Being in my seat for three weeks, I’m still relatively new to the Brussels office. But the smaller office size and subsequent smaller number of lawyers here help you to make the transition of being the new person to feeling part of the team much more quickly.
The Hogan Lovells’ Brussels office spans two floors of a building, which is shared with other businesses. There are about 30 lawyers in the team and the entire office consists of about 52 people altogether. Although the smaller numbers here make it very different to the London office - I find it very similar to any department you’d expect to find in the UK. Everybody knows each other and, as a trainee, you will work for everybody in the team.
The main practice areas in Brussels include antitrust, competition and economic regulation (ACER), international trade and life sciences law. The quality of training is very high due to the fact that it handles a large amount of high profile and complex work. Trainees are involved at all stages and there is great opportunity to learn. The work I have been doing for the past few weeks has been extremely interesting and is an area I would definitely consider qualifying into.
Not speaking French (or Dutch) in Belgium is not a problem at all. Everybody speaks English and this is also the working language in the office. Of course knowledge of French helps, but it certainly is not a requirement to do your work or to having a good social life around the city. In general Belgians are very tolerant to foreigners and will quickly begin to converse with you in English - so not a problem when answering the phone.
There are a fair amount of English lawyers here; however the team is very international. We have Belgian, Irish, French, German, Polish and US lawyers here (and I do not think this is an exhaustive list). This is what makes it very different from the London office and I find it to be a very interesting environment to work in.
Our firm seconds two London trainees to Brussels, in addition there is always a French trainee and currently we also have a Belgian trainee. The social interaction within the team is excellent; we often go for lunches and drinks together. Everybody is always happy to talk to you and give you pointers of what to see in Brussels (and most importantly where to eat).
In addition to work colleagues, there are plenty of other lawyers to hang out with because there is a very strong network of London trainees seconded from various other firms.
I should also add that it is easy to meet people working in other sectors too. There are a large number of people working for various European institutions, as lobbyists or in various non-governmental organisations. All you have to do is go out with a few friends and you are sure to meet some new ones as well. The bonus of working in Brussels is also the fact that each London trainee has their own flat located minutes away from the office in the centre of the city (which is handy for work as well as for socialising).
The working hours are similar to those we have in London, however there is more flexibility to choose when you will come in and go home. The majority seem to come in at 9.30am and stay until 8pm (unless something particularly urgent is taking place). Others, who are working with US clients, tend to come in later and stay in later.
I am loving my time here in Brussels and, although you don’t experience the same drastic differences in culture as you would in, say, Dubai or Hong Kong, you’re able to get involved in some really interesting work and feel part of a vibrant city at the same time.