Droits D’urgence: Providing Free Legal Advice in Paris

For many years, we have run a biweekly legal clinic at a Paris hospital with French humanitarian organization Droits d’urgence to help indigent clients address the legal, cultural, social, and linguistic hurdles that arise when navigating complex government bureaucracies.

Droits d’urgence has provided free legal advice and assistance to underserved residents of Paris for over 20 years. The humanitarian organization’s mission is to help people become fully aware of their legal rights and promote access to justice. Today more than 300 volunteers — including lawyers, magistrates and other legal professionals — work with the nonprofit organization’s clients and staff.

A group of lawyers from our Paris office helps staff Droits d’urgence’s bi-weekly legal clinic and advise clients on immigration, criminal, and labor law issues and help clients with the administrative paperwork associated with applying for French government-run and city-run social assistance programs. “The firm’s relationship with Droits d’urgence enables our lawyers to be in front of a different reality and to directly work with people in dire need of legal assistance,” explains Latham partner Charles-Antoine Guelluy, who helps lead the clinic. Latham began staffing the clinic in 2012.

"There are millions of poor people today in France. This is why Droits d’urgence is essential and important, and Latham & Watkins has come to our aid in providing legal services for the disadvantaged."

Gwenaëlle Thomas Maire, director, Droits d'urgence

“Volunteering at the legal clinic gives us the opportunity to meet people in need of legal advice whose circumstances are very different from our commercial clients,” said Latham associate Aurelien Lorenzi. “And it exposes us to unusual, often urgent legal situations and questions because the person sitting in front of us is often in a very dire legal, financial and/or health condition.”

The lawyers and other legal professionals who staff Droits d’urgence’s legal clinic have 30-45 minutes to meet with each client during the three hours that it is open every other Wednesday. “We listen to their story and try to help them,” said Aurelien Lorenzi. Droits d’urgence provides each legal clinic volunteer with training materials and precedent cases to help them serve each client’s unique needs, and a trained member of their staff is always on hand to assist the volunteers. “Sometimes the clients need help formulating the right questions to ask, writing a letter, filling out a form or understanding their legal problems and how they can improve their situation. The assistance we provide is not always technical legal advice.”

“It’s a wonderful human experience for the legal clinic volunteers,” echoes Charles-Antoine Guelluy. “They feel that they can assist these pro bono clients with what can be an overwhelming and consuming day-to-day legal issue, whether it’s a criminal charge or it’s impacting someone’s right to stay in France or having their family join them in France.”