Expert Insight

The first woman to be elected to the head of the organisation which represents all 68,000 French lawyers President of the French National Bar Council . FEMALE LAWYER FROM PARIS / Christiane Féral-Schuhl

Christiane Féral-Schuhl has been in practice for more than 30 years in the fields of computer law, new technology law, data privacy law and intellectual property law, in which she is a renowned player. In addition, she is a mediator, arbitrator and cyber arbitrator, notably at the WIPO (World Intellectual Property Organisation).

Former president of the Paris Bar, Christiane Féral-Schuhl is now President of the French National Bar Council, The first woman to be elected to the head of the organisation which represents all 68,000 French lawyers. Within the priorities of her mandate, there is notably supporting lawyers in the digital revolution and the defence of equality in the profession and women’s rights.


Can you please write a report about your experience in :

  • Women in law leader ship and the challenges & how to overcome challenges ?

  • You are one of the best lawyers how you can achieve this achievement in a career dominated by men ?

I have never positioned myself as a woman but yes and exclusively as a lawyer who is passionate about her work.

In my case , and I would not like to generalise, what allowed me to stand out from other lawyers was specialising in fields that were not at all current or even taught – computer law and data privacy. As I only master a subject well when I write about it, I ended up publishing a lot. I gathered my publications in a book which was first published in 1998 and which has since been regularly updated. It is now in its eighth edition and is highly referenced in universities and in legal services and law firms. Publications and conferences require that you are perfectly up to standard and that you keep updated. I was thus quickly identified as a specialist in the world of digital players. The development in technology did the rest, with the development of e-commerce, telecommunications and the internet. So I had no difficulty in building a base of clientele who were interested in someone who mastered digital concepts and had a pragmatic approach. I never stopped learning with them through issues that were as varied as they were complex. I had the opportunity to intervene in very innovative trials that required a lot of imagination and thinking outside the box. I also diversified my activities by becoming a mediator and even a cyber arbitrator.

Beyond specialising, which helped accelerate my career, it is necessary to stick to the classic rules: working on your files, listening to your clients. Each file is important. Each client requires an attentive ear. In my opinion, a reputation is built above all on word of mouth. Rankings help to validate a choice of lawyer, but do not compare to a choice made on recommendation.

I was fortunate enough to always work in supportive environments. Whether in the successive professional environments that I have known, I have always been surrounded by “positive” people. I believe this point to be important because you should never tolerate “harmful” behaviours that drag you down: malicious words, derogatory or hurtful remarks... Conversely, you must know how to communicate, help others and encourage them. In short, our own behaviours can condition those of others and you must know how to be a team player by valuing others. Rallying them around you, that is naturally taking a place in the team, constitutes a natural act of “leadership” and that is in within reach of everyone.

Lastly, curiosity and audacity are qualities which I believe to be absolutely crucial.

Curiosity, as it allows you to increase your scope of intervention. There are always a thousand ways to implicate yourself beyond your work. In associations, institutions, projects, the review you are overseeing. Getting off the beaten track, finding ways to become known and meet other people, going beyond the daily routine… there are so many ways to have new ideas, new horizons, to meet new people, to generate interest and thus new projects.

As regards audacity, you should not hesitate to surprise. I think everything is always possible. After all, the only risk is failure. But once you engage in a struggle, in a conquest, you must find a way to win, fairly, but with determination. In general this requires a lot of energy, but experience shows that it works rather well.

There are many ways to be successful in your professional life. I think the essential lies in networking and project opportunities. Driven by enthusiasm, and adhering to your values, you can only succeed! I am certain of one thing; life is full of great opportunities. You simply need to keep the window open to see what’s going on outside. Conversely, nothing happens if we don’t leave our comfort zone.


  • Cybersecurity in France law :

The legal framework regarding cybersecurity is constantly changing in France, mainly driven by the European lawmaker: first of all, the entry into force on the 25th of May 2016 of the European regulation on data protection has reinforced the obligation of personal data protection which was already specified in the French Law on Information Technology, Data Files and Civil Liberties.

This consolidation of personal data protection has established a risk-based approach for public and private players who must from now on systematically verify the legal and technical security of data processing before it is implemented. This is the approach of “privacy by design”.

Moreover, the adoption on the 17th of April 2019 of Regulation 2019/881 further strengthened the European legal framework regarding cybersecurity. This regulation notably provides for the implementation of a set of certification systems at EU level as well as an EU agency for cybersecurity which would replace and extend the powers of the current European Union Agency responsible for network and information security (ENISA).

This is a field in which lawyers have still not invested enough while companies’ needs for advice and assistance continue to grow. The National Bar Council has introduced training courses to encourage lawyers to master the subject. We will launch in particular online training modules concerning GDPR and cybersecurity.


  • Internet and Media Law

Since the 1990’s, this field has not ceased to pose permanent challenges to all legal disciplines. Technological advances lead to a constant adaptation of existing legal rules and need for creativity in researching legal instruments.

The most prominent files in this field are those that have dealt with cases of service provider liability. These are the great legal proceedings between 1995 and 2000 which led to the 2004 Law on Confidence in the Digital Economy which defined the liability regimes of the various players: the content editor, the host provider, liable if obviously illegal content is not removed after notification, service provider, not liable on principle. But as soon as the law came into effect, following long proceedings, the boundaries were questioned with the appearance of new players such as Dailymotion, Yahoo… These claimed the status of service providers, denying any responsibility of content. The stakeholders considered them, in turn, to be liable as the content was published under their name with specific constraints (number of bytes, etc.).

There is also the challenge linked to the transnational nature of the internet and the difficulty for states to impose their national laws. One of the most significant examples is that of GAFA which dominates the world and opens new spheres of thought and also concerns.

From a societal point of view, the internet marks a decisive turning point in the history of humanity and has considerably disrupted the social models in which we live. However, generally the fundamentals of law are holding their own rather well.


  • Algorithms and artificial intelligence

The development of algorithmic processing is worrying, particularly in the field of justice. Although there is no question that these new tools help in decision-making, we cannot rule out the possibility of a gradual trend towards substitution.

On this subject, the National Bar Council has mobilised and actively worked towards the inclusion in the law on justice reform of a provision that forbids any legal decision being taken exclusively by algorithmic processing. It is also for this reason that this issue was put on the agenda for the G7 lawyers meeting which took place last July. We have called on our governments to exercise the utmost vigilance when deploying algorithmic processing in our judicial systems.

With this same objective in mind, we have approved a motion to prevent the privatisation of judicial data and to facilitate public access to court decisions.

This issue concerns, more broadly, the use of algorithms in administrative decisions or even in the health sector. We, lawyers, must remain vigilant in these matters.

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