Independent firms storm Paris as trio of launches reject international model

French lawyers are rejecting the international firm model in favour of a more traditional boutique approach.


The New Year has seen the establishment of several independent firms in Paris.

Former Linklaters partner Michel Frieh has merged his boutique Frieh & Associés with Bouhénic Baudin & Associés, founded in 2008 by Pierre-Alain Bouhénic, formerly a partner at Weil Gotshal & Manges.

Also, as reported on (6 January) Allen & Overy (A&O) France corporate chief ­Nicolas Bichot has joined forces with former A&O partner Patrice Couturier to form Bichot & Associés.

Another new firm, Solferino Associés, has been founded by five senior ­associates from French heavyweight Bredin Prat.

The three boutiques ­follow hot on the heels of the establishment of Da Rosa & Creis by former ­Norton Rose lawyers Jérôme Da Ros and Benoit Creis in November 2010.

Frieh left Linklaters in 2007 to focus on smaller deals. But he said that to continue to expand Frieh & Associés he needed to add more capability in certain areas. “Those services had to include restructuring, labour law and tax,” he told The Lawyer.

He added that the merger brought on board restructuring and employment capabilities as well as strengthening the firm’s existing private equity expertise.

Frieh Bouhénic currently has 10 partners and 12 ­associates. “We need more associates, but finding good corporate associates isn’t that easy,” admitted Frieh. He added that Frieh Bouhenic was looking for “independent-minded lawyers”

Bichot also cited independence as the reason for leaving A&O to form Bichot & Associés. He said he and his three co-founders were seeking a more entrepreneurial way of working than can be found at an international firm.

Solferino’s five founding partners are younger than their fellow entrepreneurs, but they share the same desire for closer contact with clients.

One of the five, Bernard-Olivier Becker, told The Lawyer that, although they were happy at Bredin Prat they wanted to manage their own firm and build relationships with mainly small and mid-cap clients.

Becker said Solferino was able to offer transactional as well as contentious advice. He and fellow partner Fouad Bellaaroussi are both corporate lawyers, while Guillaume Buge, Charlotte Plantin and Oun-Tat Tieu all specialise in litigation.

Solferino is recruiting associates and hopes to grow to a team of around 15 lawyers.

Frieh said the move back to boutique firms was “perfectly understandable”. He claimed many Anglo-Saxon firms had made career development promises to junior lawyers, but the firms were now unable to deliver on those promises in the current economic ­climate.

He added that more ­experienced partners were looking for an independence they were unable to find at international law firms.

Bichot said that clients were increasingly willing to “cherry-pick” their lawyers instead of using one ­international firm across a number of jurisdictions. “It’s a move back to the way practice was done in the 1980s and 1990s,” he explained.