French legal system - who does what?

The three main legal professions in France are notaires, avocats and huissiers de justice. There are also others who play an important role in the system such as administrateurs judiciaires and commissaires-priseurs and numerous other lesser-known professions. It's inevitable that clients unused to litigious matters will sometimes choose the wrong type of lawyer, but usually any le gal professional will direct you to the correct branch for your particular problem. Consumer associations, local courts and the professions' governing bodies can also help you find the appropriate lawyer if you are unsure.

Notaire


NotaireMost of us will be familiar with the notaire as this is the type of lawyer who will have acted for us when we bought our house in France. Notaires are often said to be the French equivalent of a solicitor in the UK. However, there are differences. For example, notaires are directly appointed by the government whereas solicitors in the UK are self employed or employed by bodies such as local authorities or banks. Both are bound by strict codes of conduct, governed by a professional body and covered by professional insurance to coyer claims for professional negligence.

Notaires are traditionally involved in family law, conveyancing (buying and selling of property) and inheritance issues. They have an exclusive right to deal with conveyancing (a sale or purchase would not otherwise be valid), inheritance, sorne loan guarantees and any act where an acte authentique is necessary. An acte authentique is a document drafted by a notaire, which has special authority, which allows it to be directly enforced without having to seek a court order.

As they have a duty to collect certain taxes on behalf of the government, notaires are perceived as charging higher fees than other professionals, but if you look at the breakdown of the bill the actual fees are similar to those charged by other lawyers.

Avocat

The original function of an avocat was to represent clients in criminal, civil and administrati ve cases and in sorne courts it is compulsory to be represented there by an avocat. Over the years avocats have developed their expertise to advise in all areas of law although each tends to specialise in a specifie area and they do remain the litigation specialists.

Firms vary from one-man bands to multinationals and this means that clients can range between large international firms and individuals facing relatively minor issues. Avocats can draft most legal documents and will advise you both in and out of court. This would be the specialist to contact when there is a risk of litigation. Like the notaires the y also are governed by a strict code of conduct (particularly in respect of confidentiality), have a regulatory body and must be covered by professional insurance.

Huissier de Justice

If you look this up in the dictionary it is translated as "bailiff'. The primary function of the huissier is to serve summonses, notify parties of judgments and court orders and to ensure that judgments are executed. This means that, like their UK equivalent, they are often involved in evictions, repossessions of property and debt recovery.

In addition huissiers also prepare constats d'huissier. These are statements of fact or circumstance made by the huissier to be used as evidence in a court case. For example, if someone is claiming that there has been damage to their property a huissier might be asked to prepare a statement describing the damage and this would carry more weight at court than a witness statement. Huissiers used to be used in matrimonial cases to provide statements of evidence of adultery for divorce, but this is no longer the case.

They do give sorne legal advice but this is normally limited to their areas of expertise i.e: the execution of court orders, debt collection, etc 

Article courtesy of the AngloAmerican Croup of Provence.

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