Brussels bar for U.S. American lawyers: “independent” or “employee”?

American attorneys practicing in Brussels/Belgium do not have to switch from employee to independent status

Why is this antitrust-relevant?  Because many U.S. antitrust/competition lawyers practice in Brussels and become members of the so-called Brussels bar “B-List,” or “liste B”…

This piece of news may (1) not be news to some, but is relevant (2) to all who may be directly or indirectly affected by various Brussels bar rules (e.g., as hiring partners considering hiring U.S. attorneys for their BRX office, or directly as American associates or of-counsel etc. moving abroad):

 The [perceived] Belgian prohibition against attorneys having an “employee” status in a law firm – and hence the important, although implicit, requirement that all associates or other non-partner lawyers must be so-called “independents” under Belgian bar rules – does not exist for American lawyers practicing in Belgium.

As long as you are an “American attorney” member of either the E- or B-lists of the BRX bar, you can actually be an employee:  See para. 5 of Art. 6 in Annex 9 (“CONVENTION CONCLUE AVEC L’AMERICAN BAR ASSOCIATION LE 6 AOÛT 1994”) to the Recueil des règles professionnelles (www.barreaudebruxelles.be/pdf/brochures/recueil2010.pdf), copied below (– let me know if you interpret this differently).

Article 6 : CONDUITE ET PRIVILÈGES

5. L’indépendance des avocats américains étant garantie par les règles professionnelles qui leur sont applicables comme membre des barreaux des Etats-Unis, il ne leur sera pas interdit, par le fait de l’inscription à l’une des listes des avocats étrangers ou pour d’autres motifs, d’avoir le statut d’employé dans un cabinet ou une association.

This may have implications for all U.S. firms hiring or moving American associates or of-counsel to their Brussels location.  Previously, as I have understood past practice, firms have required their U.S. non-partner attorneys to become ‘independents’ under the Brussels bar rules, which may be a wholly unnecessary (and HR-costly) step.

If you have questions, e-mail me.

Advertisements

Revamped Belgian Competition Authority: A more powerful national enforcer?

Whether or not this month’s revamping of the Belgian Competition Authority will create a more effective enforcer remains to be seen.

From personal experience, Belgian bureaucrats are neither the most efficient, nor the most diligent, as government employees go… And the national authority pales in comparison with the EU’s DG COMP, of course, which is housed only a few kilometers away in the European Quarter of Brussels, yet one of the leading antitrust enforcers worldwide…

Yet, the changes to the watchdog and its powers include several important structural elements that may herald a more streamlined process: for instance, removal from the oversight of the economic ministry, the elimination of the external tribunal that used to have the final say in the agency’s decisions, as well as a new settlement procedure and a potentially shorter investigative process.  In addition, individual financial (not criminal, though) liability may be incurred by participants in hardcore restrictive practices, such as price-fixing cartels or market allocation.

From this month onward, the internal Competition College will not only hear the case but also make a final decision, after the Authority’s separate investigative team has concluded its investigation and made its recommendation for how to dispose of the case.  The NCA body (“Autorité belge de la concurrence” or “Belgische Mededingingsautoriteit“) will, of course, remain on the innately inefficient side of things, as it will have to be multi-lingual, accounting for proceedings to be held French, Flemish/Dutch, and German.

On the personnel front, Jacques Steenbergen will remain the president and Alexis Walckiers the chief economist.  The current in-house counsel and auditor at Dexia bank, Veronique Thirion, will be appointed the NCA’s general prosecutor.