The Benelux countries, Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg, may be closely linked in terms of demographics, but their varied regulatory landscapes have created unique disparities in their legal markets.
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Benelux: International vs Independent

Posted by: Marlous Donders 30/06/16

The Benelux countries, Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg, may be closely linked in terms of demographics, but their varied regulatory landscapes have created unique disparities in their legal markets.

The Dutch legal market has remained incredibly strong over recent years, despite a large international presence and a number of external economic challenges. Unlike neighbouring Benelux nation Belgium, where the domestic market has suffered under the sustained pressure exerted by international firms, independent practices in the Netherlands continue to prosper despite the strong foothold of Magic Circle firms in the country. The nation is home to the Benelux headquarters of a large number of international firms, yet has been impacted less by their presence than neighbouring Belgium, and is experiencing an upsurge in work due to financial services and health care regulatory environments.

The international firms who have opened their European offices in the Netherlands in the last years are here mainly to serve the international in-house clientele; a market which, with the impending consequences of Brexit and Amsterdam named as a new location for companies to settle, will likely only grow in the future. However, despite the change towards a more international market place over the last years, large parts of the Dutch economy remain very Dutch, with a focus on Dutch laws and regulations and where the Dutch language is still the main way of communication and Dutch lawyers will always be needed.

Belgium has two distinct legal markets, a collection of US, UK and European firms which are highly EU centric and a domestic legal services market. The heavy presence of Magic Circle giants such as Linklaters, Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer and Allen & Overy has contested independent Belgium firms’ stake in transactional work, subsequently leading to their diminished domestic presence in the legal market. However, supporters of the independent model suggest that independent firms are remaining sustainable as clients continue to seek out competitive prices.

Belgium, and more specifically Brussels, has a strong selection of EU focused lawyers, as it is, among others, the heart of the European competition, anti-trust and regulatory law market. In our experience, candidates with a background in these fields will be very interesting for companies anywhere in the EU as, especially in recent months, the need for competition or anti-trust lawyers is growing. Companies based in Brussels are overall multinationals that chose Belgium as a location due to the EU connection or the demographic benefits (many ‘Benelux covering’ roles are located here) and who are not necessarily looking for typical Belgian lawyers, but attract legal knowledge from all over the world.

For a small country, with a comparatively small population, Luxembourg’s legal market also continues to thrive. The nation’s economy boasts incredibly strong growth, with GDP rising 4.8% year on year in 2015. It global reputation for financial services means that, like the Netherlands, it attracts a significant amount of international firms.

Given the challenges presented when relocating international legal professionals, Benelux practices are more likely to expand their headcount with local lawyers. However the demand for legal professionals with managerial and leadership skills remains strong, and a position in a Benelux firm, either international or independent, would likely prove a lucrative and successful move for ambitious lawyers.


Tagged In: Europe, In-house
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