Accessing the legal profession in France

The access routes to the legal profession were established by the Act of December 31, 1971, as amended by the Act of February 11, 2004 , as well as by the Implementing Decree of December 21, 2004 on professional education for lawyers.

The Standard Route

It is necessary to pass the examination for entry into a Law School (EDA), which universities administer as part of the Institute of Judicial Studies (IEJ), as a condition of access to the profession. This examination may be taken only three times, and a candidate must have completed the first year of a four-year master of laws degree or have an equivalent qualification. Still, most candidates hold a second year law degree.

Students who pass the examination take a professional education program, practical in nature, offered by a law school. There are 15 EDAs in France that offer initial and continuing training. The Implementing Decree of December 21, 2004 changed the rules on the initial training of lawyers. Since then, it has taken at least 18 months (compared with the previous one year followed by a two-year internship), planned around courses and internships and divided into three terms.

  • Six months of the training provided by the EDAs are devoted to acquiring the fundamentals, with particular emphasis on statutes, professional ethics, and the practical aspects of practicing law. This training is taken in common by all law students;
  • A term of from six to eight months is devoted to carrying out an Individual Pedagogical Project (PPI). The purpose of this term is to encourage law students to define their personal choices and prepare for their integration into professional life.

During the third term, law students do an internship in a law office.

On completing this training, law students must pass the Certificate of Aptitude for the Legal Profession (CAPA) examination. They then take an oath before the Court of Appeal and register in the bar association of their choice. Only then do they have the right to the title of avocat [fully qualified lawyer].

The Conseil national des barreaux [National Council of Bar Associations] is now considering an in-depth reform of the initial training; primarily, this would focus the training on internships. The extension of the training to 18 months raises both the issue of financing professional legal training, and the related issue of equal access to the profession. However, students receive an honorarium during their law office internships, and this may also be true of their PPIs. There is also a system of scholarships granted by the federal government that help students finance their training; however, these do not completely, or even substantially, cover their costs.

Exceptional Access Routes

Articles 97 and 98 of the Decree of November 27, 1991

University professors, and members of certain legal professions, such as magistrates (Article 97) are exempt from the diploma requirements, the theoretical and practical training, the CAPA, and the internship. Legal counsel for companies or labor unions, law office employees, and certain other judicial professionals are exempt from the theoretical and practical training and the CAPA, if they can prove that they have at least eight years of professional experience (Article 98).e First they must take an examination assessing their knowledge of professional ethics. The EDAs provide a mandatory twenty-hour preparation course for this examination.

Article 99 of the Decree of November 27, 1991

European nationals are exempt from the practical training and the CAPA if they meet certain conditions regarding education and professional practice, but they may, in certain situations, be required to take an aptitude test. Applications should be addressed to the Conseil national des barreaux. Candidates must prove that they meet all the requirements to be a fully qualified lawyer in their country of origin; and that, when required, they have completed a legal internship, besides university studies and professional qualification or competency examinations.

By reasoned decision, the Conseil national des barreaux specifies the number of subjects, with a maximum of four, in which European candidates should take an aptitude test. An oral test of about twenty minutes on each of these subjects is required, with preparation time of approximately half an hour. If four tests are required, the Conseil national determines which of these will be the subject of a four-hour written test.

Article 100 of the Decree of November 27, 1991

Non-European nationals are exempt from the practical training and the CAPA if they meet the education and professional practice requirements, but they are required to take an examination assessing their knowledge of French law. Applications should be addressed to the Conseil national des barreaux. This assessment examination comprises:

  • Two written tests lasting three hours each: a test on pleading in civil matters and a writing test on a legal consultation in a subject chosen by the candidate in either administrative, business, labor, or criminal law.
  • Two oral tests : an approximately twenty-minute report, on a subject drawn at random by the candidate on the French civil, criminal, or administrative procedures, or the French legal system and an approximately fifteen minute interview with the examination board, focusing on professional regulations and ethics.

The Conseil national des barreaux may grant an exemption from the tests if candidates request it, in consideration of their university or scientific studies; such as dissertations, theses, or published articles or books. This means that the Conseil national does not take into account candidates' professional experience or degrees.

In addition, by virtue of a Mutual Recognition Arrangement (ARM) lawyers registered with the Québec bar are required only to take an examination assessing their basic knowledge of French Law.

Directive 98/5/CE : France has also incorporated Directive 98/5/CE, which allows European community nationals who are fully qualified in their own countries to practice in France under their original titles and represent their clients in court. After three years of actual regular practice in France, they may apply for the title of avocat and be registered in a French bar association.

Registering with the Bar Association

However, it is possible for them to establish professional residency as soon as they register in a bar; there is no longer a requirement for a previous internship. But lawyers have several obligations:

Association Obligations

Establishment of professional residency within the jurisdiction of the district court where they are established. Lawyers must have an office that they either own, rent, or sub-let.

Administrative Obligations

Lawyers must make a declaration at a business procedures center within eight days of starting their activities. The business procedures center will report this information to the social security fund for non-salaried workers, the tax center, the National Institute of Statistics and Economic Studies (INSEE), and the Social Security and Family Allowance Contribution Collection Office (URSSAF).

Professional Obligations

Payment of fees to the Bar Association, the National French Bar Fund (CNBF), the Conseil national des barreaux , and the URSSAF. They must also plan for professional insurance and insurance against operating losses, as well as supplementary retirement payments.

Accounting Obligations

Keeping accounts using the dual account system. The National Association for Administrative and Tax Assistance (ANAAFA) assists lawyers with their tax obligations.

Continuing Education

Make an annual payment to the URSSAF for professional training.

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