Catherine Longeval, Partner, Van Bael & Bellis.
How long have you been working for your current company?
Since January 1994.
Briefly explain your career history and what led you to your current position.
I obtained a law degree at the Katholieke Universiteit Leuven (KUL), Belgium in 1987 and a Master's Degree in European Law at the Université Libre de Bruxelles (ULB), Belgium in 1989.
I started my professional career in October 1989, as an associate with Brussels law firm Van Ryn, Van Ommeslaghe, Van Beirs, Faurès & Flagey. In January 1994, I joined Van Bael & Bellis and I became a partner in 1997. I specialise in litigation before the Belgian courts with a particular emphasis on pharmaceutical law, collective and individual employment law and unfair trade practices. I also advise clients on a wide range of issues in these and other areas including distribution law, product liability and general commercial law.
What is your proudest professional achievement and why?
Becoming the first female partner at our firm.
What are the greatest challenges that you face in your current role and what do you do to overcome them?
The law is becoming ever more complex and this requires constant training on our part in order to stay updated about all new developments. Moreover, as a result of ever increasing globalization, we work increasingly on global projects for clients with establishments in different time zones which requires a lot of careful management of the files, the work product of the associates, the deadlines, etc. and close collaboration with the clients’ law firms in other jurisdictions.
How difficult is it for you personally to attain work-life balance and how do you endeavour to do this?
It is sometimes hard for me to maintain a good work-life balance as I have to juggle three children of school-going age with a demanding job in which no two days are the same. I am fortunate in that I have help at home and a supportive husband.
Did you have a mentor or role model in your career or while you were studying law? Who were they and how did they help you?
There are no other lawyers in my family so I was not following in anybody’s footsteps in that respect. My parents were of great help as they supported me financially throughout my studies and during my first year at the bar. There were several female partners at my first firm whom I looked up to as a trainee.
How effective do you think corporate diversity initiatives are? What methods do you think are most effective and why?
I think such initiatives can be effective and therefore law firms need to continue promoting them. They are more developed still at this stage in US and UK law firms than in continental Europe. That being said, as regards women in particular, there is no denying that a legal career is demanding and that women often get the impression in the longer term that they cannot combine that career with having and raising children. This explains why, at least in Belgium, there are still relatively few female partners in the larger law firms and why many female lawyers leave the bar in their late twenties/early thirties. The most effective methods in my view to ensure that women stay at the bar and reach partnership level are those that accommodate working mothers’ needs in terms of flexible working time, working from home, etc.
Were there any points in your career when you felt you were at a disadvantage or at an advantage because you were female?
No, in both law firms where I have worked, men and women were treated in a non-discriminatory manner. Throughout my pregnancies and maternity leaves, my current firm has been extremely supportive.
What do you think have been the most significant changes for women in the legal industry over the past five years?
I think that the legal industry as a whole has become more aware of the valuable contribution female lawyers can make to their firm and clients and is taking more initiatives to ensure that a proper work-life balance, which women sometimes value more than men, can be achieved.