International eye: Europe

Nauta keeps Rotterdam after De Brauw move

The continuing influence of major international firms and the constant drive for higher profits was in evidence among law firms in the Netherlands, Belgium and Luxembourg last month. Today’s story about Loyens & Loeff (page
seven) highlights the growing influence of internationally sourced work, and Chinese matters in particular, on the most outward-looking and international of Dutch firms.

But it was the consolidation of fellow Dutch heavyweights De Brauw Blackstone Westbroek and Nauta Dutilh into Amsterdam, driven by the need for higher profit per partner figures, that scooped the headlines earlier last month (7 November).

Nauta’s management board was forced to hold a crisis meeting on 2 November to head off calls for it to close its office in Rotterdam. The move was made necessary after rival firm De Brauw announced its intention to consolidate all its resources in Amsterdam in an effort to capture more high-margin international corporate and finance work.

Nauta decided to hang on to Rotterdam, although it will gradually downsize the office. Ironically, it is the high level of international work that is likely to keep it there, as Rotterdam is home to one of the world’s largest port (Shanghai is another, a major factor in Rotterdam-based Loyens’ decision to ramp up its China contacts).

The full partnership conference at Nauta concluded that continuing with two offices in the Netherlands was still viable. It will downsize Rotterdam over the next six months, with at least five partners either relocating to Amsterdam or being managed out of the firm.

Nauta chairman Marc Blom said the board had been “thoroughly investigating” the viability of the Rotterdam office for around six weeks.

“We’ve concluded that there’s very good market potential in Rotterdam – too good not to be there,” added Blom.

De Brauw confirmed its decision to consolidate all of its Dutch resources in Amsterdam on 1 September. It also has offices in London and New York.

As The Lawyer commented at the time: “The importance of De Brauw’s decision to ditch both the Hague and Rotterdam operations cannot be overstated. Any firm with a sizeable presence in Rotterdam is starting to look overweight.”

European players sprout up in Brussels

Brussels was the destination of choice for a plethora of firms from all ends of Europe last month.

Spanish firm Garrigues was among the most satisfied as it scooped former European Commission legal service lawyer Jose Luis Buendia Sierra to head its Brussels office.

Buendia Sierra replaces Stephen Pickard, who retired in July 2005 after 17 years at the firm.

Buendia Sierra has more than 15 years’ experience at the Commission, working at the Directorate-General for Competition and at the Internal Market and Services Directorate-General.

Madrid’s head of European law and competition Marcos Araujo said: “We couldn’t have found anyone better suited to assisting our clients in EU law matters.”

Taylor Wessing‘s march across Europe continued in November when it launched a local capability in Brussels.

The firm hired three partners from former Belgian Landwell network firm Lawfort to beef up its offering in the city. Until then the firm had maintained an EU and competition outpost serviced from London and Germany.

Marc Picat, a commercial and competition specialist who spent 15 years at Landwell and Lawfort, is spearheading the team. He resigned from Lawfort in September.

Picat said Taylor Wessing’s European growth and global reach was the key attraction, singling out its China and Dubai arms.

DLA Piper Rudnick Gray Cary also bolstered its Brussels team with a new regulatory hire from Gide Loyrette Nouel.

Jean Naslin, of counsel at Gide since 2001, joined DLA Piper as a partner in the firm’s EU competition practice.

Naslin’s practice focuses on European law and international trade. The move follows the appointment of Bertold Bär-Bouyssière in October, who also joined the firm’s Brussels regulatory group.

In September DLA Piper ramped up its Belgian presence when the partnership voted to take 34 lawyers from Coudert Brothers, including eight partners, giving the firm more than 100 lawyers in Belgium, which are split between Brussels and Antwerp.

Nabarros dreams of Europe, but not US

Another UK firm with its eyes set on European expansion last month was Nabarro Nathanson.

The firm revealed plans to overhaul its European best friends network and expand it into Italy and Spain.

Selected Nabarros partners are increasingly networking and meeting potential best friends in both Italy and Spain, while Scandinavia is also understood to be in the firm’s sights.

“There’s been a decision internally that we’ll turn our back on the US in favour of European growth through the best friends network,” a Nabarros partner told The Lawyer.

The firm currently has best friends relationships with GSK Gassner Stockmann & Kollegen in Germany and August & Debouzy in France.

Nabarros international committee chair Michael Hales said the firm was “always open to opportunities”, but declined to confirm that the firm was in discussions.

European Commission promises legal leg-up

The appetite for European expansion displayed by a growing group of firms was given a fillip last month by the European Commission, which warned EU countries that it would act against tough entrance restrictions and rules that limited services offered by lawyers.em>

The pledge, made in a speech by EU Competition Commissioner Neelie Kroes at a UK Government seminar in London in November, came as the Commission staged a competition review of professional services.

Kroes proposed a proportionality test to assess if existing restrictive professional regulations and rules can be justified objectively.

Only rules that “have a clearly defined public interest objective” and are the “least restrictive of competition to achieve that desired objective” should be preserved, according to Kroes, who singled out for criticism set fees and national bans on lawyers advertising.

Kroes said the same applied to monopolies, such as why conveyancing is restricted to notaries and lawyers.

Brussels is currently working with member states, hoping they will liberalise unilaterally their professions, but it will use competition powers if necessary.