Gone are the days when the lawyer settled down, in the solitude of his home, on a mixed lease, waiting for the telephone to ring, without having to make any investments other than the purchase of a few legal books, in order to practice exclusively judicial activity protected by a monopoly.
Today, increasingly assimilated to common law companies, at many levels, the professional structures that law firms have become must make investments in order to train and organize their teams, to develop and maintain their customers, to respond to competition from other professions, in particular unregulated ones, to develop digital tools, to communicate effectively, in particular on the net, to manage their press relations and their community management, to ensure effective management of company, which must maintain a certain profitability, manage the partnership and governance, if necessary with an office manager, to surround themselves with advice, to think about their strategy, in terms of multidisciplinarity, multi-professionalism, derogatory commercial activities, etc.
It can always happen, however, that a client decides to change advice. The decision may be due to a change of reference shareholder, to a reorganization, to the paradoxical desire to prevent the law firm from acquiring a certain dependence on the clientele in question, or quite simply to an arbitrary decision. of the client, who is free to make this decision, and does not need to form the slightest reproach to the lawyer who has left, to entrust his cases to another firm.
The study of the few decisions rendered in this area shows that, sometimes, the client’s decision is very abrupt, leaving almost no time for the firm to reorganize. This is the case of the commented case, in which, however, the firm is dismissed from all its requests.
The decision to change lawyers is indeed an absolute right of the client, under the principle of free choice, laid down by the first civil chamber of the Court of Cassation in its judgment Woessner Sigrand of November 7, 2000 (Civ. 1DNov. 7, 2000, no. 98-17.731 P, D. 2001. 2400, and obs. notes Y. Auguet ; ibid. 2295, chron. Y. Serra ; ibid. 3081, obs. J. Penneau ; ibid. 2002. 930, ob. O. Tournafond ; RDSS 2001. 317, note G. Mémeteau ; Civil RTD. 2001. 130, ob. J. Mestre and B. Fages ; ibid. 167, ob. T. Revet )
It is however obvious that the sudden loss of a customer, in the economic context which has just been mentioned, can lead, as for any company, to considerable difficulties in proportion to the more or less preponderant nature of the turnover achieved. with this customer, and any investments made to meet its needs.
But case law consistently refuses to grant lawyers the protection conferred by the provisions of Article L. 442-1, II (formerly Art. L. 442-6, I, 5°) of the Code of commerce regarding the sudden termination of an established commercial relationship. These professionals can nevertheless seek compensation for the damage caused by the termination on the civil basis of abusive revocation of the mandate. But the door is particularly narrow and the species commented on is a good illustration of this.
Breaking up a six-year relationship without notice is not abusive
The subject of this case was the breakdown of the relationship between a lawyer and a bank which, from 2009, had entrusted him with the so-called “Apollonia” serial litigation, named after a famous real estate scandal revealed in 2009. business, initially between €400,000 and €500,000 excluding tax annually, had been gradually reduced since 2012, reaching just over €250,000 in 2014, representing approximately a quarter of this firm’s overall turnover.
In 2015, the bank notified the lawyer of its decision to end the relationship concerning the “Apollonia” files, citing an internal reorganization due to the merger-absorption of the bank by another credit company, without the slightest notice, so that the lawyer sued the bank to see compensation for the brutality of the rupture.
Before the Paris Court of Appeal, he relied primarily on the provisions of the Civil Code relating to the contract and in particular to the mandate (C. civ., art. 1134 anc. and 2004), arguing “that his principal had to respect a notice long enough to enable it to take all its measures with regard to the serious financial and moral difficulties necessarily incurred and generated by the loss of a very significant turnover”.
In the alternative, he also invoked the provisions of Article L. 442-6, I, 5°, of the Commercial Code (now Article L. 442-1, II).
The Court of Appeal (Paris, Feb. 27, 2020, No. 17/19000) successively dismissed it on both grounds and the Court of Cassation, seized only of the contractual basis, has just dismissed the appeal in its judgment of November 10, 2021 .
The refusal to apply Article L. 442-1 of the Commercial Code to the sudden termination of the lawyer’s relationship with his client
On the tort basis, the Paris Court of Appeal considered that, “according to Article 111 of Decree No. 91-1197 of November 27, 1991, the profession of lawyer is incompatible with all…