European alliance bags leading Dutch practice

Top six Dutch firm Houthoff has joined a powerful new European Alliance which is now looking at establishing a London office.

Houthoff, which left Denton Hall's Denton International Group of Law Firms last December, will share the existing Brussels office of the six-month old Conference of European Lawyers.

The conference is comprised of Germany's Wessing Berenberg-Gossler Zimmerman Lange, Simeon & Associes of Paris, and Belgian firm Liedekerke Wolters Waelbroeck & Kirkpatrick.

Houthoff's move ended speculation that the conference had been searching for a Dutch firm to join since late last year, when Bernard Simeon, senior partner at French firm Simeon & Associes, which founded the Conference in October 1996, said he was talking to two Dutch practices.

Houthoff banking and finance partner Hans Schreuder confirmed that the conference had been “fishing” for partners in Holland for some time. Schreuder said Houthoff's decision to join was “not a revolutionary idea”, but merely reflected the trend on the continent to form alliances.

Schreuder described the conference as looser than a mutually exclusive agreement. It was more a case of first refusal to other member firms, which would all stay financially independent of each other, he said.

Schreuder added that the move was purely client-led. He explained that belonging to the conference allowed member firms to refer clients with multijurisdictional needs to firms that they know well and which set the same standards.

Another bonus to Houthoff is the shared Brussels office to which the firm will be transferring “partner-elect” Weyer VerLoren Van Themaat, who will run the majority of the firm's EC practice. “We have not had a Brussels office for 10 years. We have been running EC from Amsterdam, so this is an advantage,” said Schreuder.

The Brussels office houses 25 EC lawyers, including new addition VerLoren Van Themaat. According to Schreuder, other Houthoff lawyers will join the office when required.

Demand is expected to increase, because Brussels provides the ideal location for Houthoff to deal with work relating to Holland's new competition law, which is to be implemented in 1998.

The new law is based heavily around EC Treaty provisions and the Dutch are expected to follow EC precedents in its implementation. With more than 140 fee-earners, Houthoff is in Holland's legal top six in terms of firm size.

Denton Hall has announced a new member of its international group of law firms. Norwegian firm de Besche & Co, which was established in 1870 and is one of Norway's oldest, joined on 2 April.