“We obtained the conviction of police officers who had crossed the red line, who had behaved in a way punishable by criminal law. This condemnation is symbolic. This case marked me because it reflects the reality of the dispute between part of the police and part of the population. […] Such cases symbolise the strength of the state which resorts to an illegitimate use of force. That damages the way the social project is perceived.”
Could you please introduce yourself?
My name is Loïc Padonou. I have been a lawyer in Paris for ten years, and I am in my thirties. I specialize in litigation. I intervene when there are disputes between individuals and organisations, or disputes between organisations and companies. I also intervene in criminal litigation. Such disputes that range from traffic violations to murder. Suffice to say that the range is large. I am a litigator; I use my lawyer's robe a lot. Unlike some lawyers who mainly provide advice, I also go to court to plead cases.
Where are you from? What are your roots?
I come from an interbreeding. One of my grandmothers has roots in Bretagne and Normandy and left her mark on my first name, my other three grandparents are from Benin, a small country in West Africa. I grew up in Benin until I was seven. We went back and forth between France and Benin, before moving to France. I did all my schooling in France.
You took part in football and athletics throughout your youth. Is it this parallel between team and individual sport that shaped you?
My mum asked me to choose a sport, but I was unable to choose. I joined both the football and athletics clubs. Having had this chance to practice both a team sport and an individual sport, almost until the end of my university time, helped me a lot to question myself and to interact with others by positioning myself in relation to the coach, to teammates, to opponents.
Athletics is also the school of rigour. One trains all year round to gain inches or seconds ... I specialized in jumping, which I was particularly fond of. In the long jump or the triple jump there is also the beauty of the gesture, it is choreographed.
The competition, the rigour, but also the ability to interact that these disciplines require help me every day. Self-confidence is one of the main issues. Knowing how to look someone in the eye, not to be scared, not to wonder all the time what you are doing there, I think that is something that changes how you relate to others a lot.
What is the relationship between the lawyer and the athlete in you?
The extension of what I just mentioned, in my professional practice, is the relationship with clients, magistrates and adversaries. Being a lawyer entails speaking for someone, which can be stressful. There is certainly a question of ego, but questioning your performance can generate anxiety: have I said things correctly, have I said the right thing, have I forgotten anything? Was I able to respond to the surprise of the audience, to what others were able to invent and create during the debates? Simply speaking publicly, saying what I have to say without questioning my legitimacy to be there, cause me less anxiety than they do others.
Football made me realize that I was one amongst the other kids and that I didn’t have to be afraid. Playing football in the Paris area is very hard when you're little. There is a competitive spirit and the relationship on the pitch with the opponents but also with your teammates is very difficult. You have to establish your place.
Why did you turn to the law? Have lawyers inspired you?
Growing up, I participated in a municipal youth council that could implement many actions. It allowed me to understand local life and politics in the non-partisan sense. We were offered you chance to meet and think about issues relating to the life of the city. I learned to think about ways to develop and to convey my ideas, to articulate them.
In junior high school, I also did an internship with a female lawyer who worked alone in the city where I lived. This experience shocked me, I was very young. I remember one correctional hearing I attended in particular: the victim was a young woman who had been kidnapped and abused, her face had been cut off ... it literally took hold of me.
At the same time, I quickly became a class delegate. Again, I took the floor for friends. I've always had a problem with injustice, it's something that has been with me for a very long time. It may seem trivial, but my subject in relation to law is first of all this relationship to injustice.
What is your main character trait?
I think that I am pugnacious, that I am a fighter. I like to get to see things through. In my job, these are the elements that count, the character traits that count.
Now you have your own practice. What have you gained from being an independent lawyer?
There are 70,000 lawyers in France, and 99% of them are independent lawyers; there is a residual 1% of salaried lawyers. Some of these independent lawyers are partners, that is, they have collaborators who work for them, but these collaborators always have the right to take their own clients. So, from the start, I had my own clients, but my biggest client was the firm I worked for. I worked late at night to be able to take on additional clients. The main difference since becoming independent is that I lost my biggest client: the firm I worked for.
What is your daily routine?
Firstly, I drop my daughters off at nursery and school. This is important, because it makes it very difficult to be at a 9 a.m. hearing – it is not without challenges. Criminal litigation is partly an emergency litigation. What does that mean? Last week, Wednesday, I was called late at night to speak to a client in police custody. The consequence of being in custody is that my client was interviewed the next morning. So I had to be at the police station with her on Thursday morning. I had planned visits to detainees, which I postponed until Thursday afternoon. But my client was referred, that is to say that she was transferred to the courthouse to appear immediately after police custody ... In another case, I had an interview scheduled in the office of an examining magistrate on Friday afternoon, and I pleaded at one a.m. The decision was rendered at two a.m. on Saturday.
There is no routine, in fact, in this job. We made an appointment today, but I could have been called to attend to somebody in police custody. This happens quite regularly when you practice within the criminal justice system, and it changes a whole schedule. There has to be some flexibility. It also means that we lead more nomadic lives, that we have to carry a laptop almost all the time.
Do you have heroes?
What I particularly like is the courage and determination of certain historical figures. The sacrifices they made in battles where their ideals were important above all left an impression on me. These are characters who were determined, who were sometimes jailed for their beliefs and who did not abandon their ideals. Some have even managed to actually pass these ideas on, and history has proved them right. That’s what makes me dream, rather than heroes as such.
What is your greatest achievement?
Professional or personal? Well, my children! (laughs) My greatest professional success is having clients who trust me, who ask me to assist them, to represent them, to defend them. I think this is the most difficult thing. When you first start out, you are petrified by the idea of sitting down in front of your phone and waiting for it to ring, because that is the reality. The best lawyer in the world doesn't work if they don't have clients. It's a very difficult activity, there are a lot of lawyers who barely earn the minimum wage each month; we are very far from the image of the lawyer wallowing in luxury.Then, even though I am too young to be able to take stock, there are a few cases that marked me. You might get the impression that I mostly defend victims, but 98% of the time I defend people who are implicated, who are accused, who are blamed. I had the chance to defend the civil parties in a historic trial that took place before the Courts of Assize in Paris, where Rwandan genocide perpetrators were judged. I was there for people who have been recognized as victims. These are experiences that mark one.
In a completely different register, I was new at the Paris Bar and my four clients had been victims of police violence in a bourgeois suburb. In this file there were no deaths, mutilated people, lost limbs or whatever – not at all. It was banal violence, perhaps daily violence: beatings with truncheons, absolutely unjustified tear gas jets. We obtained the conviction of police officers who had crossed the red line, who had behaved in a way punishable by criminal law. This condemnation is symbolic. This case marked me because it reflects the reality of the dispute between part of the police and part of the population. For the victims, it is anything but painless. Such cases symbolise the strength of the state which resorts to an illegitimate use of force. That damages the way the social project is perceived.
Do you have motto?
When you love football, the motto is to never give up, because reversals are always possible. I am a supporter of PSG: I am in a good position to know this, I am on the wrong side. If the “remontada” made its appearance in the dictionary, it is thanks to PSG. You might think you're hearing a teen song, but you always have to believe in what you do and never let go, never let go until the end.
What are you wearing under your robe?
I've been asked this question before, and I was laughed at because I said I had a strong desire to fight injustice. This question is twofold, since it could ask what I am, what possesses me ... Another thing that defines me is sharing a meal. I am passionate about gastronomy. I love to cook. So there would be, when I take off my robe, this relationship with justice - and injustice especially - and then a relationship with the small pleasures of life, as for everyone else.
Do you have a ritual before you start a plea?
There are many schools of thought when it comes to speaking out. I have a colleague whom I find amazing. No matter what he pleads for, even in courts of assize, even in a terrorism case, he stands up and he never looks at any written material, ever. He said he would get lost with such a visual cue. I find his capacity to focus fascinating. He is a talented person. I think lawyers who read are missing out, because it's all about convincing people. To convince people, you have to be listened to. And in order to be listened to, the words have to come to life. When one reads, there is something literally fixed.
Like many, I have a quickly sketched plan in writing, or a few notes that will let me know roughly where I am. That, at a pinch, would be my ritual. But I don't have a ritual in the superstitious sense. I'm pretty scholarly after all, with something really prepared for this exercise.
When you take off the lawyer's robe, do you become Loïc Padonou again?
When you take off your robe, you remain a lawyer at least for a while. After the hearing, you are often still with your client, or with your client's family if they are in the cells or detained. Rather, it is outside the court and outside my office that I am in a way no longer a lawyer.
But you feel like you're a lawyer all the time, because it's one of those jobs where people always have something to ask of you. I am going out for dinner with friends or family and someone stops me when I come out of the toilet to tell me: “By the way, I forgot to ask you, I have a little problem there, what do you think? My contract was signed in such a way, I am criticized for this…” It happens all the time. How deeply is one a lawyer inside? When does one stop being a lawyer? When I choose to defend people for free, pro bono, it is a real choice: it does not allow me to pay my rent. Defending the people who are close to us can be tricky. Sometimes it's important to say “No. I'll send you to a lawyer you don't know who will be better able to defend your interests.”
What colours do you wear in private, on a daily basis?
I wear pretty colourful clothes. Pink, very little black. My wardrobe is rich in colour.
How did you hear about hollington? Why do you like this brand?
I discovered hollington in a completely haphazard way. My law firm is in the immediate vicinity of the shop, which extends along the street, with fairly spread out windows. At first it didn't speak much to me, I had the impression that the clothes were like those for hunters. But then I ended up going through the door, because I have a relationship with clothes that is quite concrete. In the summer, I like to wear rather light fabrics. And in winter, I have no difficulty in wearing heavy materials: wool, tweed, velvet, which is really alternative today.
Then I was quickly won over by the fit. As you will have noticed, I am a “colourful” lawyer, and then I have a rather peculiar hairstyle. I am also freeing myself from the suit in the usual sense of the term. This brand sells clothes that I think are both extremely elegant and very functional.
Here we are: one is comfortable in a hollington garment, which is the main thing. It reminds me of a children's clothing ad that said “What's the point of wearing clothes if you can't do anything in them?” Well, wearing a hollington garment you can do anything. I can wear hollington for a very formal setting, for example on a business date, or to pick up my daughters from school. These are great fitting clothes, chameleon clothes, and that’s very nice. It's rare to have clothes that are so comfortable.
What do you like most about hollington? The cut, the colours, the style, the materials?
At hollington, frankly, I like everything. I'm pretty loyal, a bit monomaniac, so I have my favourite brands. And if I own five sets of the same trousers in different materials, it's because I find them comfortable. The colours are quite varied, and I find the cuts to be unusual and very original, even if I happen to have them reworked - the pants are a bit wide for me. The materials are so important; it is important to be warm in the winter. I have clothes in Donegal, smooth velour or corduroy, or linen in the summer. It's brilliant.
hollington clothing is not made in exotic places but in Europe, and that is important. On each of these points, this is a brand that stands out because it is consistent, it makes good clothes that I want to wear in all the seasons. That's also what makes me loyal, I think.
We thank Loïc Padonou for his welcome and the time he kindly gave us.
Photos Clément Vayssieres