Brief encounter: freshfields

THE AMSTERDAM office of Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer has come a long way since May 1999, when it opened with just four partners working out of temporary offices.

Rapid expansion has brought its partner count up to 14, the bulk of them creamed from Dutch magic circle firms. The practice is neatly focused on corporate and finance, competition law, intellectual property (IP) and international arbitration, acting as the focal point for Freshfields' international tax practice.

But while the pioneer stage may be over, the Dutch legal market will not be quick to forget the day Freshfields arrived. As Trenite Van Doorne's recently announced demerger testifies, the UK's entry into The Netherlands is still sending out shock waves.

The decision to open the Freshfields office was made after talks with magic circle firms came to nothing. Determined to break into the Dutch scene and expand its pan-European M&A practice, Freshfields recruited four high-profile partners, three from Stibbe Simont Monahan Duhot and one from Linklaters & Alliance firm De Brauw Blackstone Westbroek, to set up the office. They were joined by UK partners Roger Berner and Ian Hewitt.

The ram-raiding has continued. When Loeff Claeys Verbeke dramatically split, with 32 of its partners joining Allen & Overy and the Rotterdam office teaming up with tax attorneys Loyens & Volkmaars, Freshfields also benefitted from the fall-out. From Loeff Claeys came M&A specialist Jan Willem van der Staay and IP specialist Hub Harmeling. Dick Hofland, Hans Galavazi and Machiel Lambooij also joined from Loyens. Galavazi now shares the managing partner responsibilities with Hewitt, fostering integration.

In March this year, the office turned its attention to competition law, poaching competition partner Winfred Knibbeler from Nauta Dutilh. Knibbeler was followed by competition partner Onno Brouwer from Stibbe, who joined in August.

Freshfields' greenfield approach and the upheaval it entails have not precluded an impressive show of work over the past 18 months. Recent examples include acting for UBS Warburg on its acquisition of a stake in Dutch-listed company Calve Delft; advising Ford on the Dutch aspects of its proposed multijurisdictional acquisition of Daewoo, from which it retreated last month; advising US manufacturing and services conglomerate Tyco on the Dutch aspects of its acquisition of Phillips' projects division; acting for Essent on its trading joint venture with Centrica; and Mannesmann and its subsidiaries on its reorganisation, after Vodafone's hostile takeover.

Contentious and IP work has included acting for Versatel Telecoms on a complaint to the EU Commission and proceedings against the Dutch state with respect to the Mobile Universal Telecommunications Sytstem auctioning process in The Netherlands; advising Johnson & Johnson and Kimberly-Clark Europe on patent issues; and acting for Levi Strauss Europe on a range of trademark infringement claims.

The next step for the office is to expand its banking practice and corporate fee-earner capabilities.