Legal English Shot – In English, a “partner” is the superior of an “associate”. In French, the partner of an associée is her loving spouse.

How are the various members of a law firm referred to in English, French, German, and Italian?

As the influence of Anglo-Saxon law firms in Europe grows, it is becoming more and more common to hear lawyers in Romandie speaking of colleagues who have become “partners” in a law firm, rather than “associés”.  Use of this Anglicism is all the more tempting since the French term “associé” is all too easily understood by speakers of American English as being equivalent to “associate”, that is, a lawyer employed by a law firm without being a partner. The growing number of Swiss firms operating throughout Switzerland and maintaining multilingual websites has tended to reinforce this trend. Firms based in the German and Italian speaking cantons have for some time now opted for “Denglish” and “Italish” solutions, preferring the term “partner” rather than “Gesellschafter” or “socio” when referring to their senior members, who are also joint owners.

To help guide you through this jungle of false friends, here is a table summarizing the terms generally used for lawyers in Swiss law firms:

French English German Italian
avocat / avocate lawyer / attorney-at-law Anwalt / Anwältin

Fürsprecher / Fürsprecherin (AG/BE/SO)

Advokat / Advokatin (BL/BS)

avvocato / avvocata*
associé / associée

parfois : partner

partner Partner / Partnerin* partner

Ex : socio / socia

(avocat) collaborateur / (avocate) collaboratrice

parfois : associate

associate Associate

Ex : Anwalt/Mitarbeiter

Associato / Associata

Ex : (avvocato) collaboratore

avocat-stagiaire / avocate-stagiaire trainee (lawyer) (Anwalts-)Praktikant / Praktikantin

Substitut / Substitutin (ZH)

praticante (legale)

parfois : of counsel ou counsel

of counsel ou counsel


Konsulent / Konsulentin

parfois : Of Counsel ou Counsel


parfois : of counsel, counsel

juriste LL.M. ou J.D. Jurist / Juristin giurista
docteur(e) en droit (dr jur.) S.J.D ou J.S.D. Doktor(in) der Rechtswissenschaft (Dr. iur.) dottore(ssa)* in giurisprudenza (dott. iur.) (dott.ssa iur.)

* Some firms use the masculine form of the term also when referring to women.

The designation “name partner” is used for senior members whose names figures in gold letters on the office door. It can be translated into French as “associé fondateur” (“founding partner”), if the person in question was one of the original members of the firm, or as “associé principal” (“senior partner”), if his name was added later. The other option, “avocat du cabinet éponyme” (“eponymous lawyer”) strikes us a so charming, that we didn’t want to keep it from you. “Associé en nom” as a translation for “name partner” should be avoided, as it is a term used in French law as a synonym for “commandité”,  or, what is termed in Swiss law “associé indéfiniment responsable” (general partner). Another translation to be avoided is the term “associé prête-nom” which would imply that the lawyer in question holds a fictitious position within the firm (“straw man”).

To find out how to say “maître” in English or German, see our Legal English Shot for the month April 2021.

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