Lovells has already announced its first Amsterdam lateral hire following its vote to merge with Dutch firm Ekelmans Den Hollander.
Partners at both firms voted on 8 December to combine the practices and have taken on intellectual property (IP) specialist Marc Wallheimer, a partner at Trenité van Doorne, which split its Rotterdam and Amsterdam offices in October. More hires are likely to follow as Ekelmans’ appeal is boosted by its new international status.
Bert Oosting, the firm’s joint managing partner, says the aim is to grow the office from 40 to 80 lawyers.”This is a tremendous opportunity for us to move forward as one of the top Netherlands firms.”
However, the Lovells-Ekelmans merger has received mixed reactions. The strategic choice of a small firm with just 13 partners and a good reputation for corporate, finance and IP is seen as a wise move that will avoid cutting less profitable areas later on. A local source says: “The size of Ekelmans is perfect. It means that Lovells can mould it quickly to the way they want it. The rumoured merger between Lovells and Stibbe Simont Monahan Duhot would have been much more difficult.”
But Lovells’ decision to merge with a firm with no in-house tax capability has caused some surprise. The Netherlands’ tax-friendly regime has been an important incentive for UK firms when opening in Amsterdam.
Alan Peck, chief executive at Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer, says: “You must have tax as well as corporate if you’re going to be able to do cross-border deals, because there’ll always be a Dutch component.”
Dutch firms have traditionally outsourced tax work to accountants, but over the past 5-10 years most have introduced an in-house capability. Ekelmans has been particularly slow to move forward because of a former relationship with Coopers & Lybrand, now part of PricewaterhouseCoopers. The accountancy firm referred the bulk of its Dutch legal work to Ekelmans until the launch of its own legal capability some five years ago.
nal partner John Pheasant says that tax capability was an issue in the merger negotiations. “We’re actively looking to put a tax capability into the firm. There’ll also be other areas where we want to add some people. We’ll strengthen the corporate finance side – we want to build on the very strong team there.”
But doubts over Ekelmans’ compatibility with Lovells remain. One Dutch source says: “Lovells is an outstanding firm that could have done much better. The position of Lovells is far above that of Ekelmans in the local marketplace. I always thought that they’d just start their own thing from scratch.”