As the world’s most popular tourist destination, there is a lot to love about France. The country is beloved for its café culture and UNESCO-protected gastronomy, countless landmarks and cultural icons, the romance of Paris, the magic of the French Riviera – the list goes on.
While I could spend days reciting everything that I love about France, the French trait of disruptive and near-constant protest is less favourably regarded. The Third Republic was founded on the principles of Liberté, Égalité, Fraternité, which can be traced back to the Revolution and have underpinned subsequent republics including the current Fifth Republic. These tenets are lived and breathed by the French and they are fiercely defended across the country. The French attitude towards their political and legal system can sometimes stand in stark contrast to the “she’ll be right” attitude we tend to adopt in New Zealand. All this makes for an unforgettable learning environment for a young Kiwi solicitor.
A unique opportunity
In May and June this year I had the privilege to be nominated by the New Zealand Law Society to participate in the Programme du Stage International (International Training Programme) of the Paris Bar. The eight-week programme is run twice a year, once in English and once in French, and combines classroom learning, site visits and a hands-on internship in a Paris law firm. Through the programme, the Paris Bar hopes to encourage and build international networks within the legal profession while providing a unique opportunity for non-French lawyers to discover practice in the French capital.
The first four weeks of the programme took place at the École de Formation du Barreau (the Paris Bar School) in a series of classes covering aspects of the French legal system, European Union law, and international law from a Paris perspective. This part of the programme was spent as a group which provided an additional opportunity to discuss and compare aspects of the legal systems in participants’ home countries.
Our cohort was also lucky enough to benefit from several group visits to buildings of legal significance in the capital. We were given a tour of the Conseil d’État, France’s supreme court of administrative justice, guided by a newly-appointed judge. We visited the Tribunal de Commerce to learn about the new English-speaking International Chamber of the Court, created in the wake of the Brexit referendum and the ensuing uncertainty about the appeal of the United Kingdom as a seat of European Union and international dispute resolution.
My personal highlight was a tour of the Palais de Justice, much of which is closed to the public. Now home to the Cour d’Appel de Paris (Paris Court of Appeal) and the Cour de Cassation (France’s highest appeals court), the building of the Palais de Justice began its life in the sixth century as the residence of the King of France and includes the courtroom where Marie Antoinette was sentenced to death in 1793.
Interning in Paris
The final four weeks of the programme were spent interning in a Paris law firm. The Paris Bar organised a placement for each participant depending on their individual experience and goals for the programme. I was placed in a mid-sized Italian firm, whose Paris office is a stone’s throw from the Arc de Triomphe.
During my internship I was able to assist on matters involving insurance law, the French and EU laws of subrogation and questions of international jurisdiction, as well as attempting to describe New Zealand’s accident compensation scheme to a Franco-Italian lawyer (which is no small feat). I also had the opportunity to attend a procedural hearing at the Tribunal de Commerce de Versailles and attend a conference at the Italian Embassy.
Aside from a commute to work that never got old and behind-the-scenes access to important buildings and legal institutions that are overflowing with history, I gained skills through the Programme du Stage International that will improve my practice in New Zealand. As a young lawyer, I was able to make connections with other practitioners from all over the world, I found a mentor in my supervising lawyer during my internship placement, I broadened my perspective and gained knowledge of new subject areas, and I acquired that “je ne sais quoi” quality that only comes from unique experiences.
I spent two amazing months in Paris enjoying all that the city has to offer and I strongly encourage anyone with an interest in France, the European Union, international networking, or just a memorable addition to their career, to apply for the Programme du Stage International.
Sarah-Kate Hoare is a solicitor within the Public Service. All views expressed are her own.