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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.

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Legal Developments in France

Legal Developments and updates from the leading lawyers in each jurisdiction. To contribute, send an email request to
  • The new French regulation applying to national insurance contributions for managers and shareholders

    French insurance contributions on executive and shareholder remuneration (pay + dividends) have been substantially increased by the National Insurance Funding for 2013 Act, No. 2012-1404, of 17th December 2012. Until 31st December 2012, all dividends were subject to national insurance contributions on unearned income but henceforth, under Article L136-3 of the National Insurance Code, amended by Act No. 2012-1404, certain dividends   are considered as pay received by executives and shareholders and are therefore subject to the national insurance contributions on pay. The Act also abolished the ceiling on health insurance contributions payable by the self-employed and all this means that businesses must rethink the way that they have been structured until now.

    The People's Republic of China has initiated an overhaul of its social security system, reformed the personal taxation regime and has extended the scope of these laws to foreigners residing in China.

    The Kingdom of Morocco is supporting the ambition of becoming the leading financial place for Africa. In this context, a wave of draft laws is to be passed and implemented within the following months, amongst which, the Law No. 53.08, setting up a new financial authority, and the Law No. 54.08, reforming public offering rules, are of paramount importance to Moroccan and foreign issuers, and financial institutions.

    The opportunities offered to foreign investors by the Chinese mergers and acquisitions market are increasing every year: in 2010, transactions involving foreign companies came to 60.1 billion euros, an increase of 21.2% compared with 2009. Seen from the West, where markets are declining, all sectors of the Chinese economy seem to be undergoing promising development and the statistics indicate that the Middle Empire will be a lasting springboard for growth.
  • Prime de Partage des Profits

    Le dispositif L’article 1er de la loi de financement rectificative de la Sécurité sociale pour 2011 oblige les sociétés commerciales de 50 salariés et plus, dont les dividendes par part sociale ou par action sont en augmentation par rapport à la moyenne des deux années précédentes, à verser une prime à l’ensemble de leurs salariés

    Types of investors The private equity (PE) funds that are active in Bulgaria are not raised or registered in the country. Some Bulgarian PE funds were raised recently, but there are no statistics as to the sources of their funding, their number, the funds that were accumulated, etc.

  • Landmark decision by French Competition Authority in conditioned LPG case

    cartel case closed after discovery that leniency application was largely based on forgeries and rejection of collective dominant position objection.
  • 2012 supplementary budget

    The second supplementary budget published in the Official Gazette September 19, 2011 provides for two key measures that affect the deferral of tax losses and taxation of capital gains realized on the sale of equity securities .
  • Actualité législative fiscale

    Au delà des mesures applicables à l’ensemble des contribuables (telles que la limitation du report des déficits ou la réforme du mode de calcul des plus values sur cessions de participations),le plan de réduction des déficits annoncé le 24 août dernier par le gouvernement comprend des mesures qui intéressent spécifiquement les acteurs du secteur financier.

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