Thomas Rouhette is “a tough and pragmatic lawyer”, laud sources who commend his “accuracy and attention to detail” as well as his “deep knowledge of the legal and regulatory environment”.
Thomas Rouhette is a founding partner of Signature Litigation in Paris and has 30 years of experience in international litigation. He is listed as a leading practitioner by Who’s Who Legal in no less than five categories: commercial litigation, product liability defence, aviation, life sciences, and insurance and reinsurance. Thomas is a member of the board of the International Association of Defense Counsel. He also serves as chair of the Superior Appeals Commission of the French Football Federation.
What attracted you to a career in the law?
With two parents who were law professors and a strong appetite for debate, problem-solving and persuasion, I could not consider any other option than a career in the law.
You completed a move from a large law firm to a dispute resolution boutique. How do the two approaches to dispute resolution work differ?
I think that the approach is mostly the same for certain aspects of the practice: hard work, leaving no stones unturned, the search for excellence and team work are requirements both at a large law firm and a dispute resolution boutique. But I find that a boutique model provides much more flexibility and allows partners to dedicate most if not all of their time to clients and matters, and not to time-consuming firm, practice or office management roles, bureaucracy and firm politics. The ability to operate in a virtually conflict-free environment makes a huge difference in growing a practice. Lastly, at a niche firm like Signature, every member of the firm can make an impact and not just be considered a number, as is too often the case in large law firms.
There has been a trend towards an increase in penalties and damages awarded against corporations, and making causation in proceedings more flexible. How do you think this will impact litigation practice going forward?
The French legal system is losing its balance. There is indeed a demagogic trend towards a plaintiff-friendly system. The criminalisation of the French economic landscape is constantly increasing. I am afraid that this trend will continue in the years to come and expose corporations to more compliance and litigation risks, with administrative and criminal penalties hitting harder and damages on the increase on the civil side.
What is driving the rise in class actions in Europe, and how do you see this impacting the legal market in the next five years?
The same evolution as that described above, the current commitment towards the facilitation of access to justice in Europe and the strong interest of the media in consumer matters, is driving the rise in class actions in Europe. This, and the likely introduction of pan-European class actions, will probably result in a significant number of cases. Let us hope that the barriers still in place in most of the European jurisdictions, such as the opt-in system, will hold.
What do clients look for in an effective litigator?
I think that clients are looking for someone who they can follow in the trench, can explain complex procedural concepts in simple words, has a strategic vision and sees litigation as a means and not as an end.
How has your role as president of the French Football Federation enhanced your practice?
Sitting as a sort-of judge has been extremely helpful in understanding better the courts’ perception to counsel work. It showed me that courts often have little time to grasp the extent of easy to complicated cases, and how key it is for counsel to remain clear and to the point at all times.
Training and raising up associates is a key part of practice as a senior lawyer. What are the keys to successfully mentoring associates?
There is nothing that brings more satisfaction to a partner than taking part in the training and promotion of associates. In doing so, you should not try to clone them in any way as they should keep their own style and personality. Always put them in the light and never try to appropriate their work. Give them trial exposure as much as possible. Trust them and involve them in business development. Make sure that there is no competition among them. All these are in my view keys to successfully mentoring associates.
What advice would you give to younger practitioners hoping to be in your position one day?
Work hard, play as a team, seize every opportunity and plant seeds. You need to work hard and in a collaborative manner to learn how to be a good and efficient operator. Volunteer and seize every opportunity as only one thing is certain: in this fast-changing legal environment, the type of work you will become an expert at in a few years is unknown today. And plant seeds, in the business development sense, to maximise the chances of you flourishing in the not too distant future.