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We see from time to time the question: "what is the French translation for in-house counsel, as it is known in common law jurisdictions?" The simple translation for this is juriste or juriste en entreprise.
However, this title may well change within next few years, as we will see below. As of today, juristes are not lawyers, though they are trained in law. They may have been educated in law or learned it while working for an entity. Most companies today require a minimum of a four-year degree and in certain, more senior positions, most employers express a preference for law firm experience. Junior juristes may have simply chosen this route as they prefer not to practice as a lawyer. Young professionals can begin working and earning a salary immediately as in-house counsel rather than taking a grueling entrance exam followed by roughly 2 years of additional training and internships in order to become a fully qualified lawyer.
What is the role of the juriste (in-house counsel)? More or less the same as their United States counterparts, though they are not subject to any bar admission or any particular ethics rules. While U.S. in-house counsel could, in theory, represent a company before the courts because they must be lawyers, this does not occur often as the task is left to outside counsel specialized in litigation practice. In France, juristes are absolutely prohibited from "pleading" before the courts and may not represent their company. On the other hand, they deal with outside litigation counsel to direct and manage ongoing litigation for their company.
What other limitations are there for juristes? The biggest limitation for a juriste in France is there is no attorney-client privilege for communications between the juriste and their internal hierarchy. This principle was recently upheld on a European wide level in the in the Akso Nobel Chemical ECJ judgment last year. A manager or director not accustomed to French privilege rules would be best advised before discussing sensitive matters with French in-house counsel. Otherwise, there may be a surprise à la Akso in potentially damaging antitrust or other commercial lawsuit.
What stands to change for the juriste profession in France? The Darrois Commission, created to modernize the legal profession in France in 2008 by President Sarkozy, is considering several measures which would, for the most part, be welcomed changes to the profession. As for juristes, the commission proposed creating a new title known as the "avocat en entreprise" or company lawyer, more commonly known as in-house counsel. These new in house lawyers would be required to follow a similar training to that of existing lawyers and the only difference would be that have not been sworn in to a bar. The primary benefit for this status will be true attorney-client privilege, or the professional secret as it is covered in France. For those juristes who are already in the workforce, there is no concrete grandfathering in place to allow them to automatically pass to the in-house lawyer status. The students who are now still in school may find themselves in a predicament as the bar to accessing an entry level in house job may be raised.
As there are a number of key points of the Darrois Commission conclusions yet to be implemented by the legislators and eventually by the national bar (CNB), it is not known when, or even if, this new in-house counsel status will see the light of day. As the merger between the patent and trademark advisors (conseils en propriété industrielle) and the lawyers has yet to occur and is still under debate among the Senat and the Assemblée Nationale, it is unlikely the that status of in house counsel will change any time soon.