Legal market overview
For the top French law firms, 2014 was among the most profitable years ever. Large M&A transactions, mostly driven by growing interest in the French market from Chinese and US investors, replaced the rescue and restructuring deals that have been a hallmark of recent years. Even the depressed equity capital markets found new life amid a boom in large IPOs.
The growth in regulatory advice and litigation also continued apace as the French market watchdogs imposed increasingly tight controls over the financial services sector. The French competition authority is widely regarded as being among the strictest in Europe, while the stock market regulator (the AMF) has imposed record sanctions that are now being challenged in the Supreme Court. The tax authorities have also been highly active and now conduct more sophisticated audits and examinations of companies and high-ranking executives. The introduction of class actions to the French judicial system has also created a new source of potential revenue for law firms.
Not every sector is doing so well, however. Project work is one area that remains in the doldrums. Many large projects were abandoned, or are being challenged in the courts. Calls for the nationalisation of the French motorways is one example of the important role the state still plays in the economy and no major M&A deals happen without the government becoming involved. One bright spot is France’s emergence as one of the most dynamic places in Europe for large renewable energy projects.
The legal market has been profoundly affected by the slow recovery of the French economy. Aside from Bredin Prat, which is widely seen as a market leader, the top firms of yesteryear have lost influence, but new players are still struggling to establish themselves in the upper echelons.
Many large US firms are retreating from the French market. A US partner at a US firm that used to have full-service expertise in Paris commented: "it does not make sense for us to stay in France.’
New French firms and boutiques have emerged and a few already rank among the best in their areas. Former counsels and partners at leading international firms have been among those starting their own practices. For instance, Marc Loy who previously headed Linklaters LLP’s leading M&A practice, joined the nascent corporate boutique BDGS Associés; Olivier Fréget, formerly head of Allen & Overy LLP’s competition practice, set up Cabinet Fréget – Tasso de Panafieu in spring 2014. The creation of international arbitration boutique Three Crowns LLP by former Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer LLP and Shearman & Sterling LLP partners also attracted attention.
Some international firms also reinforced their practices. Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom LLP made the most prominent move, recruiting highly respected corporate lawyer Olivier Diaz from Darrois Villey Maillot Brochier. McDermott Will & Emery AARPI and Dentons also added reinforcements from Dechert, while two star partners from the now defunct white-collar crime boutique Metzner Associés joined Allen & Overy LLP and Hogan Lovells (Paris) LLP.
The podium of law firms in France is made up of the following: French firms Bredin Prat, Darrois Villey Maillot Brochier, Gide – which remains the largest French international law firm, with some 600 hundred lawyers worldwide – and De Pardieu Brocas Maffei A.A.R.P.I; UK-originated firms Allen & Overy LLP, Clifford Chance, Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer LLP and Linklaters LLP; and US-originated firms Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton LLP – which is widely regarded as the leading US firm in France – along with Weil, Gotshal & Manges LLP and White & Case LLP.
Herbert Smith Freehills LLP and Paul Hastings LLP are emerging as high-profile contenders.
Firms in the spotlight
Cabinet Frèget - Tasso de Panafieu
Paris-based law firm Fréget Tasso de Panafieu is an independent law firm founded in May 2014 by Olivier Fréget and Charlotte Tasso de Panafieu, both specialists in competition law and sector regulations. The firm supports clients seeking to define and implement strategies of legal action and influence in all areas of competition law, both national and European...
Legal Business: country analysis
Breaking new ground – advisers hope shale revolution can restart CEE market
Weighed down by political unrest and slowing economies, energy and infra projects look like one area to be driving
the CEE economy. Can the shale revolution power up
Click here to read the feature.