The Law Clinic offers professional apprenticeships alongside experienced lawyers
90 students in Law (bachelor's and Master's degrees programs) volunteered for the Law Clinic in Paris-Dauphine-PSL, where they ensure the follow-up with real clients alongside experienced lawyers. This apprenticeship allows practical training; it offers free legal services for students and for young professionals owning start-ups.
Thibaut Massart, a Professor of private law at Université Paris-Dauphine-PSL, Director of the Law Clinic, and 3 junior staff (Eva Besozzi and Maxime Billaut, students in Master’s degree of Law, and Diane Geoffroy, student of Bachelor’s degree of Law at CPES) explain the operation of this program which combines both theoretical and practical learning.
PSL: Thibaut Massart, you initiated this program; with the development of Law Clinics in France, is the dual purpose of the clinic - pedagogical and social - a founding principle for all? Is there a framework, a typical model?
The Law Clinic is a law firm within the University, with real lawyers, registered with the Bar, and real clients, with real legal issues.
Thibaut Massart: There are today about fifteen law clinics in France that follow the Anglo-Saxon model. The Law Clinic is a law firm within the University, with real lawyers, registered with the Bar, and real clients, with real legal issues. There are two particularities, however. On the one hand, lawyers are assisted by students in training. This is the pedagogical aspect, with students benefiting from personalized advice to improve their professional practice. On the other hand, the client consultations are completely free. This is the social aspect, because the purpose of law clinics is to help those who cannot afford a lawyer. In France, however, legal aid already enables the litigants without resources to benefit from the services of a lawyer. This explains why the need for law clinics has been less pressing than in Anglo-Saxon countries.
PSL: Diane, Eva and Maxime, you are all three Law students and you have joined the Law Clinic as junior staff. What were your motivations and what are the main skills you developed?
In front of a client, we must respond precisely to their needs, drawing from our courses without reciting them. This experience taught me to work effectively, synthetically and accurately, focusing on the essentials.
Eva Besozzi: Joining the clinic was an opportunity to put one foot into the legal professional world and to work with contacts of the lawyers of the CMS Bureau Francis Lefebvre. Their advice and feedback are very beneficial and help us develop reflexes that will be useful for future careers.
Maxime Billaut: The Law Clinic enabled me to develop technical skills in consumer law, both in practical terms, by learning how to write general terms and conditions and in theoretical ways, by apprehending issues such as the rights of the consumer, the deadlines to be respected (withdrawal period for example) or the liability of the service provider. Organization, efficiency and speed are also skills that I have learned to develop. It is necessary to understand all of the client’s problems within an allotted time, while also carrying out the university year and various other projects. Finally, we learned how to organize a client meeting and to look for information allowing us to have a global vision of the business model of the latter (learning to identify all the issues: labor law, declarative obligations, taxation...).
Diane Goeffroy: Being confronted with real professional situations is a very rewarding exercise as a student. In front of a client, we must respond precisely to their needs, drawing from our courses without blindly reciting them. This experience taught me to work effectively, synthetically and accurately, focusing on the essentials.
PSL: What are the activities performed within the Clinic?
Thibaut Massart: We have several types of activities. For consultations with individuals, we treat an average of 4 cases every two weeks throughout the academic year. In 2017, we had several cases relating to conflicts between tenants and their lessors. But the files concern all areas: family law, contract law, consumer law, intellectual property… In parallel with these regular consultations, 90 students are in charge of supporting 30 start-ups during the academic year. And 30 lawyers from CMS Bureau Francis Lefebvre supervise the students.
Other students also deal with substantial files entrusted, this year, by Greenpeace, the City Council of the 16th arrondissement or by the department of continuing education of the Université Paris-Dauphine-PSL.
PSL: The CMS Bureau Francis Lefebvre has been a partner of the Clinic for a few months. Can you tell us more about this common desire to set up legal support for entrepreneurs?
Thibaut Massart: It is a unique partnership between a large university (Paris Dauphine - PSL) and one of the very first French law firms. It is more specifically a mentoring, because each of the 30 lawyers of the firm CMS Bureau Francis Lefebvre committed to spend at least 3 hours supporting a team of law students. The students will advise a start-up for 6 months. A meeting was held on October 23, 2017 between all stakeholders. The lawyers were very committed, the students were very motivated and the young entrepreneurs very enthusiastic. A great success! The 90 law students are in Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees and are divided into groups of 3, according to university levels.
PSL: What is the process of investigating a case in the clinic? What are the main steps?
During 6 months we learned to work as a real team of lawyers while taking advantage of the courses offered by the law clinic on the drafting of contracts.
Maxime Billaut: The operation lasts 6 months and begins with a first meeting between the entrepreneur and the team of students along with a lawyer, to meet the general needs identified by the entrepreneur, while identifying the related legal issues. Once this first meeting is over, each student reflects on their own problem. Last year, I was in charge of writing the general terms and conditions for a start-up that relies on marketing models, while adapting them to the needs of the entrepreneur, and especially to his own economic activity, because no business model is similar to another. Depending on the choice of the contractor, the repayment terms can be very different. Some will favor the commercial gesture and customer loyalty, others will favor their money. Of course, it was necessary to write several versions, with adaptable conditions according to the choices of the entrepreneur. Midway through January, an intermediary meeting is organized between the lawyer and the student team to discuss our solutions. After this, feedback mechanisms are set up: everyone can rely on the information and expertise of others within the team, which makes the discussions effective and useful. At the end of the 6 months, an appointment to finalize the operation is organized between the students, the lawyer, and the entrepreneurs, within the firm CMS Bureau Francis Lefebvre. This is an opportunity for everyone to present their final solutions and complete their work.
Eva Besozzi: In 2016-2017, I accompanied the start-up Nap & Up (nap services to companies) in the development of the general terms and conditions and the statutes of the company. Within 6 months, we learned to work as a real team of lawyers (appointments with clients and appointments between colleagues) while benefiting and taking advantage of the courses offered by the Law Clinic on the drafting of contracts.
PSL: The goals of the Clinic have gradually expand since its creation, with, in addition to institutional, pro bono and start-up initiatives, the opening of free legal consultations for all students and personnel from PSL. Can you tell us more?
Thibaut Massart: Unlike a traditional law firm, the Law Clinic can address any legal issue and mobilize students for various activities. A few weeks ago, the Defender of rights Jacques Toubon contacted us for an operation aimed at the dissemination of law in colleges and high schools. This initiative is in line with the one already undertaken by some of the Clinic's student members last year.
In a few weeks, we will host our colleagues from the prestigious Yale University for a partnership between the PSL-Dauphine Law Clinic and the Yale Law School.