An American Lawyer in Paris

Every summer, Brian Recor turns into “un avocat”

Published in 2013 Southern California Rising Stars — July 2013

Brian Recor doesn’t want to brag but he has a pretty good life. He spends winters in an office overlooking the Santa Monica surf and summers on Paris’ Right Bank getting his CLE credits in the amphitheaters of the Sorbonne and UNESCO.

It’s all part of an international life the 37-year-old litigator has crafted for himself. Spurred by a love of languages (he speaks five), the Orange County native originally thought he’d be a diplomat. “But instead of joining the government, I just made my own form of foreign service,” he says.

That “foreign service” included study abroad in Ecuador and Senegal, a reporting stint in Venezuela—where he met his French wife, as well as Hugo Chávez and three Miss Universe winners—and two years working at Jones Day in Paris. Though Recor now spends most of his time in the Santa Monica office of Bryan Cave, he still keeps a strong international interest. He uses French, Spanish and Brazilian Portuguese in his casework (his Wolof, not so much), and spends one month every summer working out of the firm’s 10-lawyer Paris office. “I am pretty happy with where I am professionally,” says Recor. “I think most of it is not taking no for an answer and pushing for what you want.”

Recor’s Parisian pace of life tends to be a bit different from his LA routine. For starters, he works nights so he can have more overlap with his California colleagues, which means his workday starts around lunchtime.

“In Paris, it’s very important for business development to have longer lunches,” he says. “People respect lunch. Very few people eat at their desk. That’s one thing I definitely appreciate about the French culture.”

From there, he’ll often work until 1 or 2 in the morning, then hop on a Vélib’—the public bikes sprinkled around Paris—to bike back to his colleague’s sixth-story maid chambers, where he stays during the week. Weekends, he joins his wife and two kids at his in-laws’ home two hours outside Paris. “It’s sort of like I’m a bachelor again during the week,” he says.

While the bulk of Recor’s work involves class-action defense of banks and cosmetic companies, in Paris he also helps French clients deal with American litigation. Most of his workday there is conducted in French, which he had to master to take the French bar exam in 2004. “Not only was [the exam] in French, but the worst part was that half of it is oral,” he says. “You have a jury of three people who fire questions at you. There’s no blind grading like we’re used to here.”

Recor has litigated in both locales and downplays the differences between the U.S. common law system and France’s civil law system. “I think many people, including lawyers, have this perception of the civil law courtroom as some foreign, incomprehensible arena with a bunch of people in black robes running around fighting the Napoleonic code with strangely coiffed hair,” says Recor. “Our systems really are not that different. Both of their goals are fairness. … Both are really expensive and drawn-out processes that people generally want to avoid.”

That said, there are clear differences. France has no discovery period, for example. There are no class-action lawsuits and in-house counsel don’t have privilege when speaking to their clients. They also don’t have civil juries. Recor says French lawyers spend just as much time on their iPhones and BlackBerrys as American lawyers do, though they also take more time off, given the French tradition of “vacances judiciaires” in August or around holidays.

In most ways, says Recor, the transition between Santa Monica and Paris is quite seamless, and it’s easier than ever in today’s hyper-connected world. “In California you can make telephonic appearances in court, and the judge doesn’t ask if you’re in your office in Santa Monica or in Paris,” he says. “With technology it’s very easy to work from a different location. I just transfer my phone extension and many people don’t even know I’m gone.”

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