team up with the unions was very unexpected and interesting. The lead union member was appointed human resources director after the acquisition.
How does your involvement in international conferences enhance your practice?
Participating actively in international conferences (held by the American Bar Association, the International Bar Association, the American Employment Law Council, etc) offers a unique opportunity to meet and discuss with peers from other jurisdictions and thereby understand the concerns of my multinational clients. It also enables me to get information on the trending hot topics for HR managers on a global scale.
Knowing colleagues from various jurisdictions on a personal level is also most precious when it comes to recommending a lawyer in another country or putting together a team to work on cross-border cases.
The networking part has proven to be most helpful to share our experiences and develop my practice.
What trends have affected labour and employment law in the last decade?
After the 2008 crisis, the need for companies to be able to adjust their workforce to the (hardly predictable) evolution of their activity led to a new wave of reforms, with the ambition to provide more flexibility on the employment market.
In 2016, more leeway was granted to companies through company-level collective bargaining, as opposed to the typical industry-level bargaining, enabling employers to negotiate, with their employees and local unions, agreements that are tailor-made to their businesses.
New possibilities were also created for employers and employees to agree together, individually or collectively, on the end of the employment, whereas until then only unilateral decisions by each party (termination of resignation) were available.
Lastly, the recent Macron reform makes the costs and risk of termination more predicable with a cap on damages for wrongful termination.
How does Weil & Associés ensure it stands out from other firms in the market?
We offer a business-minded, goal-oriented approach to address our client’s needs in various areas of business law – while we have a strong focus on employment law, our firm is full-service.
Each client’s activity, product and professional environment are carefully taken into consideration so we can offer tailor-made solutions that take due account of our client’s specific business interest.
Thanks to the small size of our firm, we are a team of dynamic lawyers accustomed to responding swiftly to our clients’ needs. We offer the same level of service as bigger law firms but for a much better rate because we manage to keep our overheads down.
We never forget that the essence of our work, be it legal advice or litigation, is to achieve an economically valuable result for our client.
How has the co-founding of the International Employment Law Alliance (Innangard) enriched the firm’s work?
Four years ago we co-founded Innangard, which brings together leading employment law specialists from around the world to collaborate on cross-border employment law and HR issues. Together, we provide HR professionals with expert support and know-how in HR matters wherever they need it globally. We thrive on providing our clients with services of the highest standards in employment law.
This new alliance has enabled us to further develop our already growing international practice.
On a personal level, it has been very inspiring to collaborate closely with top-notch employment lawyers from various countries on common cases.
After several years of practice with major international law firms, Mathilde Houet-Weil joined Weil & Associés in 2003 to lead and develop the firm's labour and employment law department.
Mathilde has over 20 years’ experience representing English and German-speaking clients in a broad range of employment and labour-related litigation matters. She regularly counsels HR managers of global companies concerning their most important and sensitive employment issues. She has extensive experience advising employers with respect to matters arising out of reorganisations (downsizing, closing of plants, business transfers, international and national mobility) as well as matters involving corporate policies, employment discrimination, whistleblower claims, breach of contract and wrongful termination claims, internal investigations, and matters concerning mandatory working hours. Mathilde represents clients in labour courts, civil courts, criminal courts and administrative courts.
Mathilde's dual French-American education enables her to represent Anglo-Saxon companies in a global environment, thanks to a pragmatic approach focused on the economic stakes at hand and on solutions that fit into the social strategy of the company.
Her excellent knowledge of the German language and German culture also led her to deal with French-German cross-border cases.
Mathilde earned a master’s degree in Paris, an LLM from Duke University, USA, and is admitted to practise in Paris and New York.
Mathilde is a recognised labour and employment law specialist, and regularly speaks at conferences hosted by the American Bar Association, the International Bar Association and the Canadian Bar Association.
Mathilde is the author/co-author of numerous publications, including International Labor and Employment Laws and Social Networking, published by the labour and employment law section of the American Bar Association.Mathilde is fluent in French, English and German.