Benelux

Slaughter and May moves in with best friends

Slaughter and May is turning up the heat on its best friend relationships and moving into the same building in Brussels as Italian heavyweight Bonelli Erede Pappalardo, Paris-based Bredin Prat, Germany’s Hengeler Mueller and Spain’s Uría Menéndez. As first reported on www.thelawyer.com (10 October), the move was seen as an indication that the magic circle firm was keen to strengthen its ties with its European best friend firms.

The new offices are in the Square de Meeus in the European quarter of the Belgian capital. The move does not take place until next summer, although all five firms signed leases in early October. All the lawyers in the office focus on both competition and European law.

Slaughters has forged close ties with the group over several years as a response to the growing globalisation of the legal market.

The latest move is in line with its strategy to maintain its independence while working in close cooperation with a select group of firms across Europe.

Last December, Slaughters ceded its 30-year-old office in Paris to Bredin Prat. The firm’s French lawyers joined Bredin Prat, while the English lawyers maintained a representative English law practice in Paris.

Microsoft softens stance with Vista changesBrussels was the hub of the activity in the Benelux region over the past month, both in terms of regulatory developments and market moves.

Microsoft’s long-running antitrust battle with the European Commission rumbled on, with the software giant still refusing to accept the terms of a landmark 2004 ruling with fines totalling e777.5m (£521.31m).

On 11 September, The Lawyer reported that Microsoft had appointed a new in-house lawyer to lead its clash with the Commission. Erich Andersen, who has been with Microsoft for 10 years and worked on the dispute with Sun Microsystems over the licence of Java technology, replaced Horacio Gutierrez as Europe, the Middle East and Africa associate general counsel for law and corporate affairs. Gutierrez returned to Microsoft’s HQ in Washington to handle IP matters.

But if Andersen’s appointment was interpreted as a sign that Microsoft was gearing up to refresh its fight with the regulators, this impression was at least partly dispelled on 13 October, when Microsoft revealed it had made significant changes to its new Vista operating system following what it called a “constructive dialogue” with the Commission.

In a statement, Microsoft’s general counsel Brad Smith said his company appreciated the dialogue it had had with the Commission and the guidance the Commission had provided.

“Based on this guidance,” Smith added, “we’ve made changes to ensure that we’re in compliance with our competition law obligations, and are moving forward to make Windows Vista available on a worldwide basis.”

The battle’s not over, but the end game may be in sight.

Ex-Freshfields chief defects to Howrey

There was another significant Brussels’ move when Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer lost its former managing partner in the city to Howrey (The Lawyer, 11 September).

Michael Schutte joined Howrey in early October. He was one of the 30 Freshfields partners who took advantage of favourable pension terms offered by the firm before it reforms its pension scheme.

Trevor Soames, managing partner of Howrey in Brussels, said Schutte was “one of the best and toughest” competition lawyers in Europe, adding: “We will have one of the largest groups of German partners in Brussels and intend to develop our German practice very rapidly.”

Schutte joined another former Freshfields partner, Marc Reyson, along with Martina Maier, the former co-head of the global competition group at Haarmann Hemmelrath, and Gotz Drauz, former deputy director-general of the European Commission’s Directorate for Competition (DG Comp).

For Freshfields, Schutte was not the only significant Brussels loss. On 2 October, The Lawyer reported that public policy specialist and senior associate Gail Orton was leaving the firm for rival Clifford Chance. Orton was based in Brussels during her time with Freshfields, but is relocating to London to join Clifford Chance’s well regarded public policy group, headed by Michael Smyth.

BMG and Sony hit back at record decision

Moving to Luxembourg, and another long-running matter cranked up a gear. Earlier this summer, in an unprecedented move, the Court of First Instance (CFI) had overturned the European Commission’s decision to clear the merger between Bertelsmann Music Group (BMG) and Sony Music (The Lawyer, 17 July). The surprise decision was the first time that clearance by the Commission had been reversed by the CFI.

Three months later, the record companies hit back. BMG and Sony launched a joint appeal against the court’s judgment (www.thelawyer. com 5 October), based both on procedural and substantive grounds. It isunderstood the parties will argue that the CFI’s decision blurred the Airtours judgment, which overturned a finding of collective dominance and clarified the Commission’s evidential burden.

In its judgment, the court said that the Commission did not demonstrate, to the requisite legal standard, either the non-existence of a collective dominant position before the concentration, or the absence of a risk that such a position would be created as a result of the concentration.

Hoping to set the record straight for BMG was Slaughter and May competition partner Philippe Chappatte, while Brussels-based Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton partner Robbert Snelders is leading the charge for Sony.

Luxembourg lost for words in language case

Elsewhere, Luxembourg’s legal system was in the dock facing a case brought by the European Commission that could have far-reaching international implications for lawyers (www.thelawyer.com, 20 September).

On 19 September the European Court of Justice (ECJ) threw out the requirement for lawyers to be able to speak the language of the country in which they want to practise. The judgment against Luxembourg found that its bar rules, which require any lawyer hoping to practise in the Grand Duchy to pass an oral language test, were contrary to European rules on freedom of establishment.

The ECJ also found in favour of the Commission’s argument that European lawyers should be able to accept instructions from companies in Luxembourg, something the country has prohibited.

The Commission also won its third argument, that Luxembourg’s requirement for foreign lawyers to produce an annual certificate of registration in their own country produced a disproportionate administrative burden.

Not only did Luxembourg lose its case, but it was ordered to pay all the costs of the hearing. A bad result in any language.