Ewan McIntyre: A legal letter from Lyon
Ewan McIntyre, partner at Burness Paull and expert in professional negligence and financial services litigation with over 25 years’ experience, is currently enjoying a secondment with Racine, one of the main independent French law firms, in its Lyon office.
That something might be more appealing in abstract than in reality was in my mind when I took the opportunity of undertaking a stage in Lyon in France this autumn based in a commercial law firm.
My own firm Burness Paull is supportive of flexibility and encouraged me to take the chance. So I took things to a different level with my French lessons, and with enormous patience from my long-suffering tutor, put myself through the mill of sitting some exams in advance of relocating. I hoped that what I found when I actually got under the skin of a French city would not damage the picture that I had painted from being a tourist in France over the decades since I left school. They have not.
The initial impressions have been even better than I expected. Lyon is a tremendously liveable city, with grand architecture on a Parisian scale, but is walkable, with two rivers that define the city – the Saône and the Rhône. I have heard it said that there is a third – Beaujolais – but with the Beaujolais nouveau arriving next month, I will hold fire on commenting on that for the moment.
Some contrasts with working in the UK are that the work/life balance in the professions appears, to me at least, to be good. Certainly, my hosts are convivial, with the office generally downing tools to eat lunch together. I have witnessed many benefiting during the working week from dining and socialising outdoors, and the general sense of well-being that living in a warmer and drier climate brings. Dress codes are much less strict than in the UK, but that does not detract from the seriousness with which client demands are treated.
The shop staff I have encountered, whether in the multiple neighbourhood boulangeries, or the town centre clothes shops, appear to me to accept that if the customer is not fully sure about a purchase there should be no hard sell. Indeed, at a boulangerie the night before I am writing this, my first choice of treat for after dinner had sold out. There was a very respectable second choice available, and in addition to choosing that, I was given a small paper bag of pastries to snack on to get me home from work! I will be back.
There is less of a focus on supermarket shopping and more appreciation of the independents. I have slipped into the good habit of planning ahead and knowing that I can pick something or other up in the local food hall, and think nothing of then having that fresh produce on the table whilst enjoying an aperitif on the way home. It is difficult to pinpoint exactly why that is not a feature of my life in the UK, but the fact that Lyon is a city of villages with the accompanying relative proximity of neighbourhood fruit and vegetable shops, butchers and bakers, must have a large part to play. I love it.
My time working here is currently expected to straddle Brexit day. It is refreshing to be away from the constant coverage of that in the media. I have sensed no negativity towards the UK as a result of Brexit, but there is awareness of the differing views on the subject in the constituent parts of the UK, and the political goings on in the UK are looked upon with genuine bemusement here. It is my intention to put pen to paper (or at least to battle again with my non-QWERTY keyboard) in November, by which time a lot will have become clearer on that front, so I will say no more about it just now.
To close, the different approach to life in France can be summed up by mentioning the items on offer at food stops during the recent half-marathon I completed here. Rather than the sensible options of water and bananas that I experienced in a marathon in Scotland in the spring, the food stops in Lyon promised saucisson, local cheese and Tuc biscuits, in addition I dare say, to dried fruit and tabbouleh. To my amateur knowledge sausage and cheese are not high on the list of foods to snack on during an endurance event, and I did not stop to investigate, but if they were available then I think that terrific.
Ewan McIntyre is a partner at Burness Paull