Legal life in... Belgium

Axelle D’heygere, dual qualified lawyer in Belgium, and England and Wales, shares her insights on practising in Belgium
Axelle D’heygere

Why did you choose to practise in Belgium?

I am Belgian but studied law in London and Hong Kong before qualifying as a solicitor in England and Wales.

Having always been drawn to competition law, and given that the best place to do so is Brussels, I had a good excuse to come home after having lived abroad for over six years.

Tell us a bit about your firm and practice area there.

Clifford Chance is a leading international law firm with 32 offices in 21 countries worldwide.

We have been in Belgium since 1968 and have a leading reputation in the Belgian market.

We are known for our strength in high-profile and multi-jurisdictional transactions, as well as our exceptional antitrust and regulatory expertise.

Our competition practice specialises in merger control, behavioural antitrust, state aid and regulatory matters and is the go-to team for high-profile, bet-the-company antitrust work in Brussels.

We have excellent relationships with the key EU institutions and in-depth knowledge of the technical and practical aspects of the relevant EU laws, allowing us to provide our clients with practical, comprehensive advice that covers all jurisdictions in which they have business interests.

What are the main opportunities for foreign law firms and lawyers in Belgium?

Due to its central location, Belgium is often considered as the heart of Europe.

The EU institutions are based in Brussels and one can easily travel to other European cities, including Amsterdam, Paris, Frankfurt and London. This brings many advantages for lawyers practising European law.

Are there any challenges or obstacles?

Given that the majority of our clients are international players, they are often not familiar with European law and the European system. This can sometimes be a challenge in my day-to-day work.

Do clients tend to prefer smaller local firms or larger international networks?

This depends on the type of client. Given the international network that large firms such as Clifford Chance can provide, our clients are often big global players – particularly in antitrust, given the nature of the practice.

Furthermore, I have observed that large international clients tend to distinguish between critical work and run-of-the-mill matters – the latter our clients will deal with in-house, whereas for the demanding work, they tend to approach large international firms, such as Clifford Chance.

What is your top tip for a lawyer moving to Belgium?

Don’t just stay in the Brussels expat bubble, get to know the real Belgium – it has a lot more to offer than Brussels.

Consider learning to speak either French or Dutch. It will be a lot easier to integrate with Belgians and get to know the local culture.

That being said, don’t assume Belgians won’t interact with you because you don’t speak French or Dutch. Many Belgians speak English and will be happy to make English-speaking friends.

Finally, what is the one must-see or must-do thing you would recommend to a lawyer visiting Belgium as a tourist?

While a very small country, Belgium has lots to offer.

Do not just visit Brussels and Bruges, go and see other, less touristy, cities like Antwerp, Ghent and Ypres.

Or have a stroll in the Ardennes in autumn – in one-and-a-half hours you’ll have traded the busy city for peaceful and breathtaking nature.


These views are the views of the author and not those of the Law Society

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