A&O Dutch merger sparks desertions at Loeff Claeys

Thirty lawyers are leaving Belgium’s biggest practice Loeff Claeys Verbeke to go it alone. The departures come as the rest of the firm finally agrees to merge with Allen & Overy (A&O).

Nearly a year after Loeff Claey’s Amsterdam and Luxembourg offices joined the magic circle giant, the remaining 140 lawyers in the firm now plan to join up at the beginning of 2001.

But the bulk of the labour law practice, including five partners, will break off and join with a team defecting from Linklaters & Alliance’s Belgian member De Bandt van Hecke Lagae & Loesch, to form a niche firm.

A&O is taking on Loeff Claeys’ offices in Antwerp and Brussels, but the other Belgian outposts in Liège and Kortrijk will go to the new employment practice, which will be called Claeys & Engels.

The five partners leaving Loeff Claeys are name partner Thierry Claeys, Eric Carlier, Olivier Debray, Henri-François Lenaerts and Ann Witters. The two partners leaving De Bandt with their associates are pensions experts Chris Engels and Lutgarde Sommerijns. Six other senior associates will also join the new firm as partners, meaning it will launch with 13 partners.

Debray says: “The purpose is to create a law firm specialising in employment law and all matters relating to human resources, and to become a leading firm not only in employment law but also in pensions law, tax, employee benefits and immigration.

“We think A&O’s strategy is to focus on banking, finance and corporate law. Employment and pensions are regarded more as support activities.”

Louis Verbeke, chairman of Loeff Claeys, says the employment group was welcome in the merger. He says the Belgian practice wanted to merge with A&O at the same time as the Dutch practice, but A&O is only now convinced that it needed such a large presence there. The two firms began talking again in May this year, and the employment group voted in favour of the merger despite opting not to join.

A&O senior partner Guy Beringer says: “This now completes a formidable Benelux capability and is, in turn, an integral part of our strategy to build a truly pan-European law firm.”

The firm now has a Benelux presence of 674 staff, with 59 partners and 334 fee-earners. The 21-partner haul adds to the firm’s bulk in corporate, banking and finance, capital markets, litigation, property, tax, employment, intellectual property, European and competition law, environmental law and public law.