La Revue Squire

Another Englishman in Paris – A few thoughts


Rédigé par Patrick Thomas le 23 Janvier 2008


I have been working for Hammonds for almost a year now as a Trainee Solicitor, and wanted to experience life in one of the Firm’s overseas offices. In order to be selected for a seat in Paris I had to take a competitive interview. During the course of the interview I was asked whether I knew the difference between an “hypothèque” and an “hippocampe”. Undoubtedly it is vital when giving legal advice or translating documents that one is able to distinguish between a mortgage and a sea horse, but even this question did not fully prepare me for the experience I was going to have during my Summer in Paris.

One traditional view of the French is that they don’t like the English, they are somewhat over-zealous with their bureaucracy, and that they are crazy drivers. On the first point, sure, there is a fair amount of banter that goes on between us (the English) and our Gallic counterparts, but I am not sure it goes much further than that. Indeed, the new French President has embraced some of the “Blairite” zest and has gone on record as saying that Britain has learnt much better than France how to run a strong economy and encourage people into work. Amazingly, Nicolas Sarkozy even visited London as part of his election campaign, visiting some of the thousands of French workers who have traded l’Hexagone (France) for London due to the booming economy and good prospects. Having said that, bureaucracy is definitely a national sport (I sometimes wonder whether the various State departments, public authorities are trying to outdo each other by insisting that you turn up with endless personal documents just in order to buy your monthly bus pass). As for the final point, yes, it is absolutely true that the French are crazy drivers – a climb up to the top of the Arc de Triomphe (which incidentally I believe gives you the finest views of Paris) will confirm this as you look down upon l’Etoile, the eight-lane roundabout circling the Arc de Triomphe and linking Avenue des Champs-Elysées to the road to La Défense business district. Granted, the law that says vehicles approaching from the right have priority, including cars coming onto the roundabout, adds to the apparent conclusion. I will never forget being woken up in the middle of the night by someone trying to get out of a parking space by my apartment by literally shunting the car in front a metre down the road before reversing into the car behind with such force that it too was moved at least a foot. No doubt the French gentleman concerned would tell you that his bumper was so-called for a reason!

The French can also be quite idiosyncratic at times, doing things that no other national population would consider. Although I paid more attention than most because I am left-handed myself, the following results of recent scientific surveys into the effects of left-handedness were interesting to say the least:

- UK researchers have shown a link between left-handedness and schizophrenia;

- Australian researchers found a link between left-handedness and an increased speed of thought during sport and computer games;

- …and French researchers concluded that left-handed people would have an advantage during hand-to-hand combat !

No doubt this conclusion was one of many set out in the French study…I cannot imagine that even the French would commission a study solely on the subject of hand-to-hand combat. For my current purposes however, this demonstrates how the French can be particularly individualistic!
Paris in the Summertime could be re-named “New Paris” on account of the number of American tourists who visit the city. Beyond the obvious criteria of language, there are certain cultural traits that allow us to distinguish between residents and visitors (for the record, now that I have been living here for over 4 months, I see myself in the resident’s camp).

You cannot study or practise French law without forming a close personal bond with a multitude of codes (Civil code, Commercial code, Intellectual Property code, Employment code, etc – even the Da Vinci Code was set in Paris) which set out the relevant French legislation in a given area. However, I am unaware of the existence of a code relating to one’s behaviour on the Paris Métro (Underground/Subway). Someone should write one though – it is in the maze of underground tunnels that the most pronounced differences are seen. Whether it be the pace at which people walk, or the fact that they do not keep to the right-hand side on escalators, there are a number of clues which betray their true status. You never see a Parisian stopping to admire the music being played by the string quartet in Chatelet Métro station…

As I said, there comes a point in time when one tries to integrate further into the French way of life. Whether it is the more pretentious side of me coming to the fore or just an attempt not to be taken for a tourist, I often find myself walking around with a copy of Le Figaro (daily paper) or L’Equipe (daily sports paper) under my arm, and in restaurants I always ask for the menu written in French. Those of you familiar with the defining British television comedy “Only Fools and Horses” might see a link between that which is described above and a memorable line from Del-boy…

“Pretentious?…Moi?”

I prefer to see it as making the most of the opportunity I have been given.

Despite my light-hearted point of view on France and its people, I am a committed Francophile – I have spent enough time in France (having come over on school exchanges, studied at a French university, worked at Disneyland Paris, and now my professional experience with Hammonds) to recognise the beauty of the country, the emphasis they place on having relaxed lunches, the commitment to their families. Whilst Paris is not the same as the rest of France (sometimes rather snobbishly referred to as ‘la province’) in many ways, my four-month séjour has been a rich professional and personal experience.

Of course, I am in Paris as part of my Training Contract with Hammonds. The Firm has offices worldwide, including London, Birmingham, Leeds, Manchester, Paris, Brussels, Berlin, Munich, Madrid, Beijing, Hong Kong and associated offices in Italy and Russia. The opportunities available to Trainee Solicitors to spend time abroad are excellent, and I have always been keen to take advantage of this. My four months here have been an opportunity to develop my legal knowledge, to forge links and form friendships with colleagues in the Paris office, and to experience life as a lawyer-to-be in a different jurisdiction.

There are some multinational clients I have come across during my time in Hammonds’ Birmingham office and who also use the Paris office for advice and deals. It is easy to see the benefits in such cases of having a law firm that is able to respond to the worldwide demands of its clients. Equally valuable however, is the fact that in Paris (as well as in other offices) there are a number of foreign qualified Solicitors (England & Wales) and Rechtsanwalt (Germany) who are able to provide expert knowledge of these foreign jurisdictions to local French clients when they need it. In these times of increased harmonisation from Brussels and the globalisation of trade and commerce, the “One Firm” approach taken by Hammonds, which I am fortunate to have witnessed first hand, is invaluable.

Au revoir.


A brief CV……

Holder of a BA Hons degree in Law with French from the University of Sheffield (2005), which included a year’s study in Aix-en-Provence at the Faculty of Law at Université Aix-Marseille III (Paul Cézanne), Patrick has worked with Hammonds since September 2006 as a Trainee Solicitor. Having already completed seats in Corporate Finance and Employment law, he is now experiencing life in some of the other offices, including Paris, and Brussels (Competition Law). This fits in well with Patrick’s interest in languages and allows him to maintain his level of French.

Patrick knew from a relatively early age that he wanted to pursue a career in law, even if his initial work experience of a Barristers’ chambers in 1998 pushed him towards the route to be a Solicitor.

His interest in France, the language and the culture, was born during numerous family holidays in France. As a teenager, he participated in two exchanges with French families in Lyon, and worked on a campsite in the Charentes for three straight Summers. He then worked at Disneyland in Paris after leaving school (for what it is worth, this did not involve dressing up as Mickey, or Minnie for that matter!). As mentioned above, Patrick spent a year studying French and European law and completed a placement with law firms in Lyon shortly before starting at Hammonds.

Outside law and his interest in France, Patrick is a keen field hockey player and also plays tennis and football. He also likes to travel, and to attend stand-up comedy shows and concerts.







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