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Jan Hofkens: What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger

Lydian’s employment, pensions, and benefits partner on what sets his firm apart in the Belgium market and the challenges facing his clients

Jan Hofkens

What has been your greatest achievement, in a professional and personal capability?

In a law firm, it is all about teamwork and people. You can only deliver high quality services to your clients when you have a strong team of experienced and talented lawyers around you. I am very proud of the team of 17 employment lawyers that we have created over the years, which is known for its hard and high quality work, but where we also have a lot of fun. This team allows us to tackle the most complex employment issues and handle very demanding projects within tight timeframes. I consider this as one of the greatest achievements in my career.

What do you do differently from your peers in the industry?

We consider ourselves as business partners to our clients. We are not only there to give the correct legal input (this is the Olympic minimum), but we go the extra mile and always try to translate the complex legal framework into practical and useful solutions. We take into account the client’s specific needs, the company culture, the industrial relations and the client’s business goals. Straight and to-the-point advice is the hallmark of Lydian, and we try to prove this every day. I am often more a sounding board for my clients, discussing the tactical approach in a file and the way forward. We invest a lot in long-term relationships with clients, which always allows us to put the client’s questions in a broader perspective.

Moreover, we consider employment law not as a niche on its own, but embedded in the broader legal landscape. There are always connections with other areas, such as corporate law, commercial contracts, criminal law, etc. Being part of a full service law firm allows our team of employment lawyers to include these aspects in the advice to our clients, which ultimately results in better and more complete advice.

What advice would you give to your younger self?

What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. The legal profession is challenging and not always easy, but you can learn fast if you are open to new challenges. As employment lawyers, you are dealing with one of the most (if not the most) important assets of a company, and involved in the core business of the client. It allows you to get involved in various types of companies in different industries, which broadens your experience and views. Be open for these experiences, and, last but not least, enjoy!

Can you provide a practical example of how you helped a client add value to their business?

Good social relations are crucial for a company to deliver better business results. I dare to say that we contribute to these social relations in our daily advisory, especially when we are involved in difficult restructuring projects. Getting the project done within a tight timeframe, at the budgeted cost and without (too much) industrial nuisance, is of great value to our clients.

For some international clients, we set up a customized alliance of law firms to service their international needs in various countries. This is always done with the help of our good friends, and our strong relations with law firms in other countries which are crucial to make this a success. We have developed IT tools and platforms to facilitate such alliances, which streamlines the work for the client, making our services more transparent and contributes to knowledge sharing and quality improvement. Ultimately this results in more efficiency and lower legal spend. Being able to propose and implement such an approach to international needs, strengthens the long-term relationship with the client, and results in better performance of legal services.

What will be the biggest challenge for your clients over the next 12 months?

The war for talent is back: there is a shortage on the labour market, especially for a large number of so-called bottleneck positions. This is a growing challenge for many employers, and will inevitably have an impact on recruitment and the way employers deal with their workforce. It triggers issues such as hiring employees from other countries to get the job done, investing in life-long training and education, wellbeing at the workplace, diversity in the workforce, new forms of employment beyond the traditional borders of employer subordination, etc.

New concepts will have to be developed to structure the more flexible employment relations for a younger generation with different expectations, approach, attitude and work ethics. We help our clients to think out of the box and design the workforce of the future.