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French firm Capstan Avocats is a niche outfit, but a big one. The firm employs 180 lawyers and another 70 staff, with every lawyer devoted to advising companies on employment law.
Founding partner and president Pascal Lagoutte says the firm provides advice on a wide variety of labour issues, but it does not plan to broaden out into other practice areas.
Capstan was founded four years ago with the split of legacy firm Barthélémy et Associés. Name partner Jacques Barthélémy left with a number of partners, leaving behind the bulk of what is today Capstan.
Lagoutte says the remaining partners chose to pursue a more “modern” approach to law. The firm’s name was on a shortlist drawn up by a consultancy and clients were asked to pick their favourite. Unusually for a French firm, this means Capstan does not carry the name of a founding partner.
The economic climate in the past few years has been kind to Capstan, as the recession has led to more employment issues for companies.
“We’re influenced by Anglo-Saxon law,” admits Lagoutte, who adds that equality has become more important to French businesses.
Another and more troubling issue is the spate of suicides in French workplaces.
“Companies have to manage the pressure on their employees,” contends Lagoutte. “It’s difficult, as you have to go into the personal side of the relationship.”
Companies have also turned to Capstan for advice on how to cut manpower costs without cutting headcounts. The workload has meant Capstan has had to grow. Lagoutte says the firm tends not to hire laterally, preferring to bring in graduates and train them.
He adds that Capstan will remain very much French, although as part of employment law network Ius Laboris it has access to international expertise.
“The important thing is to retain our position as a leader,” Lagoutte stresses.