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How to work with French lawyers?

Although lawyers are not “service providers” in the classical sense of the word, they do provide service.  

Consequently, both the attorneys and the client are entitled to a clearly defined contractual relationship, whereby the scope of the legal assistance required from the attorneys and the legal fees to be paid by the client for such assistance are clearly set out.

Define the scope of the legal assistance required from your legal advisors

Each client should ensure that the scope of legal assistance required from the attorneys engaged to deal with its case is clearly defined. You should therefore have a clear view on your objectives, the required amount of legal work and the budget that you are able to allocate.

Sign an engagement letter providing for an estimate of fees and periodic reporting on progress and the amount of fees incurred

Although an engagement letter is not obligatory, most lawyers do not start work in the absence of such. The engagement letter (called, in French, “convention d’honoraires”) constitutes the agreement between a lawyer and a client and it is as important for the attorneys as it is for their client.

An engagement letter should provide for:

  • an estimate of fees, which may be a flat fee or on the basis of an hourly rate. It should be noted in this respect that "no win - no fee" agreements are prohibited by French law, and that success fees may only constitute a part, but not the entirety, of a lawyer's remuneration;
  • periodic reporting to the client as regards the amount of incurred legal fees;
  • an obligation, by the attorneys dealing with the case, to inform the client in the event that the budget is exceeded and to obtain its consent before engaging further legal fees.

How many lawyers should deal with a case?

Some cases require, because of the volume of projected work or their complexity, that a team of lawyers be involved. This would typically be the case of an acquisition of or investment in a company, which requires that not only corporate and commercial but also tax and employment aspects be analyzed and structured. This may also be the case if a complex litigation requiring the intervention of a lawyer familiar with specific regulatory matters, who will work alongside a colleague specialized in litigation to frame out strategy and defense arguments. Similarly, the drafting of an important commercial contract may require that an attorney specialized in tax advises on its potential tax implications.

Regardless of the number of attorneys who may work on a case, each client is entitled to know the identity of and role played by each of them. Clients should also be able to interact with each lawyer to give appropriate instructions.

The intervention of lawyers alongside other advisors of the client

It is not uncommon for a lawyer to intervene alongside other advisors of a client, such as financial advisors, accountants or auditors.

When this is necessary, make sure that all parties are able to communicate with each other and that important information is being passed along. This will avoid that work, which does not take into account all up-to-date information, be carried out and billed.

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