Lawyers' professional activities are divided into two areas: the activities on which lawyers have a monopoly, and those they can perform concurrently with other types of professionals.
Unlike assisting and representing, on which lawyers, with very limited exceptions, are assumed to have a monopoly, giving legal advice and drawing up legal documents may be done by other professionals, and not just those operating in the legal and judicial sectors. For a few years now, the lawyers' field of activity has also been opened to new areas, with due regard for the regulations that were enacted governing incompatibilities.
Lawyer Monopoly on Assistance and Representation
Article 4 of Act 71-1130 of December 31, 1971 on reforming certain judicial and juridical professions, set forth the principle that lawyers have a monopoly on assisting and representing parties, as well as postulation [full and binding legal representation] and pleading before courts of first instance and appeals courts, judicial and administrative jurisdictions, and all jurisdictional or disciplinary bodies.
This monopoly has no territorial limitations. All lawyers may represent, assist, and plead before all French jurisdictions or administrative commissions.
Although the difference between the functions of postulation and pleading has almost disappeared as regards the legal professions, it still exists on the territorial level: lawyers may plead everywhere, including outside the jurisdictions of their bar associations, but may "postulate" only within them. If necessary, the party is required to designate, in addition, an avocat postulant ["postulating lawyer"] who is admitted to the bar where the proceedings take place.
Lawyers do not have the benefit of an absolute monopoly on assistance and representation in every area and before all courts :
- Representation by a lawyer is not mandatory before magistrate courts, local courts, employment tribunals, social security tribunals, business tribunals, agricultural land tribunals, and criminal courts.
- Court officers called "Council lawyers" or "lawyers to the Council of State and the Court of Cassation" (the two supreme courts), are part of an organizational structure that is separate from that of other lawyers; they have the privilege of representing parties before these two jurisdictions. At this time, there are about one hundred of them.
Activities Shared with Other Professionals
New Fields of Activity for Lawyers
Lawyers, who are legal professionals, are the natural agents for supporting their clients in all procedures involving civil matters.
Among the new branches of the profession that serve citizens are agent lawyers who assist in property transactions and artist representation. Article L. 222-7 of the Sports Code also authorizes lawyers to act as sports agents without being licensed as such, or being subject to discipline by the sports federations.
Lawyers can also act as:
- Mediators, helping litigants to settle their disputes by a process which, if successful, will lead to an amicable settlement. In this regard, a participatory procedure assisted by a lawyer is a new, alternative method for settling litigation; it was initiated by the French civil code for the purpose of encouraging parties to resolve their disputes by negotiation.
- Arbitrators, acting as completely independent judges. Their final step is to issue an enforceable award based on French law, or, in some cases, an applicable international agreement.
- Trustees, acting pursuant to the laws governing trusts; however, they should decide for themselves if this trust has a legitimate purpose.
- Lobbyists, acting as their clients' representatives with national or international authorities. In this situation, they must make clear to such authorities the identity of the interests and persons they are representing.
The rules of incompatibility are established in the provisions of Articles 111 to 123 of the Decree of November 27, 1991.
Overall, being a professional lawyer is incompatible with the practice of any other profession, particularly: any commercial activities, whether carried out directly or through an intermediary; the functions of partner in a general partnership; general partner in a limited partnership or joint stock company, manager in a limited company; president of a board of directors, or member of the board or director general in a corporation; or manager of a civil society, unless its purpose is to manage family or professional interests, under the control of the governing council of the association.
However, lawyers can be members of a supervisory board, or act as the supervisory director of a commercial company, if they prove that they have practiced a regulated legal profession for seven years, and are authorized by the governing council of their bar association.