Interviewed person: Carmen Verdonck
Position: Partner and Head of competition law practice
ALTIUS headquarters are located in Brussels and has been active in the business sector for more than 15 years. What is the main objective of ALTIUS today and what differentiates you from other Brussels-based law firms?
Actually the history of ALTIUS already goes back almost 40 years!
It has always been ALTIUS’ main objective to support its clients in navigating through often-complex legislation and regulatory environments by providing clear solutions to a wide range of legal issues. In addition to our specialist legal knowledge, we focus on thinking creatively with our clients to offer tailor-made solutions. Our aim is to turn, through careful listening and awareness, strategic questions into clear, straightforward answers.
At ALTIUS, we do not work in silos!
We are organised in 5 departments: “Commercial and Competition”, “Employment”, “Real Estate and Regulatory”, “IP and Dispute Resolution” and “Corporate and Finance”. For all tax matters, we have a strategic partnership with our literal neighbours, Tiberghien, a specialised tax law firm.
On top of our department structure we have transversal working groups, which allows for a multi-disciplinary and creative approach. When you work with us, you can be sure we will work with the best lawyers for YOUR file, regardless of the department they work in.
The very high retention rate of our clients shows us that this solution-oriented and client-centric strategy is very well perceived by our clients.
At the moment, you only have offices in Belgium, would you plan to expand in the future to other countries?
We currently have offices in Brussels (on the Tour & Taxis site) and Louvain-La-Neuve. There are at present no plans to open additional offices in Belgium or abroad.
We nevertheless have a strong international focus and are a member of several international networks (including WSG, Biolegis, the Antitrust Alliance and IR Global). We work on a daily basis with foreign clients and fellow law firms on both cross-border and Belgian transactions in which our core competencies are in our in-depth knowledge of applying Belgian law.
Not being part of a large international law firm actually gives us an advantage in the sense that we can, depending on the specific expertise required for each transaction, choose with which foreign law firm we cooperate. As we are an independent law firm, we are more flexible and will always work with the foreign law firm that fits best with our client’s needs.
You have been recently awarded “Patent Firm of the Year”, what kind of added value does it bring to you as a company?
To be awarded Patent Firm of the Year is a great honour, and is yet more market recognition of the of remarkable work done by our IP department. It gives us the motivation and willingness to work even harder, and provide the best service to our clients. For us it is the biggest added value, as we are only as valuable as how our clients perceive us.
Our IP department is without doubt one of the ‘flagships’ of ALTIUS. As a full service law firm, we are equally proud that ALTIUS as a whole, as well as most of our practice and industry groups are ranked by Legal500, Chambers and other international agencies.
The evolution of competition law since Covid-19 will depend on what happens with the pandemic. What do you think about this current situation and the way it is affecting competition law?
Already at the beginning of the Covid-19 outbreak, various competition authorities stated that they would be temporarily more permissive in the application of the antitrust law prohibitions, for example when assessing temporary cooperation between competitors to alleviate shortages of essential products or services that have been necessary to limit the spread of the virus or to treat it.
The crisis has also led to massive infusions of State aid in the economy and very quickly an ad hoc Temporary State Aid Framework was issued by the European Commission to enable the Member States to support the economy more. This European policy was rightly praised because it limited panic and has helped protect companies and European citizens’ jobs and maximised consumer welfare in the short run. However, we should also recognise that consumer welfare and the economy in the longer run do not benefit from inefficient firms being supported and being kept alive by State aid, which make it more difficult for existing efficient firms and new innovative entrants to compete with them.
The State Aid Framework must therefore continuously be adapted to market developments. Every crisis is also an opportunity. More and more it is felt that this crisis is also an opportunity to restructure certain sectors to increase productivity, growth and employment in the years to come. Competition law and policy can play a role in achieving this and to help ensure that the economic recovery after the crisis is as fast and sustained as possible, for example by subjecting State aid to the right conditions to help realising the European Green deal.
What are the most important challenges that ALTIUS will be facing this year?
The current health crisis has severely affected the economy, and affected the needs of our clients. As a law firm whose aim is to support our clients, our most important challenge this year is to continue accompanying them in these uncertain times.
At ALTIUS we are glad that so far we were able to limit the overall impact of the Covid-19 crisis, even though we have seen in recent months a shift in the types of legal services for which we are contacted. It is evident that we are far from being back to “business as usual” but we have good hopes that things will further pick-up after the summer.
In that respect it is more important than ever to ‘stay tuned’ to our clients and their current needs. This is the real challenge, especially now that there are less opportunities for personal, physical meetings and events. We are convinced though that we have been able to adapt quickly to the new reality and managed to stay close to our clients. The fact that ALTIUS has a very faithful clientele certainly helps in that respect.
ALTIUS has recently become a member of the Chamber. What are the benefits you can expect to obtain from this membership?
We expect to strengthen our relations with the Spanish business world and community in Belgium, and to create new partnerships, while providing our legal expertise.
In the past we have already worked on several occasions for Spanish companies. The fact that several of our lawyers, including myself, are fluent in Spanish is a big asset in that respect.
To streamline communications with our Spanish clients, ALTIUS has a dedicated Spanish desk: firstname.lastname@example.org.