Following a written application and an interview process with the EU and International Affairs Committee, I was selected to participate in the two-month programme, which has been run by the Paris Bar (Barreau de Paris) since 1991.
The first month of the stage consists of an intensive educational course focusing on the central principles of French and international law, which is run in partnership with the professional training college for lawyers in Paris (l’Ecole de Formation des Barreaux [EFB]).
During the second month, participants join a Parisian law firm (cabinet des avocats) to gain exposure on the application of French and international law in practice.
In 2018, a total of 33 lawyers from 22 different countries across five continents took part in the stage, each representing the bar association or law society in their country.
The tuition fees for the EFB course are covered in full by the Barreau de Paris. The course modules include the organisation of the French legal system (in particular, the jurisdictional division between the administrative and judicial courts); civil and criminal procedure; international and domestic ethics; human rights; alternative dispute resolution mechanisms (mediation and arbitration); labour law; intellectual property; and oratory skills.
The lectures organised by the EFB are presented by experienced guest speaker avocats, who are considered experts in their respective fields. I found that the first month of the course was very informative and gave the stagiaires an introduction to the exam topics required for admission to the Barreau, as foreign-qualified lawyers.
The French system places a large emphasis on oratory and public speaking skills (plaidoirie). A number of our lectures and visits centred on the art of rhetoric, and the Barreau de Paris regularly organise competitions like La Concours de la Conference and the Prix Mario Stasi to encourage young lawyers to hone their pleading skills.
Stagiaires had the opportunity to participate in mock pleadings at the Barreau, with constructive feedback sessions provided by guest lecturers.
Out of the 33 participants, only two delegates were solicitors practising in common law jurisdictions. The solicitor-barrister distinction for practitioners was not present in 94% of the countries represented in the stage. Most avocat practitioners regularly exercise their right of audience in their home court systems.
The majority of participants had a native or bilingual proficiency in French, so French was the common language for all.
The stagiaires hailed from all over the world, including Armenia, Benin, DR Congo, Haiti, Japan, Lebanon, Madagascar, Mali, New Zealand, Senegal, Slovakia and Vietnam.
Many of the lecturers encouraged a comparative discussion of our respective jurisdictions on various legal points, which was very informative.
In the current political climate of uncertainty and instability post-Brexit, it was interesting to discuss potential future developments and to explore non-European perspectives on EU politics, and in particular the enhanced role that France and the French language may assume in the near future.
The stage is particularly useful for understanding the operation of civil code systems and Napoleonic law. Given that Ireland will soon be one of the only common law jurisdictions in the EU, this aspect of the programme was particularly pertinent.
It also provided a great opportunity for understanding different business cultures, and how we, as Irish lawyers, can improve our interaction and communication skills with international clients and colleagues.
In addition to the educational aspects, the Barreau de Paris and the EFB organised private visits to a number of judicial and state institutions in Paris and Strasbourg, including the Conseil d’Etat (the highest administrative jurisdiction in France, with both judicial and advisory functions); the Cour de Cassation (the highest appellate court of the judicial system); the Tribunal de Commerce (the commercial court); and the newly constructed nouveau Palais de Justice designed by architect Renzo Piano, which houses the Tribunal de Grand Instance de Paris (similar to the High Court).
As stagiaires, we also had the opportunity to visit the Assemblée Nationale to learn about the legislative process in France, and had the pleasure of exploring various law libraries, council order chambers, museums and conferences through guided tours organised by the Barreau.
Further afield, we attended a European Court of Human Rights hearing in Strasbourg, and visited the Council of Europe for a detailed and insightful tour into the policies and procedures employed by the Council in protecting human rights.
Law firm placement
During the second month of the programme, the Barreau coordinates placements for the stagiaires with a variety of law firms based in Paris, across various disciplines and practice areas.
With the help of my firm, Matheson, I was placed in leading global firm Taylor Wessing’s Paris office, where I worked in the real-estate finance department.
During my time at Taylor Wessing, I was exposed to many interesting cross-border transactions, and worked closely with the head of my department on a variety of banking and real-estate acquisitions.
As an Irish and English qualified lawyer, I assisted the team in providing a different perspective on internationally focused deals.
I found the immersive section of the programme particularly motivating, as it provided the stagiaires with hands-on, practical experience of the French legal system in the busiest quarter of the year.
As a member of the Franco-Irish business professional network NetworkIrlande, I met with representatives of the organisation, attended various business events, and developed a network of contacts in Paris.
NetworkIrlande regularly runs events in conjunction with the France Ireland Chamber of Commerce, including the annual Ireland France Business Awards, which was held in November 2018.
I also met with representatives of the IDA in Paris to learn more about the key role it plays in supporting Franco-Irish enterprises, and the importance of cultivating trade and business relationships to encourage foreign direct investment in Ireland.
The Law Society bursary is very helpful in covering the cost of accommodation in Paris. The Barreau also provided us with a list of accommodation options, so finding central (albeit, compact) accommodation was relatively simple, if you booked in advance.
I would recommend the programme to anyone with a high level of French who is interested in learning more about the French legal system and civil procedure.
The stage offers a unique opportunity to develop business and personal relationships with colleagues from many different legal systems and cultures. I made invaluable friends and contacts during my time in Paris, with business and travel opportunities now arising all around the world.
I would like to thank the EU and International Affairs Committee, and my partners in the commercial real estate department at Matheson, for facilitating this wonderful opportunity for me.
The contact person is Deirdre Flynn, secretary to the EU and IA Committee, on firstname.lastname@example.org
For more information on the stage, visit http://www.avocatparis.org/accueil and the EU and International Affairs Committee section on the Law Society’s website www.lawsociety.ie.
The closing date for the next round of Stage applications is 19 April.