The "international lawyer" of the 21st century

By Sharon Golec on Tuesday, November 22nd 2011
Formation des juristes

Many law students aspire to be an "international lawyer", synonymous with travel, high stakes deals and professional success. In fact, an increasing number of French-trained lawyers fulfill the usual criteria: at ease during negotiations with parties from a myriad of countries and cultures, they are familiar with common law and work easily in English, and occasionally in other languages.

With ever-increasing globalization, how will the profile of the "international lawyer" evolve? Will French legal education keep pace?

Two recent conferences in Paris addressed these themes.

France-Amérique: "The Anglo-Saxon General Counsel: a model for Europe and Asia by 2020?"

A panel of General Counsel and private-practice lawyers reacted to a study conducted by the consulting firm Leaders Excellence Partners on the profile and role of the General Counsel in sixty large international companies in North America, Western Europe and Eastern Europe. The study drew a portrait of the typical General Counsel: possessing a dual legal training (home country plus LLM), he has experience in the judicial system, has worked in an international law firm, is at ease in the Anglo-Saxon business environment, teaches and publishes, and has worked in companies from diverse business sectors. The General Counsel’s role is characterized by the scope of advice given and by its proximity to top management. The study’s conclusions demonstrate the predominance of the Anglo-Saxon model. Will this Anglo-Saxon predominance evolve in the next decade? Participants answered in the affirmative, approving the proposal of Jean-Claude Beaujour, a partner at Hobson and expert on negotiations in Asia, who proposed that the "international lawyer" is a not just a lawyer who is effective in the Anglo-Saxon world, but a lawyer who is in a broader sense, "capable of working internationally", i.e., a lawyer who is at ease with many different legal systems, even if familiarity with common law will remain indispensable for lawyers working internationally. As evidence of this evolution, he gave the example of Asia: the current legal education standard is dual training in local law and in common law; however, much cross-fertilization occurs between different Asian legal systems (many of which are based on civil law) because of frequent business contacts within the region.

Sciences Po: "Legal education in the 21st Century: what is at stake, which models?", conference by Christophe Jamin, Director of the Law School at the Institut des Sciences Politiques, Paris ("Sciences Po")

The creation of the Law School at Sciences Po in 2009 provided an occasion to reflect on the question, "what is a good lawyer?" According to Christophe Jamin, General Counsel in large French companies emphasized aspects other than technical legal knowledge (traditionally the strong point of French legal education), such as the capacity to reflect and analyze problems, the ability to work in teams, and ability to work internationally. Which type of legal education is best adapted to developing these "soft skills", in particular the capacity to work internationally? Christophe Jamin presented three models: the "civil law" model, as exemplified in the French system, the English model and the American model. The latter continues to be the most influential (cf. adoption in China, in Japan, in Australia…).

The US model is characterized by its pluridisciplinary approach, heritage of the "realist" school of legal thought from 1930s and 40s. (see ) By advocating that legal issues should be analyzed in their social and economic context, and not just within a doctrinal framework, the realists opened law to the influence of other disciplines (economics, psychology…). In the 1960s and 70s, legal education was broadened further, and made more practical, through the institution of "clinics", in which law students apply theory to real cases and "learn by doing".

French universities turn out students with a high level of legal technical knowledge, but this is not enough for the 21st century. French legal education must embrace a pluridisciplinary approach. The pluridisciplinary approach must be broadened to incorporate learning how to reason in the framework of other legal systems. If certain master’s degrees (cf. law and management ) attempt to compensate for the overly technical approach of French legal education, they do not provide enough exposure to other legal systems. According to Christophe Jamin, French legal education should look to examples such as the University of Maastricht ("denationalized" legal education) and McGill University (thematic approach to law, incorporating common law and civil law in the same course).

This "multi-system" approach teaches students to apply critical analysis to their own legal systems, to pose legal issues more broadly and to think more creatively. These are the skills necessary for the "new international lawyer."

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