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EXPLAINED: The difference between a notaire and a lawyer in France

The Local France
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EXPLAINED: The difference between a notaire and a lawyer in France
A notaire sign outside a building. (Photo by MYCHELE DANIAU / AFP)

Both of these professionals work in the legal field in France, but they occupy very different roles, which can be quite confusing for foreigners.


Both avocats and notaires are legal professionals in France, and both are addressed with the formal title Maître. But while both have significant training in French law and can offer legal advice, there is a big difference between their roles.

The role of notaire is unique to France. They are legal experts who can offer advice, but they are appointed by the French government and as such act on behalf of the State, rather than on behalf of a client.


In contrast, an avocat may be a member of the bar association (Barreau), but they are not appointed by the government

Let's get the French grammar out of the way first - a male lawyer is un avocat and a female lawyer is une avocate, while the same word is used for a male or female notaire. Legal professionals of both genders are addressed with the honorific Mâitre.

And yes - avocat means both lawyer and avocado in French, hopefully the context makes it clear which one is which).

READ MORE: The reasons why you’ll need a notaire in France

What does a notaire do?

The official role of a notaire is to "prepare contracts in their authentic form on behalf of the client", according to the Notaires of France website. 

In a previous interview, Christophe Dutertre, a qualified notaire from the company France Tax Law, told The Local that “The role sits somewhere between a notary and a solicitor".

Notaries are necessary for making official matters related to succession, like writing your Will, for instance, and officially registering the sale of a property. 

There are also regulated fee structures when it comes to working with notaires. For example, standard fees to draw up a Will with a notaire range from €113 to €136. 


The most common contexts to come into contact with a notaire are buying or selling property, making or altering a will or getting married or pacsé.

A property sale in France cannot be legally completed without the involvement of a notaire - as only they have the power to register the change of ownership on the land registry.

A frequently misunderstood party of the property-buying process is the 'notaire fee' - despite it's name, the notaire does not keep this fee (which can run into thousands of euros) but passes it on to the state. It's really a form of property tax, similar to stamp duty in the UK.

How to calculate notaire fees when buying French property

The other oft-misunderstood thing about notaires and property is that they don't 'act' for you and won't give you any legal advice unless you specifically ask for it. They serve as a neutral party when it comes to guaranteeing the validity of contracts and registering the sale. 

If you want someone representing your personal interests in sales or purchases, or to look over legal documents and offer you individualised advice - you will need to hire a notaire or avocat for this purpose.

If you decide to draw up a marriage contract or pre-nuptial agreement before getting married or pacsé, you will need a notaire to formalise the contract.

You may also use a notaire to draw up and formalise a will or power-of-attorney for elderly relatives, or if you are adopting a child. 

What about avocats?

All lawyers in France must have at least a CAPA (Certificat d'Aptitude à la Profession d'Avocat) master's degree in law. After working for four years, French they are able to work toward a specialisation.

If you are having any issues with the criminal justice system, problems with the immigration system or you want to sue someone, then you will likely want an avocat. Americans should note that taking private legal action against someone is much less common in France than it is in the US, and you will usually be advised to try other routes (such as appealing to the relevant ombudsman) first. 

When it comes to purchasing or selling property, you can hire your own independent lawyer to help you review documentation, especially pre-sale.


In France, it is the avocat who sets his or her own fees - meaning it is not regulated by the State.

READ MORE: Reader question: How can I find English-speaking lawyers and accountants in France?

Average rates will depend on the 'complexity of your case' and the specialisation of your lawyer, but the average hourly rate for 2022 is between €100 and €300. Criminal lawyers often charge more for drink-driving cases.

If you are having trouble with the immigration system you will often be advised to consult an avocat specialising in immigration matters who can offer you personalised advice on dealing with issues with visas or residency permits. Some immigration specialists merely offer advice, others offer a hybrid service where you will file paperwork for visas, residency permits or citizenship on your behalf. 

You can pay a lawyer either based on their hourly rate or by a flat-rate (usually reserved for simple procedures). When you find a lawyer, you will have to sign an agreement that outlines their fees, as well as various additional costs that might be incurred.


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