Hiring a lawyer in France

Lawyers play a key role throughout legal proceedings. It is important to choose one you can trust. They can assist you with criminal law, family law or defend your rights in relation to the administrative authorities.

Verified by the Alliance des Avocats pour les Droits de l’Homme on 25/09/2023

Role of the lawyer

In France, legal proceedings can be particularly complex. It is recommended, and in some cases mandatory, that you hire a lawyer who can advise you, help you with procedures, and represent you during hearings in court or “audiences”.

Unfortunately in France, for procedures relative to the penal code, it is highly recommended that the victim of an offence hires a lawyer to increase the chances of the perpetrator being convicted for their actions.

In the context of family law and domestic abuse, lawyers can, for example, provide you with their services for the following procedures:

  • applying for protective measures such as a protection order or “ordonnance de protection” in the event of domestic abuse
  • applying for residency rights or asylum and recourse procedures against administrative authorities
  • applying for divorce and making child custody arrangements
  • penal law: legal proceedings following a complaint against the perpetrator of domestic abuse.

Paying for your lawyer’s services

Lawyers’ services are subject to a fee. If your resources are limited, there are solutions.

The first step is to check whether your insurance policies, for example your home insurance, cover certain legal costs. If so, ask them if the legal proceedings in which you are involved in are covered, and under what conditions.

  • If you do not have sufficient resources, you can request full or partial payment of your legal costs from the state, called legal aid or “aide juridictionnelle”, even if you do not have residency rights.

    Some important points to note:

    • You can either find a lawyer and ask them to take your case on the basis of “aide juridictionnelle”, or request “aide juridictionnelle” first and ask for a lawyer to be appointed to you by the court when you complete the application form.
    • If you find a lawyer who agrees to handle on your case on the basis of “aide juridictionnelle” and you benefit from full “aide juridictionnelle”, they will not be allowed to ask you for more money afterwards, even if the amount of work and duration of the proceedings exceed their initial estimate.
    • If you benefit from partial “aide juridictionnelle”, only part of your legal costs will be paid for by the state. Your lawyer may therefore ask you for a supplement called a “complément d’honoraires”, or fee supplement. Ask them about this right from the start.
  • If you do not receive “aide juridictionnelle” or only partial “aide juridictionnelle”, ask the lawyer about their rates, known as “honoraires”.

    It is important that you know the total amount from the outset. This may be:

    • a fixed fee for the full procedure
    • an hourly rate with an estimate of the number of hours that will be required.

    If you have limited financial resources but you are not eligible for legal aid or “aide juridictionnelle”, some lawyers may offer you other solutions, for example to pay them as a percentage of what you will receive at the end of the proceedings. This type of arrangement is rare.

Choosing a lawyer

In France, you can find excellent and honest lawyers who do good work for their clients, and other less skilled lawyers who sometimes adopt dishonest practices.

Below are some tips for choosing the right lawyer.

  • To find a good lawyer who specialises in a particular field, you can ask for recommendations:

    • You can contact an organisation offering free services know as an “association”. Choose a specialist in your field: support for victims of abuse, law for foreign nationals, etc.
    • You can request recommendations from people you know who have gone through the same legal procedures.

    If you have not had a lawyer recommended by a professional or person you trust, you can search this directory, which lists all lawyers in France. The site offers searches by city, language and specialisation.

  • You can contact several lawyers to compare their services and rates and choose the one you feel confident with.

    First, send an email to the lawyer to quickly present your situation and suggest an initial telephone interview.

    A few things to check during your telephone conversation:

    • ask them if they handle this type of case and what their rates, known as “honoraires”, would be
    • if you contact them for a matter relating to family law (divorce, child custody, etc.), it is important that they can confidently handle the international complexities of your case: be sure to ask them questions about this
    • if you need to apply for legal aid, known as “aide juridictionnelle”, ask them on the phone if they would agree to handle your case on that basis.

    If you are satisfied with this initial exchange, you can arrange a meeting with them.

    If they have agreed to take your case on the basis of payment through “aide juridictionnelle”, ask them to draw up a letter confirming this, known as a letter of acceptance or “lettre d’acceptation”, then file the application by following this process.

  • It is important to be well prepared for the first meeting. If possible, try to write a one or two-page document covering the main facts.

    Prepare a file with photocopies of all important documents, which may include, where applicable:

    • your identity documents and those of your children: identity card, passport
    • your residence permit or “titre de séjour”, if you have one
    • your family record book or “livret de famille
    • your healthcare card or “carte vitale
    • your healthcare record book or “carnet de santé”, and those of your children
    • documents from the “Caisse d’allocations familiales (Caf)
    • your tax notice and employment contract
    • photos of your marital, PACS or common-law partner's documents: tax notices, payslips, photos of account statements, employment contracts, etc.
    • evidence of any other undeclared sources of income: photos of cash, notebooks, purchases, etc.
    • proof of your partner’s assets and property or those you share with them: real estate, investments, etc.
    • documents relating to children: school activities, extracurricular activities, canteen costs, medical costs, etc.
    • the evidence that you have been able to gather if you have been faced with domestic abuse.
  • At the first meeting:

    • try to stick to the concrete facts, without going into too much detail
    • ask the lawyer to clearly explain their recommended approach, how the proceedings will unfold and the schedule
    • ask them any questions that come to mind.

    At the end of the meeting, the lawyer must provide you with an official document setting out the conditions of their services, particularly their rates, known as “honoraires”. In France, lawyers will sometimes request the payment of 50% of the “honoraires” upfront.

    A few tips:

    • Please take the time to review this document and do not feel obliged to sign it that day.
    • If you do not feel confident with the lawyer, or they trigger fear, shame or guilt in you, it probably means that their expertise on domestic abuse is limited and may put you at risk. If this is the case, don’t hesitate to consult a different lawyer. You can change your lawyer at any time without having to provide a reason.

    If you have requested legal aid or “aide juridictionnelle”, the lawyer must give you a letter stating that they agree to take care of your case on that basis.

  • At your first meeting, you can discuss with your lawyer how to work together.

    You can contact them throughout the proceedings, for example to inform them of new facts, however:

    • it is recommended to note the new facts in a document as you go along, so you can send everything at once or share them at your next appointment. If possible, send them any evidence you have at the same time.
    • try to avoid calling or emailing them with every new little detail so as not to overwhelm them.
  • You can change your lawyer at any time. If your lawyer has been appointed by “aide juridictionnelle”, you must find a new lawyer who accepts “aide juridictionnelle”. Tell them who your former lawyer is and inform your former lawyer of your decision. They will inform the department handling cases called the “bureau d’aide juridictionnelle” (legal aid office) of your change of lawyer.

    In the event of a conflict with your lawyer, you can contact an organisation offering free services known as an “association” specialising in legal advice. You can also contact another lawyer or the organisation of elected lawyers called the “Conseil de l’Ordre” of the bar of your place of residence to help you resolve the conflict.

Find support

In France, there are many services that can support you, give you advice, and assist you with procedures and paperwork. Most of them are free of charge.

  • The centres called “point-justice” bring together various organisations that give you legal advice depending on your situation, and sometimes help you with your administrative procedures.

    • These services are free of charge.
    • These centres have many names: “Maison de Justice et du Droit (MJD)”, “Point d’accès au droit (PAD)”, "Relais d’accès au droit (RAD)”, “Antenne de justice (AJ)” or “France services (FS)”.
    • Languages available: mainly French.
    • You can find a “point-justice” near you :
      • on this online directory.
      • by telephone on 3039 from mainland France and on +33 9 70 82 31 90 from overseas. They will ask you for your postal code and put you in touch with a “point-justice”. Languages available: mainly French.
  • The “Centres d'Information sur les Droits des Femmes et des Familles (CIDFF)” helps the general public, especially women, in many areas such as: legal rights, health, employment searches, training, business creation, and even childcare.

    • These services are free of charge.
    • They will be able to inform you of your rights and the steps to take. Some centres can assist you with procedures and paperwork.
    • Languages available: mainly French.
    • Contact: you will find the contact details of the “CIDFF” in your area in this directory.
  • A lawyer's role is to defend your rights before, during and after legal proceedings.

    • Be careful to choose a good lawyer.
    • Lawyers have fees that you will need to pay.
    • If you have limited resources, you could be eligible for state financial assistance to pay these fees. This is called "aide juridictionnelle".
    • If you have not had a lawyer recommended to you by a professional or a person you trust, you can look for one on this directory which lists all the lawyers in France. You can search by languages spoken and legal specialisation.

While the utmost care has gone into providing you with the most accurate and up to date information, this page is not intended to replace legal or professional advice. Laws and procedures change regularly so it is important to consult qualified professionals.

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