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The Legal 500 Hall of Fame highlights individuals who have received constant praise by their clients for continued excellence. The Hall of Fame highlights, to clients, the law firm partners who are at the pinnacle of the profession. In Europe, Middle East and Africa, the criteria for entry is to have been recognised by The Legal 500 as one of the elite leading lawyers for seven consecutive years. These partners are highlighted below and throughout the editorial.

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France > Legal market overview > Law firm and leading lawyer rankings


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France is shrinking!’ laments one of France’s most respected legal minds. Despite 2016 record revenues for leading law firms in 2016 – ‘une année historique’ – few rejoice because the largest mandates are outbound. France attracts international companies and investors, including Americans and a growing body of Asian sponsors, but the size and volume of domestic M&A and leverage buyouts remains below that of pre-Lehman Brothers levels.

But leading French corporations are mainly investing overseas, meaning that large M&A transactions in France are often cross-border in nature and limited in numbers – around 50% of the M&A revenues at one top domestic law firm are generated from international deals.


Dreyfus & Associés

Founded in 2004 by Nathalie Dreyfus, Dreyfus quickly became one of the top intellectual property law firms in France. This IP boutique firm now has a staff of 17 lawyers and can count on a trusted worldwide professional network. It is referred to as ‘excellent’ and ‘widely known’ in numerous publications and international legal directories. The firm regularly receives awards for the quality of its interventions and services.

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Chassany Watrelot & Associés (CWA)

Chassany Watrelot & Associés (CWA) is a law firm exclusively dedicated to employment law and other areas impacting human resources management. Over the past 30 years, the firm has experienced strong growth and is now in Lyon (since 1987), in Paris (since 1999), in Marseilles (since 2003) as well as in Casablanca and Tangiers (2011), Algiers and Tunis (2012). CWA brings together over 60 lawyers providing legal advice, accompanying and representing companies during litigations, and developing and conducting professional training.

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This trend benefits global law firms, so how can large domestic law firms survive long among the elites in that environment?’, asked one partner at a French law firm, adding: ‘let’s put a stop to “bigger is better”!

For French law firms, international connections and capabilities are now a prerequisite to survival in a global market. Several mid-sized French firms are actively eying new markets in Africa and the Middle East in an effort to develop their international presence. Many French firms were also quick to set up Iranian desks (and even offices, in at least one case) following the lifting of economic sanctions.

Revenues are also being driven down by a growing low-cost legal market, where many of the small startups and boutiques are taking away some of the day-to-day and mainstream work of the largest firms. Technology is also disrupting the market; some top firms are now already looking at new business models, using technology to provide some legal services at a lower cost.

Meanwhile, regulatory advice has quickly become a growing and complementary source of revenue for law firms, alongside more traditional transactional work. The recent adoption of the Loi Sapin II (promoting transparency in the economy) is a strong example of this trend. The law introduces a new anti-corruption compliance regime – along with the concepts of internal investigations and transactional settlement – that is milder than the US system, which has imposed excoriating financial fines on French companies. ‘The French legal market is very excited by the new law. Companies will be compelled to put into place anti-corruption programmes; this will require large resources’, remarked one partner from a major law firm.

Financial services and asset management is another growing area of practice, as new players and investment funds expand to meet the demand for alternative lending in France.

The demand for tax advice remains very high following a series of headline-making tax evasion cases in recent years – such as that involving former French Budget Minister Jérôme Cahuzac, who was handed a three-year prison sentence at the end of 2016.

The authorities are also aggressively auditing companies and investors, with $4.8bn in corporate income tax reassessments in 2015, according to the French Financial Ministry. One partner added: ‘managers conducting LBOs in France have very high probability to be audited by the authorities.’ Patrimonial tax advice is consequently seen as a strategic need and many large law firms now have expertise in the area.

Some of the most sensitive litigation involves tax matters – one high-profile white-collar crime lawyer said that about 75% of his top cases deal with tax issues. Some very large sums are at stake and companies are battling before the French Supreme Courts and European Courts to challenge the French tax regime. Some lawyers are also being jointly prosecuted for the advice which they provided.

The European Union is also engaged in a fight against tax optimisation schemes and has been using antitrust law to equate national tax exemptions to state aid, resulting in very large penalties for some French and international companies.

Competition lawyers also had ‘an exceptional year in 2016’. The French Competition Authority is among the most severe in the world, handing out very high fines and blocking several M&A transactions recently.

Changes in the legal market have included some ramifications of Brexit, as unhappy Paris-based equity partners of UK firms notably moved to US-originated firms in 2016.

Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer LLP cut down its team in Paris – seven partners left in 2016. Orrick Rambaud Martel took half the Magic Circle firm’s employment team, as well as major names in the banking and M&A areas, significantly boosting its resources.

The closure of King & Wood Mallesons in Paris led the entire LBO team to join new US entrant Goodwin, its leading fund formation team went to Willkie Farr & Gallagher LLP and Goodwin, while the rest of the staff was taken over by Reed Smith with few exceptions.

Kramer Levin Naftalis & Frankel LLP also strongly recruited in 2016 and notably took on a 12-lawyer team from Gowling WLG.France.AARPI.

Elite dispute resolution firm Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan, LLP hired two former arbitration practice heads at their respective previous firms: Michael Young (ex-Allen & Overy LLP), and Isabelle Michou (ex-Herbert Smith Freehills LLP.

LPA-CGR officially merged on 1 November 2016, creating a 180-lawyer firm with ten offices, including nine locations internationally; it is one of the few French mergers to have happened recently.

Other notable events included the merger of CMS and Olswang France LLP with the latter’s office set to close in 2017, while French firm DS Avocats took over 24-lawyer firm VPV in Chile – the firm now has 24 offices in four continents.

US-originated specialist employment firms, which had been absent from the French market previously, recently made very significant moves. Ogletree Deakins is set to launch its French practice in March 2017 with a ten-lawyer team, while Littler Mendelson is now affiliated with French leading labour law firm Fromont Briens after it joined the Littler Global network.

Alternative assets specialist MJ Hudson launched its Paris office in March 2016, while DWF (France) AARPI also entered the French market.

The podium of law firms in France mixes French, UK and US firms. The leading French firms Bredin Prat, Darrois Villey Maillot Brochier, De Pardieu Brocas Maffei and Gide Loyrette Nouel A.A.R.P.I., which is the largest French international law firm with some 600 hundred lawyers worldwide. Key UK firms present are Allen & Overy LLP, Clifford Chance, Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer LLP and Linklaters. The most prominent US firms are Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton LLP – which is widely regarded as the number one US firm in France – as well as Weil, Gotshal & Manges LLP, White & Case LLP and Latham & Watkins. Following a series of top hires, Orrick Rambaud Martel also looks very strong.

In corporate law, BDGS Associés, Cabinet Bompoint and Dethomas Peltier Juvigny & Associés provide high-end boutique expertise. Highly rated medium-sized firms include August Debouzy, De Gaulle Fleurance & Associés, Franklin, Jeantet, Viguié Schmidt & Associés and Vivien & Associes.

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Legal Developments in France

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  • 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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