To be sworn in and acquire the ability to practice, a French attorney must solemnly take the following oath: “I swear, as a lawyer, to perform my duties with dignity, conscience, independence, integrity and humanity.”
The oath summarizes the basic principles of ethics which a French lawyer is obliged to respect throughout his/her entire career.
The rules of ethics which French attorneys must respect are detailed in the National Rules applicable to the Profession of Attorney (“Règlement Intérieur National de la Profession d’Avocat – RIN“). The Rules impose on every French lawyer to, inter alia, maintain professional secrecy and act with competence and diligence. They also require that lawyers subscribe for a professional liability insurance.
Professional secrecy is a fundamental rule of the legal profession.
The duty of confidentiality which applies to all lawyers in dealing with clients is much stronger than any duty of confidentiality which may be inscribed in a contract. Attorneys’ professional secrecy obligations are general, absolute and unlimited in time. The profession strives to resist any attempts from governmental authorities aimed at restricting or undermining attorney-client privilege.
According to article 2.2 of the Rules, attorney-client privilege covers all advisory and contentious matters and applies regardless of the used medium, tangible or intangible (paper copies, faxes, electronic correspondence, etc…). It covers:
- any and all advice provided by a lawyer to a client or intended for a client
- any and all correspondence exchanged between a client and an attorney as well correspondence exchanged between attorneys unless such correspondence was marked « official »
- notes taken by an attorney during a meeting or conversation with a client, and more generally any and all documents relating to a given matter, including all confidences made by a client to his attorney in the framework of the exercise of the legal profession
- the name of clients and the attorney’s agenda
- the amount of any and all payments, including the amount of any funds entrusted with the attorney or payments made by the attorney on behalf of the client
- information requested by statutory auditors or any third party (information which may be disclosed by the attorney only to his/her client)
Competence and diligence
The Rules require that each attorney acts with competence, dedication, diligence and prudence.
Professional responsibility and insurance
Each French attorney is obliged to subscribe for an insurance covering his/her professional liability. This insurance ensures that clients can be compensated in case of misconduct or negligence committed by a lawyer in the exercise of his/her professional duties.
The National Rules applicable to the Profession of Attorney regulate numerous other matters, such as conflict of interest, activities which may or may not be exercised by a French lawyer, professional relations between attorneys, etc.