How can I obtain free law advice in France?
One reader's question, answered: obtaining free law advice in France.
What are the options to obtain free legal advice? J.P.
Beware of various internet-based services offering “free” advice unless you are sure of the source. The person responding may not be qualified and many such advertised services turn out not to be free in reality. The best solution is a meeting with a qualified lawyer, such as a notaire or avocat (in some cases a huissier). The former are similar to British family solicitors, dealing with property and matrimonial issues, for example.
An avocat is similar to a British barrister, often specialising in contentious issues and litigation.
A huissier is a bailiff, who can be called on for practical help, such as where you need official note to be taken of a problem with a neighbour or tenant (eg. a flat left in a bad condition) or where you want to summon someone to court.
For free advice from a notaire, look out for the Rencontres Notariales event, which takes place annually around France, usually in the autumn, involving a day of free consultations by phone or in person (not, unfortunately, in 2020 due to Covid-19, but planned for 2021). Before the health crisis, notaires were also offering local free advice sessions in informal settings called cafés-conseils (conseilducoin.fr). This is currently suspended and it is not known if it will restart.
At present, the best bet is to ask your local notaires’ chamber (professional body) about any free consultations offered by local professionals (notaires.fr/fr/annuaire-chambre-notaire). The notaires’ national body Notaires de France has a legal information line (40centimes/minute) on 08 92 01 10 12, though it is unlikely to be able to give detailed individual advice.
Another solution is to identify a Point d’accès au droit (law access point), a system backed by the Justice Ministry of free and anonymous sessions with lawyers at different venues. Search with your postcode at: tinyurl.com/ycmgyog5. Avocats’ body Conseil national des barreaux offers a similar search tool for free advice points, specifically with avocats, at: tinyurl.com/yaml5ck6.
As with notaires, you could ask the local avocats’ “order” about help in your area (cnb.avocat.fr/fr/annuaire-barreaux). Each department also has a conseil départemental d’accès au droit, charged with helping people access legal help, which runs free permanences (face-to- face sessions) with various legal professionals. Do an internet search including the full body name as above, or CDAD, plus the number of your department (eg. 24 for Dordogne). Look for terms such as permanences or lieux d’accès au droit.
There are also local “citizens’ advice” centres offering legal advice, called Maisons de la Justice et du Droit, which can be found at tinyurl.com/agglrxd. If you take matters further and incur costs of representation in a legal action, many home insurance policies include une garantie protection juridique, which will pay towards such costs.
You may also be eligible for legal aid if you are on a modest income. This aide juridictionnelle can cover fees for avocats and huissiers. It can range from 25% of costs to 100%. Whether you are eligible and how much you can obtain depends on your monthly income (net of social charges but before various allowances used for income tax declarations) and number of dependants. You can check here: tinyurl.com/y7rou7v2 and tinyurl.com/ybetxd3q. You apply on a form available from mairies or courts or online at tinyurl.com/keuye88.