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The increasing demand for foreign lawyers in Paris law firms

Posted by: Laurent Pompanon 04/08/16
As a Paris based consultant in international legal recruitment with years of professional experience in London, I am often contacted by lawyers outside France who are interested in exploring their job options in private practice in the French capital. It is fair to say that we do need non-French qualified lawyers in Paris but there are important criteria to keep in mind to maximise your chances of developing a career in France.

A common view held by lawyers outside France is that with the number of Anglo-Saxon law firms with offices in Paris, it must be easy to relocate and work at one of these. Don’t forget that the vast majority of lawyers who work at the likes of Eversheds, Linklaters, Orrick or Cleary Gottlieb are... French lawyers! With the exception of their International Arbitration departments, Paris-based law firms are staffed with lawyers who are in a position to handle French law work, whether it is in a transactional, advisory or contentious context. An easy consequence of this is that for legal jobs in Paris you need to be... French qualified.

It is not always easy for everyone to do this as it requires studying French law and being fluent in French, but the best way to find work at a law firm in Paris is to become an avocat. Of course, if you are already qualified in your home country there is the possibility of an equivalent diploma (read but still, this requires some studying and French skills. To establish a long-term career over here, it is a must and even if you relocate without this you will be ask to sit the Paris bar within a few months of arrival and the start of your new job.

Having said that, some lawyers only want to spend a few years in Paris, say 2 or 3, and this can be possible, although firms tend to dislike applications from lawyers without a long-term vision. There are, however, cases where teams need junior lawyers on a regularly basis and are happy for their associates to move on after a couple of years or so (a bit like an extended secondment). I have even seen non-French speakers being recruited! Everyone would agree, however, that it is trickier to blend in without talking French, even though you are only required to draft and communicate in English. Remember that, to work in Paris, the more “French” you have on your CV, the better! Ideally a dual training in common and civil law (Canadian lawyers can really stand out here), French internships, gap years in France, French lessons: all these experiences are very welcome and will make your life easier when it comes to applying for jobs in Paris.

Now which fields do you have to specialise in to respond to a need from Paris-based law firms? To begin with, it is quite obvious that having qualified abroad, you will likely be working for a major international law firm where some partners are themselves qualified outside of France and need associates for their teams.

Some niche firms with an international reach may also have needs – we recently hired for an M&A boutique needing a UK solicitor for instance. The major firms where you will most likely work will have needs in Finance, Corporate, Projects or Arbitration. In Finance, major teams in Paris work under UK or US law on a regular basis and have specialised partners in the fields of capital markets (EMTN programmes, high yield issues, IPOs etc), asset and project finance, or general lending. In corporate, transactional lawyers work on cross-border deals and will need common law lawyers, and that includes French law firms without (many) offices abroad.

In Projects, major teams in Paris work on energy and infrastructure matters and often focus on Africa work from France, trying to cover both French speaking and English speaking parts of that continent. Finally, arbitration teams are de facto made of international and multilingual lawyers from all over the world (and that would include lawyers fluent in Arabic, Spanish, Russian, etc, skills that are less required in other areas of law).

Interesting figures provided by the Observatoire du Conseil National des Barreaux in 2015 show that about 2,000 foreign lawyers work in France (3.3% of the total number of lawyers). This is quite significant! Among those, more than half (51%) come from the EU, 28% come from Africa and 10% from North America. Interestingly more than three quarters (77.5%) are also qualified in France, confirming what I was saying before. Even more eye catching is the growth figure of the number of foreign lawyers working in France, which is 7.1% per year on average over the past 10 years. So the prospects are really rather good for those of you dreaming of working under the shadow of the Eiffel Tower!

For more information on working in Paris legal jobs, please contact Laurent Pompanon at
Tagged In: Careers, Europe
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