Top Belgian firm Liedekerke Wolters Waelbroeck Kirkpatrick & Cerfontaine has lost the bulk of its competition team and its Antwerp office following a decision to remain a standalone Belgian firm rather than merge with a Continental or Anglo-Saxon firm.
Two competition partners, Alexandre Vandencasteele and Denis Waelbroeck, have defected to the Brussels office of Ashurst Morris Crisp, while the entire Antwerp office, led by managing partner Jan Cerfontaine, will merge with Baker & McKenzie.
Liedekerke and Stibbe are the only premier league Benelux firms who have so far managed to hold out against the invasion of Anglo-Saxon firms.
The split follows a partner vote on the strategic question of how to respond to law firm globalisation and the increasing consolidation of the legal profession on the Continent.
Liedekerke's managing partner Aimery de Schoutheete said that the decision was not made in response to any particular merger proposal, but was a decision on principle.
Schoutheete told The Lawyer: “We made the decision to adopt a standalone policy for the future, because we feel this is the best way to deliver top-quality services to our clients.”
Liedekerke will be left with a single office based in Brussels and 26 partners. However, following the departure of the two partners to Ashursts, the firm will have just one competition partner.
The firm's highly regarded EU law joint venture with Wessing and Houthoff Buruma will continue, despite the losses from the competition team. The joint venture was first hit last autumn when the Brussels team of French member Siméon & Associés joined Lovells.
“Our EU law alliance will continue, although things may change as our merger talks with Taylor Joynson Garrett progress”
Wolfgang Rehmann, Wessing
Wessing managing partner Wolfgang Rehmann said: “Our EU law alliance will continue, although obviously things may change as our merger talks with Taylor Joynson Garrett progress. It's obvious that the Belgian market is evolving very rapidly.”
Taylor Joynson already has a loose EU referral system that may conflict with the Liedekerke Brussels joint venture.
The exodus to Baker & McKenzie sees Cerfontaine move, along with partners Koen De Winter and Pascal Mallien. Cerfontaine said: “We were not convinced that a Belgian standalone practice was the way to go. We thought we should have a more international focus.”
The merger will give Baker & McKenzie a Belgian intellectual property and environmental law capacity.