THE FIRM The dominant market standing of this specialist employment firm remains unquestioned after another successful year. It has offices in Brussels, Antwerp, Ghent, Liége, Hasselt and Kortrijk, and an 80-strong team focused purely on employment matters. The firm offers a full range of services across the employment landscape, as well as comprehensive advice on contentious and non-contentious matters, including pensions, benefits and compensation.
Sources say: "The pre-eminent labour firm in Belgium – there's no doubt Claeys is a class above." "It has everything a client needs in employment."
KEY INDIVIDUALS Brussels-based partner Chris Engels is highly sought after for his specialist knowledge of both individual and collective dismissal law. He also focuses on transfer of undertakings, outsourcing and applicable law issues. He has past experience as adviser to the EU and sources regard him as an "absolute leader." In Kortrijk, Bart Adriaens focuses on labour and social security law, and is regarded as one of the leading attorneys for extensive audits and labour inspectorate investigations. Sources say "he is a very constructive lawyer, favouring solutions over aggression." Brussels-based Olivier Debray concentrates on employment law, executive directors, expatriation and international employment, as well as compensation and benefits. Clients say "he is a lawyer of the highest quality" and especially highlight his negotiation skills. Patrick Maerten also works out of the Brussels office, rendering advice to local and international clients on outsourcing, mergers and restructuring matters. He also specialises in employee participation schemes, management contracts and collective labour relations. Bart Vanschoebeke works out of the Ghent office and focuses on various aspects of labour law, social security, employment contracts, dismissals and restructuring. Sources regard Liége-based partner Jean-Paul Lacomble as an increasingly visible figure in this field. He advises on all aspects of employment law with a particular focus on business restructuring and transfer of undertakings.
THE FIRM This highly rated practice is split between Brussels and Antwerp, with a compact team consisting of two partners and one counsel. Although best known for its corporate and restructuring work, the firm has cultivated a solid reputation in Belgian employment matters due to its ability to handle diverse, complex and cross-border work. This is reflected in the variety of the team's mandates, which include outsourcing/M&A work for Colgate-Palmolive after the implementation of Sanex in various jurisdictions across Europe. Other big-ticket matters include advising BNP Paribas Fortis on a recruiting campaign, and assisting Hilton with a sensitive class action type litigation. Sources highlight the firm's international capabilities as a definite advantage.
Sources say: "Extremely pleasant to work with."
KEY INDIVIDUALS Experienced department head Pieter De Koster advises and litigates on employee benefits, labour and employment matters, along with corporate restructuring and outsourcing transactions. His clients include Colgate-Palmolive, GS4 Security and Coca-Cola, and he is regarded as "a pleasure to work with." Sources highlight Antwerp-based partner Christian Bayart as "friendly, fast, clever – a rising star." He advises and litigates on a wide range of employment and pension law matters, with particular expertise in restructuring, optimisation of benefits, corporate governance and employment discrimination. He recently advised TUI Airlines on salary split possibilities for pilots.
THE FIRM Employment law continues to be an important area of focus for this enterprising Belgian firm. Its 14-strong full-service group works out of Antwerp and Brussels, maintaining a satisfied clientele of both companies and top executives. The team has notable experience in a range of employment matters, including restructuring, collective dismissals and pensions. Recent representative matters include assisting long-standing client Thomas Cook with a restructuring and outsourcing process, and advising Media Markt on the conversion of 25 managerial positions to self-employed contractor roles.
Sources say: "Lydian's main priority is the business needs of the client. It never simply says something can't be done, but instead adopts a very solution-oriented attitude. A very polished service."
KEY INDIVIDUALS Alexander Vandenbergen advises clients on a variety of employment aspects but has particular expertise in pensions and restructuring matters. Clients highlight his flexible and receptive approach, and appreciate his "pragmatic advice and constant support." Vandenbergen assisted the joint labour committee of the chemical, pharmaceutical and life sciences industry in Belgium with setting up an industry-wide pension scheme – one of the country's largest pension plans set up in the last year. Experienced partner Jan Hofkens specialises in top executive and restructuring work, and led on the aforementioned Thomas Cook matter. He also focuses on employee fraud and public sector cases, and clients say "he has in-depth knowledge of employment law matters and excellent experience when it comes to negotiations."
THE FIRM This long-established firm has a large employment team that offers clients a sophisticated and multidisciplinary service. The pensions group attracts a variety of Belgian and international names, public sector entities, pension funds and insurance companies as clients. The firm also has particular expertise in employment issues related to sports law, recently advising the Royal Belgian Football Association on contract drafting, negotiations and disputes. Other key matters include assisting Sabena Technics with a collective dismissal, which also included a joint venture with TNT Airways.
Sources say: "Definitely deserving of its reputation; the lawyers have a great attitude and flexible approach, and offer practical solutions. The team is also strong in restructuring work."
KEY INDIVIDUALS Sources admire Jean-Philippe Cordier for his "technical, bold approach and solid commercial awareness." He focuses on a variety of employment aspects, such as individual and collective restructuring, social audits, collective dismissals and employee wellbeing in the workplace. He is also credited with rebuilding the team over the last few years. The highly experienced Herman Craeninckx is recognised for his restructuring expertise, and highlighted for his "helicopter view" of this area. Corinne Merla heads the pensions team and is considered one of the leading figures in the Belgian market. She recently assisted Belgacom with a legal audit of its pension fund. Senior associate Jérôme Aubertin is "gaining real recognition and has a good knowledge of the field," according to sources. He is also recognised for his tireless and accurate restructuring work.
Since publication, Corinne Merla has joined Younity
Since publication, Jean-Philippe Cordier has joined Younity
THE FIRM This firm is enjoying greater visibility in the employment sphere and has been particularly active for leading pharmaceutical companies in recent months. One highlight saw the team assist a multinational pharma player with cross-border outsourcing projects involving a transfer of undertaking, relocation of personnel and multiple lay-offs, including challenging negotiations with unions after the dismissal of protected employees. The team also assisted another leading pharmaceutical company with the restructuring of its Belgian operations after an acquisition resulted in a collective lay-off. Sources laud the practice for its quality and impressive network.
Sources say: "The firm is known for this sector generally, but Baker & McKenzie has an excellent employment team in Belgium."
KEY INDIVIDUALS Co-managing partner and practice head François Gabriel's practice covers a range of both Belgian and European employment matters, such as restructuring, acquisitions, outsourcing and severance, as well as employment litigation. The long-established Jozef Slootmans has over 30 years of experience, spending a sizeable amount of his time in the employment field. He has an expansive practice which covers general employment, litigation, commercial litigation and M&A.
THE FIRM This international firm is best recognised for its work in major corporate restructurings, reorganisations and collective dismissals. The team also advises on general employment and pensions matters, counting ArcelorMittal, Holiday Inn and Renault among its clients. Work highlights include advising Alcatel-Lucent on the creation of a cross-border pension fund, and assisting InBev with a USD120 million termination of an outsourcing agreement. Sources highlight the firm's corporate strength and praise the team's quality.
KEY INDIVIDUALS Seasoned practice head Luc Vanaverbeke is "an excellent lawyer and a leading individual in the field," according to clients. In recent months he has been focusing on corporate matters, although he specialises in both individual and collective labour law, advising domestic and international clients. Main areas of practice include terminations, collective dismissals and closure of undertakings, along with discrimination issues and pension plans. Vanaverbeke is also active in labour litigation and offers clients general employment and EU law advice. Counsel Elke Duden advises on a raft of employment matters, as well as covering strikes, pensions and litigation. Sources praise her "quick and perfect understanding of a client's needs. She's accessible and results-driven, and quickly delivers within the agreed parameters of an assignment."
THE FIRM This full-service Benelux firm offers specialist legal and tax advice, with a large and dedicated employment and pensions team. Much of the firm's work in this field continues to be in an advisory capacity, though the team is also very active in employment litigation. Notable instructions include assisting Kerry with a complex restructuring and severance matter, and advising various employers on European and Belgian anti-discrimination legislation and case law. This has included assisting companies with implementing non-discrimination processes, adapting benefit schemes and corporate policies in order to comply with the non-discrimination principles.
Sources say: "The team is approachable and has the right mix of expertise in this field. It is also capable of catching up with issues quickly."
KEY INDIVIDUALS Practice head Christian Willems has broad experience in employment law with a 20-year track record in the field. Recent work includes representing a Belgian affiliate of a major US-based parent company in a EUR4.2 million matter relating to social security aspects of share options.
THE FIRM This respected social law specialist is one of the largest of its kind offering both consultancy and litigation. It is widely recognised for its strength in litigation matters, especially in Supreme Court cases. The team is split across Brussels, Ghent and Liége, and attracts a largely domestic clientele. Dismissals and criminal social law cases form a large proportion of the group's caseload.
Sources say: "The firm has some headline names for employment cases and is very strong in litigation."
KEY INDIVIDUALS As well as being one of the leading lawyers in the field, Ghent-based senior partner Willy Van Eeckhoutte is also one of only 20 lawyers in the Belgian Supreme Court, enabling the firm to handle cases in all of the country's courts. He is regarded by clients as "a pre-eminent figure at the forefront of employment law." Brussels-based Claude Wantiez is also a specialist in the sector, with a particular focus on individual and collective employment law. Sources highlight him as "one of the main reasons for the team's high quality." In Ghent, Wim Van Roeyen focuses on employment law and has notable experience in sports law. Clients acclaim him as "a well-established figure with great skill in litigation. Van Roeyen is the real deal."
THE FIRM This full-service independent firm has a seven-strong employment team, which houses a broad range of expertise and is commended for its customer-oriented approach. The practice also benefits from the firm's collaboration with tax firm Tiberghien. Employers make up the bulk of the team's clients; recent work highlights include advising Siemens IT Services on a EUR1.4 million pension plan discrimination issue, and reviewing legal developments with regard to stress prevention in the workplace for AXA Group.
Sources say: "In terms of quality the team is at least equal to magic circle firms, but what sets it apart is its reasonable rates. The lawyers also have a very good understanding of a client's business needs and go beyond giving mere legal advice."
KEY INDIVIDUALS Practice head Sylvie Dubois has comprehensive experience in employment matters, advising both local and international clients. Sources highlight her "excellent solutions and responsiveness, regardless of time differences." She advised on the aforementioned AXA matter. The employment team frequently works alongside the sports law practice, which is headed by Sven Demeulemeester.
THE FIRM This firm cements its market reputation after another positive year. The team enjoys a notable domestic presence and also has international strength, thanks to the widespread CMS network. Recent highlights include assisting with Crédit Agricole's acquisition of Centea Bank, which required advice on integration and harmonisation matters, as well as due diligence.
Sources say: "The team is always thinking about possibilities beyond the obvious and offers good solutions. A very focused service."
KEY INDIVIDUALS Practice head Michaël De Leersnyder and managing partner Stanislas van Wassenhove are the key client contacts, and both have a strong focus on collective employment law.
THE FIRM Sources hail this two-partner team as having the quality of a domestic boutique plus all the benefits of an international firm. The group has been extremely busy with litigation work of late but offers a wide range of employment advice across restructuring, pensions and closures, as well as assisting with major cross-border transactions. The practice also supports other groups within DLA Piper.
KEY INDIVIDUALS Widely experienced practice head Eddy Lievens advises on a range of domestic and cross-border employment matters. Sources describe him as "responsive and driven."
THE FIRM This independent Belgian firm continues to receive positive market feedback. The team boasts a varied practice, handling general advisory matters, negotiations and litigation. It continues to be involved in restructurings relating to the chemical, telecoms and energy industries, and recently assisted a major energy company with a collective dismissal.
KEY INDIVIDUALS Department head Vincent Busschaert is the key client contact and advises on individual and collective dismissals, transfer of undertakings and corporate-related labour law with experience in litigation.
THE FIRM This small but skilled team covers advice and litigation relating to compensation and benefits, M&A, outsourcing and public and private sector strikes. The group also has experience in council issues and the implementation of pension plans and compliance policies, as well as individual dismissals and litigation cases.
KEY INDIVIDUALS Managing partner Philippe François heads up the Belgian employment group and has represented names such as Unilever, FedEx and GlaxoSmithKline. Sources highlight him as "experienced, tireless and practical."
THE FIRM This Antwerp-based specialist employment group maintains its strong reputation in local employment matters. It represents both employers and employees, and is particularly well known for its strength in employment litigation.
Sources say: "A specialised, old-school employment law firm."
KEY INDIVIDUALS Well-respected partner Herman Van Hoogenbemt remains the most prominent figure in the practice and earns praise for his extensive expertise.
THE FIRM This firm offers a highly multidisciplinary service thanks to its niche focus on employment and corporate law. The team covers a range of employment law issues, including individual employment law, self-employment, discrimination, collective labour law, restructuring, collective dismissals, M&A-related employment matters and social security matters. Clients include leading Belgian companies as well as top executives.
Sources say: "Van Olmen & Wynant is an excellent niche law firm with a fantastic clientele."
KEY INDIVIDUALS Founding partner and practice head Chris Van Olmen commands deep respect from peers and is hailed as "an accomplished and widely recognised lawyer who is doing very good work in this field."
THE FIRM Impressive market feedback and a solid workload see this firm enter the rankings for the first time this year. The team has been involved in a number of employment issues relating to M&A work as well as restructurings and reorganisations. Recent mandates include assisting Chevron with the collective dismissal of 20% of its Belgian workforce and providing on-going restructuring advice to Eneco. Other high-profile clients include Nokia, Eurostar and Pfizer.
Sources say: "The team stands out for its broad experience, international coverage and 'no-boundary' approach. It understands international business and knows the right response to strategic questions. The lawyers aren't looking for a short-term quick win but can think from a client's perspective to give the best advice."
KEY INDIVIDUALS Senior associate Gert Cuppens is the key client contact.
THE FIRM This employment team handles a raft of employment matters such as redundancies, compromise agreements, complex discrimination issues, employment tribunal litigation and outsourcing matters. The firm's impressive clientele includes government agencies, top executives and Belgian and international companies, amongst them top names Sony-Ericsson, Sumitomo, BNP Paribas Fortis, Aldi and the Ministry of Social Security.
Sources say: "The team has great commercial knowledge, responds quickly and isn't afraid of a challenge."
KEY INDIVIDUALS Stefan Nerinckx's arrival is a great boost to the team's profile and sources appreciate his wide-ranging practice. He handles the full gambit of employment issues, from social security and industrial action to government audits and employment litigation. Clients value Olivier Rijckaert for his "ability to bring solutions to complex cases on tight deadlines." He advises Belgian and international companies, high-profile executives and government agencies on a range of individual and collective employment law such as dismissals, large-scale reorganisations, discrimination and employee benefits.
Since publication, Olivier Rijckaert has joined Younity
THE FIRM This firm is experiencing a period of change after selling off its migration and social security compliance work to Deloitte. Nonetheless, it maintains an ample employment group, which handles consultancy work and some employment litigation. Recent matters have focused on restructuring and due diligence, as well as assisting companies with the implementation of package optimisations.
KEY INDIVIDUALS Nicolaas Vermandel is the key contact here.
continues to be active in Eubelius' employment and pensions groups, providing advice and handling litigation for clients such as Crédit Agricole, BASF and Holcim. Sources praise her "flexibility, availability and strong commitment to her client."
Her adaptability to company cultures and her language skills are also highlighted. Clients appreciate Bird & Bird's Christophe Delmarcelle
for his "top-quality advice, ability to identify risks and fantastic guidance and vision."
Sources also comment on his responsiveness, rapid understanding and ability to break down complexities. He has past experience in tax consultancy at Deloitte & Touche and is also a supplemental judge to the Brussels labour tribunal.
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