Interview with: Jan Hofkens, Managing Partner
The Legal 500 Hall of Fame highlights individuals who have received constant praise by their clients for continued excellence.
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 18 employment lawyers that we have created over the years, which is known for its hard and qualitative 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 clients 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 allows us to put the client’s questions always 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 give me a practical example of how helped a client add value to the 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 relation with the client, and results in better performance of legal services.
Within your sector, what do you think will be the biggest challenge for clients over the next 12 months?
The covid-19 pandemic had of course a tremendous impact on our clients and their business. For heavily impacted industry sectors, we expect a wave of restructurings and downsizings. The large and expensive social plans will often be replaced by recovery plans for companies in distress.
In addition, covid-19 has made us reflects about the workplace of the future and HR 2.0. New forms of organization will be a hot topic, such as telework and remote working. New legislation has been introduced to cope with challenges on wellbeing at the workplace. Another new development is the implementation of the Whistleblowers’ Directive in Belgium in the course of the year.
Finally, the #metoo end #ustoo movements, and its impact on the legal landscape, will remain a hot topic. We already see more focus on company’s policies and risk assessments in the context of due diligence and transactions. A safe work environment, with respect of the employer’s duty of care, will be an important topic. It also triggers issues such as 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 relation 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.