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Legal market overview
Belgium’s record-breaking 541 days of political deadlock ended in December 2011 with the formation of a six-party coalition. The new government was then faced with carrying out an extensive programme of constitutional reform as well as an austerity budget to address the economic situation. Belgium remains relatively stable compared to many European nations, but the continuing economic difficulties are nonetheless evident, and a record number of bankruptcies were registered in Belgium in 2011. This, in turn, has created a growing demand for legal advice in insolvency and restructuring. The M&A and corporate transactional market remains modest and the capital markets and private equity sectors remain subdued. However, Brussels’ position as the seat of the EU does provide a continuous flow of work.
At EU level, cartel and state aid practices have been especially busy. Merger control work was somewhat static but there have been major deals including Glencore’s acquisition of Xstrata, which was cleared by the European Commission. In addition, the EC’s proposal in January 2012 to introduce a new data protection regulation is a huge source of work for law firms as it will potentially affect the majority of clients. The Belgian government is also looking to bring in a new Competition Act, expected for summer 2013.
The legal market features prominent international firms such as Allen & Overy LLP and Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton LLP and independent Belgian firms such as Liedekerke Wolters Waelbroeck Kirkpatrick, Eubelius and NautaDutilh. A major change in the market was the dissolution of the formal alliance between Stibbe, Herbert Smith Freehills LLP and Gleiss Lutz, and the consequent departure of a number of partners including Olivier Clevenbergh who is establishing a new corporate and litigation boutique. Other high-profile moves included former Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer corporate and finance partner Charles-Antoine Leunen joining Linklaters.
Fee competition and client demand has led to the establishment of various boutiques with new entries this year including Quinz in corporate and dispute resolution matters and time.lex for media, IP and IT. In other developments, employment boutique Van Olmen & Wynant has joined L&E Global, which is an integrated, international alliance of employment law boutiques.