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"... disinterested advisors of the parties, as well as impartial editors of their wills, letting them know the full extent of the obligations they contract, clearly establishing these commitments, providing them with the authentic nature and force of judgment ultimate perpetuating their memory and maintaining their filing with fidelity, preventing disputes arising between people of good faith, and depriving grasping people, with the hope of success, the desire to raise an unfair dispute.

These disinterested advisors, these impartial editors ... are Notaires."

Excerpt from report by Pierre-François REAL, State Councillor of the legislative body on the law of 25th Ventose, year XI, "Organisant le Notariat".

The Profession of the Notaire

In all countries of the European Union who recognise this function, the profession of Notaire is characterised by common features:

  • The function of Notaire is exercised by an independent professional but is subject to state control
  • The Notaire is the holder of state sovereignty that allows it to authenticate agreements, give the enforceability of a final judgment and to ensure the serving of evidence.
  • Finally the Notaire acts as a witness and third party independent consultant to reduce or eliminate the risk of conflict by preventing disputes.

In Europe, two legal systems clash: Anglo Saxon "common law" which is in force in the UK, Ireland and Denmark and is a system of customary law, undocumented and not undertaken by Notaries, and written law, which is derived from Roman law and is in force in all of continental Europe.

In the first case, there is no Notaire and therefore unverified legal documents are written by "solicitors" who have nothing more than their legal expertise and do not establish anything other than the acts under private deed. (We will say nothing of the existence in England and especially in London of "Notaries Public" who authenticate the powers of attorney and who do not have the same field of activity as their mainland counterparts.)

In the second - the system of written law - Notaires are public officials, high-level jurists, who give authenticity to the agreements that have passed before them, by the seal that represents their public authority.

Some acts must take this authenticated form: this is the case of donations, marriage contracts, transfers of property ownership etc. ...

For others such authentication is optional but very useful: proof of the date of the agreement and the identity of the signatories. In reality, it is extremely difficult to challenge the signature of a Notaire, who provides the legal certainty expected by users of Law. The other reason for the authentication of certain agreements is enforceability: the evidentiary support provided by the Notaire. Leases, loan obligations are immediately enforceable without recourse to a court: the agreement signed before a Notaire is treated as a final judgment. He holds a portion of state authority.

Finally, the Notaire ensures the preservation of documents and shall furnish copies thereof that have the same force and validity as the original. This resource is particularly interesting in terms of corporations and for other business deeds.

Although invested with public authority, the Notaire functions within a liberal framework, providing a modern public service without cost to the state, since he assumes economic responsibility of his own business.

The Notaire constitutes an truly local legal service and they are avalable throughout the territory.

The unity and solidarity of the profession is ensured by departmental, regional and national professional bodies. They oversee the execution of the service in compliance with strict ethics which forms the basis of consumer confidence in the service.

A special feature of the Notaire is as the third witness: the Notaire is not a party to the deed. He observes only from a guarantee of impartiality. In his capacity as high level lawyer, he advises all parties in their best interests and he will check the legality, so that their actions are not subject to irregularities.

His presence also prevents conflicts by a precise wording of the agreement that leaves little room for malicious interpretation.

He is the guarantor of contractual fairness by balancing contracts, preventing the exercise of power by a stronger party over a weaker.

The Notaire is a public and ministerial official who practices independently and this independence is guaranteed by the control and authority of the State.

The quality of the acts of Notaire can reduce or eliminate the risk of litigation, providing the legal security to citizens that they need. The deed, signed by the parties and the Notaire under the seals of the State, is proof of the content and gives an exact date to the agreement.

This deed, written and signed by the Notaire, is enforceable in all states of the union, which these days with the mobility of people and goods is a considerable advantage.

Notaires are present throughout the national territory and make their 4600 offices and 1200 branch offices (in total 5800 meeting points) publicly available. Each year they meet with approximately five million people and establish more than four million acts.

The 7600 Notaries of France employ over 38,000 clerks and employees, that is to say an average of eight people per office. Their placement is the subject of constant adaptation to meet the needs of the population.

This adaptation is performed by a Commission for Locating Notaire Offices which is situated within the Department of Justice and adheres to three principles: maintain a local public legal service; take account of geographic and demographic trends; ensure that economic conditions exist for the viable practise of the profession and that ensures the balance necessary for a quality service. To this end, a plan to establish offices was launched for major conurbations and expanding businesses. In the last six years, nearly 200 practises have been created.

Notaires are public officers responsible for the public service of authentication. As such, they take an oath and receive a portion of public authority represented by a personal seal. This symbol of the French Republic is handed over to the Notaire who affixes it to his deeds. These acts are said to be genuine because, by affixing his seal and his signature, the Notaire officially observes the consent of the contracting parties and makes a personal commitment as to the contents and date. The deed is an effective and transparent means of evidence and is binding on the contractors with the same force as law. It is legal proof and is fully enforceable. The Notaire stores the deed for an unlimited period of time and this provides greater legal certainty to individuals.

In addition, it allows an impartial assessment of the tax situation and a better knowledge of the operations performed on our territory.

Considered as a specialist in family law and real estate, the Notaire is above all a generalist in law with a global vision of legal problems. He advises and implements the solutions most appropriate to the needs of the individuals concerned. Through the knowledge of his customers, to whom he is often a confidant, he oversees the peace of mind of family relationships.

As an architect of inheritance, he contributes to its smooth development. An expert in real estate, the Notaire drafts the acts of purchase and sale of homes and other real estate.

The Notaire has a knowledge of the global market and is capable, at the behest of its customers, of providing a complete real estate service from searching for a property through to the conclusion of the act, including the negotiation phase.

Faced with the increasing complexity of the economic and property market, family situations and the needs of business and financial products, there is a proliferation of regulations relating to tax provision and law. In this context, by his mastery of all these legal constraints, by his ability to handle all aspects of a case and by his ability to listen to customer needs, the Notaire is an advisor in the service of French inheritance planning.

The notarial ethics are rooted in the values of humanity, in the search for justice and the protection of the weak. They are inseparable from the status of public officer and are a natural consequence of the rigorous discipline that ensures the proceedings of the profession. This is fundamental to the practice of Notaries and the trust given them by their customers. They include a set of core values such as fairness, integrity, confidentiality, responsibility and solidarity. The Notaire is in effect, bound by duty of care which imposes on him both neutrality and an obligation to inform in the service of his clients.

Favoring balance, the Notaire aims to reconcile the interests of all parties to contracts, to find solutions and to prevent conflicts or resolve differences. A lawyer by mediation and conciliation, the Notaire is thus in the service of social harmony.

In order to protect clients, the profession has insurance mechanisms and collective responsibility. Whether it is errors, omissions or acts committed by a Notaire such as loss or deterioration of deeds, there exists (independently of liability insurance) insurance which must be adhered to by all Notaires:- a double structure of collective security designed to repair any damage suffered by the customer. Each region has a Regional Guarantee Fund, fed by the contributions of all Notaries in the region.

This organization is supplemented by the Central Guarantee Fund. The Notaire is thus the only profession whose members are jointly and severally liable vis-à-vis all of their customers. 

The exercise of the profession of Notaire requires extensive legal skills. Training that continues for seven years after the baccalaureate, and has two main access routes, one academic and one professional.

The academic track requires a Master of Laws degree, followed by an advanced degree in notarial law offered by one of eight authorized faculties.

The professional track requires that the student, who already holds Masters in Law, attend one additional year of full-time education leading to a final examination. In both cases, two years internship alternating with academic instruction, leading to a higher degree for Notaries. Eventually, internal promotion will enable experienced clerks to obtain the diploma of Notaire.

The profession is also open to all lawyers and experts (judges, lawyers, teachers, law schools, corporate lawyers) who also share the concept of notorial public service. In addition, permanent structures have been created to allow continuing education of Notaries and their colleagues.

The Notaire is one of the essential mechanisms of Roman law countries, whose legal system is based on the principle of the rule of written evidence and what it represents. There are 30 000 Notaries within the Europe of fifteen countries. In addition, the function of Notaire is active in all of continental Europe, Central and Eastern Europe, Latin America and French-speaking Africa.

The original form of delegated management of a public service provided by an independent professional, the Notaire, by the usefulness and effectiveness it demonstrates, serves as model for many countries. Thus the countries of the former communist bloc opening up to the market economy set up a notarial institution that can provide the necessary legal transactions such as real estate and commercial companies.

Moreover, there is a development of the notarial institution in some countries of Anglo-Saxon law such as Malta and South Africa that shows these countries appreciate the legal certainty provided by the authenticity.

Similarly, across the Channel and the USA, consultations are taking place aimed at creating a new type of legal professional, who can meet the requirements of the substantially increased level of litigation.

The French Notaries contribute to the consultations of our neighbors from different legal traditions, participating in the International Union of Latin Notaries, an umbrella organization of Notaires from 62 countries.

The scope of Notaries

The Notaries handle a very large quantity and variety of acts:

  • traditionally they handle conveyancing: in France the have a monopoly on access to the real estate documents which make any transfer of ownership valid: sales, exchanges, donations, shares, mortgages.
  • They also handle all actions relating to family law: marriage contracts, wills, adoption, recognition of children, inheritance.
  • In rural law they create all companies: group farmland, forest community, farming group of joint business, civil society farming, farm limited liability and write all kinds of leases: lease ordinary rural, lease plots, rural long-term lease.
  • In commercial law and business law they also write commercial leases, sales of business assets, rental management contracts, statutes of all companies, share transfers, capital increases and reductions, mergers, provide secretarial Corporate law .
  • In real estate law and construction they take care of building leases, leasing, condominiums, division into volumes, subdivision, real estate investment corporations. They use their expertise and form the property negotiation within a very strict framework that ensures compliance with the equity of the transaction.
  • In banking law they organise the mortgaged collateral obligations, liens, pledges.
  • In addition they specialise in wealth management that allows them to study and propose financial investments and to practice management of assets (dismemberment of property, civil society management and chattels). In addition they perform the auction of furniture and buildings, which, although it is more expensive than the private sale (fees doubled, fees specifications, advertising costs) can sometimes find the right price for property for sale.