Brussels exodus at Clifford Chance

FIVE lawyers have left Clifford Chance's Brussels office in the past four months, four from the EC department.

Clifford Chance partner responsible for the Brussels office's EC competition practice, Alex Nourry, denied rumours of poor morale and said the firm had recruit ed six lawyers over the past six months.

“The people who left have left for different and unconnected reasons,” he said.

“Morale is very high in the office, given that the office has had one of the best financial years it has had in recent history.”

The firm's EC department has lost associate lawyer Rob Murray, who was with the firm for five years.

He has joined the company commercial department of Southampton practice Hepherd Winstandley & Pugh.

Another lawyer who had been in the department some years, Tania Blake, is understood to have joined a private UK company.

English associate lawyer Vanessa Turner left the department to join German firm Bruckhaus Westrick Stegemann.

The latest departure was from Belgian associate lawyer Geert Zonnekeyn, who joined top-three local firm Leoff Claeys Verbeke.

Senior Belgian banking lawyer Paul Goris left the firm's commercial section in late December to join financial conglomerate Fortis, a Belgian Dutch company active in banking, insurance and investments.

The Council of Bars and Law Societies (CCBE) is refusing to comment on the International Bar Association's guidelines for foreign legal consultants, claiming it is not appropriate for the IBA to make a contribution.

Matthew Clarke QC, head of the UK delegation to the CCBE, criticised the decision and the “undiplomatic” letter the CCBE drafted to inform the IBA of its decision.

Clarke attended the CCBE standing committee meeting in Brussels, which was divided on how it should react to the IBA document.

He said the letter was “not a constructive contribution to the issue”.

“We consider that the CCBE should sort out its differences in private and reach a view, rather than reveal in public that we were in disagreement,” Clarke said.

He also added that the CCBE's initial reaction to the IBA guidelines was to establish a working party.

“The CCBE working party proposed amendments to bring the guidelines in line with the CCBE's position on the draft establishment directive,” he said.

“The UK delegation fav-oured the proposed amendments and wishes the CCBE had responded to the IBA.”

He said the CCBE had bowed to pressure from countries which were hostile to the idea of foreign legal consultants, including France and Germany.

“The French and others also think it's not the business of the IBA to be taking any initiative, when the issue is being looked at by the World Trade Organisation,” he said.

He said these countries also perceived a strong American influence within the IBA, which was resented.

The IBA has been waiting for a response to its guidelines since early March and had anticipated receiving a response at the IBA Council meeting in Madrid on 1 June.

IBA president, Professor J Ross Harper, said he was disappointed the CCBE had decided not to contribute.

“I'm quite sure, however, that their members, who will be in Madrid, will continue to comment,” he said.

The IBA will decide on June 1 whether to issue the guidelines to members in 183 countries, despite the CCBE's snub, or continue the discussion.