International report: Van Bael & Bellis, Brussels

Firm profile:

Van Bael & Bellis
Managing partner: Jean-Francois Bellis
Turnover: €17m (£11.6m)
Total number of partners: 14
Main practice areas: Competition law, EU trade and Belgium business law
Key clients: Microsoft, Cannon, Sony, Nippon Steel and Michelin
Number of offices: Two
Locations: Brussels and Geneva
Brussels-based Van Bael & Bellis has had a huge year to date, launching an appeal on behalf of Microsoft against one of the biggest competition rulings by the European Commission this decade.

Microsoft appealed after the Commission found it guilty of abusing its dominant position in the personal computer desktop market because it was bundling together its Windows operating system and Windows Media Player. It fined the company €497.3m (£339m) and ordered it to offer a version of Windows without Media Player.

Van Bael & Bellis is now preparing for a hearing in the Court of First Instance, for which a date has yet to be set.

Aside from being a major player in European competition law, the firm’s workload is divided between EU trade and Belgium business law.

The firm recently won a case for Sony before the Commission, where it argued successfully that the Sony Playstation should be classified as a computer as opposed to a game, and should therefore be duty-free.

Van Bael & Bellis managing partner Jean-Francois Bellis said the firm drew strength from maintaining its stance as an independent.

“In some ways we see ourselves as the last of the Mohicans,” said Bellis. “We’ve seen a lot of independent firms in Brussels disappear over the past few years and I think we’re one of the last firms left.

“Several US firms have approached us for mergers, but the answer is always the same: we’re not interested.”

While Van Bael & Bellis has managed to resist pressure from a corner office in London or New York, it still has to compete against massive US law firms which have established presences in Brussels.

“We have a contrarian strategy,” explained Bellis. “We’ve seen a lot of American firms moving in over the past two years. It’s the third wave of its kind. Although we have big clients like Microsoft, we still have to go out and source work.”

Unlike the larger firms, Van Bael & Bellis does not engage in lateral hires, instead preferring to train and promote its own lawyers.

“We like to grow organically, as they say,” said Bellis. “It’s very unusual for us to hire a lawyer from outside the firm.”