Lawyer profile: Arnaud Blanc de la Naulte
After being founded by you and 3 other partners, NMCG is about to celebrate its 15th anniversary. How does that make you feel?
I rarely look back, I leave that for much later. So, while I’m aware that I, among many others, have helped our firm evolve in the right direction (at least that’s how I imagine it), at the cost of a lot of hard work, it’s the present and the future that matter to me: how can we always do better? It’s certainly a grueling requirement on a daily basis, but you can’t change who you are, and it’s in my DNA. We’ve still got a lot to do, big and small, and still a lot of work to do, but that’s the price we’ll have to pay if, in time, we’re going to be able to look in the rear-view mirror and begin to feel a certain satisfaction at having achieved what we set out to do. We’re not there yet.
What memories do you have of your student years?
The answer can be summed up in 3 words: Aix-en-Provence. Anyone who has studied in this magnificent city will understand its meaning. I won’t forget the encounters I made there, the kindness of certain teachers who read you incredibly well and know how to push you in the right direction, and also the beginnings of l’Actu, since at that time I had created my first college newspaper, which took up the last week before publication… 60 hours of my time. It was fascinating, and I remember it as fondly as my time on the benches of the University of Aix, magical in summer with its rosebushes.
Have you seen any significant changes or developments in the advice you provide to clients on employment law and social protection in recent years?
Our advice doesn’t vary, since it’s always along the same lines: meet the customer’s needs, anticipate what can be done, and ensure legal certainty. We have to adapt to the constant changes in legislation and case law, which we must try to anticipate as far as possible. Today, for example, dismissals are systematically null and void. It should therefore be borne in mind in any procedure that may be undertaken. Yesterday, this was the case for overtime. Tomorrow? Teleworking, without a doubt. There are so many other subjects I could mention here, both technical (because not everything is litigation, there’s also advice, which is a very important aspect of our work) and practical, but I’m in danger of becoming boring.
In a world where communication plays an increasingly important role, do you think it has become essential for a law firm to invest in a communications department, as you have done at NMCG?
Although it’s rarely put this way, a law firm is a business in its own right. To survive, it needs resources, good administration, solid management and, of course, loyal customers. However, we believe that the equation cannot be complete without intelligent, useful communication. And that’s no easy task, because while we feel we have a lot of exciting things to say, we’re also aware that we can quickly become drowned out by all the daily messages we’re all confronted with, in the street, on our smartphones, through our apps, in our e-mails and so on. So we need to find the right balance to provide the right information at the right time. It’s a real job that required the creation of our communications department, which works remarkably hard every day, thanks to its commitment, its desire and its understanding of the business. Ultimately, any company that believes it’s doing the right thing can legitimately consider it useful to point this out. This is our case. Who would know that we’ve been committed to CSR for 18 months, with our pre-report online in the last few days, and all our commitments spelled out, if we don’t communicate on the subject? Who would still know that our labor relations department has a 65% success rate across the board, and that 70% of employees who contest dismissals are dismissed, if we don’t talk about it?
Despite more than 20 years’ experience, do you still maintain an attitude of continuous learning in the legal field?
Of course, our profession demands it. In fact, I always encourage my team to challenge me when they disagree on a subject. Believe me, my colleagues and my partner Sonia don’t miss a beat! It’s the first source of extraordinary continuing education, especially when you’re lucky enough, as in my case, to be surrounded by a highly motivated team eager to find “the” solution. In our profession, you can’t be afraid of lifelong learning.
Moreover, it will not escape anyone’s attention that employment law is a living body of law, constantly evolving both in terms of legislation and case law, some of which is totally aberrant, as we regularly point out in our Actu. So if you’re not prepared to put your knowledge on the line on a daily basis, with a certain degree of excitement (and sometimes fatigue, let’s face it), it’s best not to choose this profession.
What about criminal law? Can you tell us a bit about it?
What about criminal law? Can you tell us a bit about it? It was a real reflection when I started in this business over 20 years ago. Criminal law was very attractive to me, but I was lucky enough to get my first opportunity to work with one of the top 5 employment law firms in France, which I couldn’t refuse. However, I’ve pursued this passion in my personal life, with cases each more interesting than the last, not to mention the discovery of life in police stations at night through the many police custody cases I’ve carried out over 2 years, the discussions with prosecutors and magistrates outside court hearings, the terrible pressure felt when you know you’re acting for the good (not everyone who’s been indicted is guilty, let me remind you) but you have to convince the court or tribunal, with your client potentially gambling with part of his life. In the judicial sphere, criminal law is a fabulous tool for training lawyers to appear before all kinds of courts, since the pressure is so great, not to mention the urgency of certain cases, such as those involving immediate appearance, which require them to come up with arguments and means at a moment’s notice in order to win over the judges. That’s why I encourage my young associates to get involved in this area as soon as we have cases that allow it. It’s extremely instructive and strengthens them so that they are better equipped to appear before the social courts. Today, with a few exceptions (not the least of which are cases heard over a period of several days or weeks), the criminal work we do is mainly related to labor law, through work-related accidents, infringement notices drawn up by the labor inspectorate, obstructions, and many other subjects. In short, social issues are still on the agenda, but with a criminal law perspective, which is all the better for our employer clients.
What are the most important lessons you’ve learned from your job?
That you have to keep putting your heart back into your work. That nothing is ever lost. There have been times when I’ve been in a tennis match with a 6/0 5/0 against me, and I’ve literally turned things around with an argument that turned the magistrate in our favor. And I could say the same thing about my team, which is so remarkable for its quality and pugnacity in this area, with a very high success rate! It’s a very demanding job, where you carry your work around in your head all the time, weekends and vacations included, but it’s an exciting one. Every day, we’re confronted with countless customer problems that require us to find the best key from our toolbox of ideas. And when it works exactly as intended, what intense satisfaction! It’s also a job that demands regular rethinking. The man forges the lawyer, but the lawyer deepens the man.
How has your passion for tennis influenced or nurtured your approach as a lawyer, and what parallels do you see between the two fields?
I’ve just given a concrete example in the previous question. But if I may go into a little more detail, I’d say that like the tennis player, the lawyer is alone with himself. His actions and words, as well as his racquet strokes and masterful movements on the court, can result in a magnificent victory, or a failure that can affect us deeply, even though we worked tirelessly to win. Just like a tennis player, even in the event of success, we ask ourselves: could I have done even better? The nuance remains that in litigation, our game is not played with a single adversary facing us, but with 2 protagonists: the colleague and the magistrate. Which makes the game all the more exciting.