The French Competition Authority (“FCA”) made public an opinion addressed to the French Government on 29 February 2016, following the publication by the Government of a decree regarding the rates applied by certain of France’s many legal professions. This decree implements the so-called “ Macron Law” of 6 August 2015, named after the French Minister of Economy.
The Macron Law (particularly controversial at the time it was adopted) covered a broad range of “pro-business” measures such as loosening Sunday-trading rules, liberalising the country’s inter-city coach industries and deregulating some of France’s legal professions. The professions targeted by the Macron Law include notaries, bailiffs, court appointed administrators and liquidators, judicial auctioneers and commercial court registrars. The FCA’s opinion regretted that the implementing decree left lawyers (“avocats”) outside of its scope, even for the few services provided by lawyers which are subject to regulated rates.
The decree seeks to set rates based on cost of services, while ensuring that professionals receive reasonable remuneration. The FCA responded favourably to that objective and pointed out that this would create incentives to improve efficiency. In the FCA’s view, should average costs be taken into account in order to set prices, professionals would be encouraged to increase their margins by improving production processes.
The FCA also stressed the need to strengthen competition and recommended a number of measures such as greater flexibility in the discounts that may be granted, the removal of fixed pricing structures for certain optional notarized deeds, imposing a strict limit on the scope of services and professionals eligible for expensive “emergency rates”, or even capping registration fees in order to ease the sale of low-value assets.
While the FCA’s opinion was generally favourable to the implementing decree, it nonetheless emphasized the need to review the decree in the next five years.
In parallel, the FCA launched a public consultation with the objective to prepare a map of France setting out areas where notaries, bailiffs and judicial auctioneers could freely establish themselves without the current geographic limitations. Given how entrenched the traditional numerous clausus rule remains in the French culture, this change would be a small revolution.