DLA in double Belgian thrust

DLA is strengthening its Brussels office just months after completing its first full European merger as it takes on the lawyers from Arthur Andersen’s Belgian firm Caestecker & Partners

Following the Enron debacle, lawyers at Caestecker have voted to dissolve the partnership and join DLA, creating a 95-lawyer Belgian practice. This includes an office in Antwerp which focuses on the marine sector.

Caestecker is a corporate and commercial practice but has strong employment, real estate, tax and environmental departments. Its international clients include Accenture, the Belgium Post Office, Sara Lee and TotalFina Elf.

DLA has had a small regulatory office in Brussels for a number of years, but following its merger with Price & Partners (The Lawyer, 21 January), it plans to build a full-service firm.

To start with, the office will be active predominantly in the Belgium domestic market, but the plan is to build on the international trade and transport side. There are also plans to expand the competition department.

According to Belgium managing partner Charles Price, DLA’s strategy in Brussels is to create critical mass, and following the arrival of the Caestecker lawyers, the office will be the fifth-largest player in Belgium.

“The move has given us the breadth of experience to have a significant presence here rather than being a second division player,” he said.

Divisional head Andrew Darwin said that DLA Caestecker, as the firm will be called in Belgium, will compete with the large Belgium firms on domestic deals.

“We’re not an international banking practice, so we will not be competing on international financings; but we will be competing with all firms for high-end commercial work in Brussels, especially in real estate,” said Darwin.

It is understood that Caestecker was keen to leave behind its multidisciplinary background, given that the Belgian Bar has not approved the multidisciplinary partnership relationship.

Caestecker managing partner Steven De Keyser said: “This is an ideal move for our people and very good news for our clients. DLA’s commitment to Europe was part of my partners’ decision to join the firm.”

DLA’s merger with its Belgian alliance firm Prices was the first full European integration of two firms belonging to the DLA & Partners (D&P) alliance.

Prices had been with D&P since its inception in October 1999 and the full merger paves the way for other alliance members to follow.

On 1 May, DLA went live on its strategy to become a top five full-service European firm with a significant presence in Asia.

“It’s significant that we’ve pulled off this move just days after we announced our strategy,” said managing partner
Nigel Knowles.