French legal market in chaos

Grim fascination about the long torment of France and its legal market

Even the most casual observer of the European legal scene could hardly have failed to notice just how much movement there has been in Paris of late. The doors have been spinning throughout the legal scene, with partners coming and going from UK, US and domestic firms, while the number of boutique launches has blossomed with the spring.

This signifies a deeply unsettled legal market, set in a cool wider macroeconomic and political environment.

Although France has avoided a triple-dip recession there has simply been no growth since 2008 and last year’s election of François Hollande’s socialist government has made things worse.

Hollande’s declaration that he would raise taxes, followed by challenges to his proposal to tax those earning over €1m at a rate of 75 per cent, is putting investors off. That has led to very little M&A work, with some firms shrinking their corporate teams and other corporate partners deciding they would be better off in a niche firm with a much lower cost base.

Meanwhile, the status of Paris as a centre of finance could also be under threat, and that in turn could lead to question marks over the future of international firms focusing on finance in France.

This is a tough time for everyone and, all in all, it has to be said that the stereotype of the French as a gloomy people is actually justified for once.

But for those of us watching the legal market, it is fascinating.