Life as a law student in France

Interviewer Kristina

Interviewer Kristina

LLB3 student Kristina Voronenko made a friend last year with a French student, Charlotte, on a year at City doing English and Economics. Charlotte is now in Paris doing a Masters degree in Economics.

In this piece Kristina seeks to gain some insights into life as a law student in France.

1) How many years have you studied law in order to graduate in France? How is the legal education system different? What was the most difficult thing during your university life? 

In France we have to study 3 years in order to graduate and have a Diploma in Law. In the second semester of the 3rd year we have to choose between Public and Private law. However most students then study for 2 further years for a Masters. During the first year of this you start to specialise. The application process between the M1 (first year of Master) and M2 is harder according to the number of applicants and the number of available places on the course. The M2 is even more specialized than the M1. You are required to take the exam in order to become a lawyer in the first year of Master degree or students also can take public exams in order to work in the French administration. To become a lawyer you need to take the exam called the IEJ (institut d’études judiciaires) to join the law school, which lasts two years. You can take this exam a maximum of 3 times. Students either directly take it ( in September ) after the M1 or the M2, or spend one year for preparation. I think the most difficult thing in law is to adopt the right method for writing in the necessary style for each kind of law exercise.

2) What work experience is important in France? Is extra-curricular work important, for example volunteering? What roles are there for law students? What work experience you have done and enjoyed the most?

It is important in France for a law student is to do some internships during their summer holiday, in order to show an interest and involvement in the area where you are supposed to work later on. It can be a internship in a firm or court, with a lawyer or a judge… It’s always positive to show that you are an active person, however experiences like volunteering are not so important in law in France. Real work experience in law are not really required because it’s hard to find a job in this field when you are not completely qualified.

I did 2 internships, both in law firms in Toulouse. In the first one I was only observing a labour lawyer for one week whereas in the second one I was observing a labour lawyer and also a criminal lawyer (it included drug and murder cases). I preferred the second one because I spent a lot of time in a court, watching a lot of different cases. I was also in contact with a few lawyers who gave me their opinions on the judicial decisions. My other experiences are not related to law.

3) What opportunities are there for law graduates in France?

Law students do not stop study after they graduate, generally because a M1 is needed to have access to exams to become a lawyer or a judge. Very few jobs are possible at this level (tutor in judiciary protection of young people, clerk… ). In a lot of fields a Masters degree (extra 2 years after being graduated) is needed in France to find a “good” and appropriate job according to your field of studies.

Symbols of France as funky doodles4) What are the main differences between common law and civil law systems? How does everything work in a civil system?

In the UK a distinction is made between a common law and civil law but in France this is different. What we call a civil law is “Private law” (droit privé) that govern behaviors between people (a private person or a moral person). We term differs from the “public law” (droit public) which governs interactions between one person with the administration (for example when you want to build a house you need a building permit, in case of conflict you can go to an administrative court in which public law is applied). We have legal texts to be applied by judges so the system corresponds to what we call in Anglo-saxon countries like the UK: the civil law system. Our rules are written in texts like the Civil code (code civil), criminal code (code pénal), business code (code de commerce). Judges follow these rules even if they have the power to interpret texts, to adapt them to any specific cases. All the justice decisions are called “jurisprudence” and judges are free to take a decision that contradicts a previous decision, in this case we say that the decision “fait jurisprudence” (do jurisprudence).

Our legal texts have different degrees of superiority according to the pyramid of Kelsen: the constitution is at the top, then below international treaties then laws (lois) .. but in fact it is hard to say that the constitution is always above international law (the European law is above any national law according to the European Court of Justice).

5) Could you please explain different roles of advocates and judges in France?

There is only one kind of lawyer in France, contrary to the UK. He chooses one or several specialisations like criminal law, fiscal law, labour law… According to his specialisation he often pleads or not, but every lawyer has the right to do it. The role is always to defend your client. The judge has to settle a dispute after having heard all the litigants.

6) Could you please explain this separation between public and private lawyers?

A public lawyer is specialised in public law that is all the rules related to behaviours between at least one private person and a public person (the State, a public firm or a local authority). In fact that means that he can work on different kind of files, for example: Public business law (public procurements…); relation between the administration and citizens (building permit, residence on French territory …); criminal liability of public people; environment law. In public law (in private law as well) the lawyer can be specialised in one or several specific fields listed above. Every lawyer assists his clients in front of the French jurisdiction. A private lawyer (the most famous one) is a specialist in private law; that is all the rules related to behaviours between private people (individual or a moral person). There are a lot of different fields: criminal law; private business law (consumption law, commercial law…); social law (labour law…); civil law (family law, contract law…).

Kristina is in the third year of her LLB at City, she is also the Lexis Student Associate, so if you have any difficulties using LexisLibrary she can assist! Feel free to get in touch if you would like to get some help….

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