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IUS LABORIS: STRENGTH IN NUMBERS
IUS LABORIS, an alliance founded in 2001 by five European law firms specializing in human resources (HR), has grown exponentially over the last decade. Its 2,500 lawyers help clients deal with global labor, employment and pension law issues across 40 countries around the world. Reporter Howard Stock got the chance to ask incoming Ius Laboris Chairman Chris Engels some questions about where the alliance is today and where he hopes to take it going forward.
WHY SHOULD MULTINATIONAL COMPANIES WORK WITH IUS LABORIS?
In short, specialized, timely and well-structured global advice in HR related matters at a reasonable price! Ius Laboris is more integrated than any other alliance and has a larger territorial coverage than any other specialized firm or organization. In order to streamline services, we started a training program almost 10 years ago to train associates and partners to become international project managers, approaching legal issues and challenges in a coherent fashion. Our unified approach makes it easy for clients to find their way to legal advice that covers a multitude of jurisdictions. Ius Laboris actually works as one fully integrated law firm, and while we still charge local rates, we are equally able to provide clients with one centralized bill if desired.
WHAT ADVANTAGES ARE THERE FOR IUS LABORIS MEMBERS?
Ius Laboris members clients have the peace of mind of knowing theyll be well-served abroad by specialists at reasonable prices. Our associates and partners are trained together and produce valuable legal research and products through the eight International Practice Groups that operate within Ius Laboris. These Practice Groups focus on areas of concern to all of our lawyers, such as company restructuring, discrimination, data privacy, global mobility, and so on. Young, highpotential lawyers are attracted by this international setting, and especially by the secondment program we launched among the member firms. We all learn from each other and spread best practices.
WHAT DO YOU HOPE TO BUILD ON OUTGOING CHAIRMAN FRANCO TOFFOLETTOS TENURE?
Ius Laboris has come a long way over the last decade, establishing significant international coverage in Europe and the Americas. But it is clear that we will have to focus on further developing our strengths in the Asia Pacific region. We also need to find another member in the U.S. Our existing U.S. member is leaving the alliance to pursue its own international expansion. Given our need for global coverage, finding a new member in the U.S. is of key importance. We will also pay a lot of attention to brand awareness. While it is great to be the best, it is also indispensable that all clients know about it. We need to get the Ius Laboris brand out there, more in the open for the whole HR world to recognize and understand.
HOW HAVE SOME OF YOUR PAST EXPERIENCES HELPED PREPARE YOU TO CHAIR IUS LABORIS?
Our firm Claeys & Engels, a fully integrated partnership which we run very democratically, is one of the founding members of Ius Laboris and has been in its executive committee since its inception. Our clients typically need transnational global services delivered by top rate specialized HR law firms. I have acted as a Chairman of Claeys & Engels for over four years now.
WHAT ARE SOME OF THE MOST IMPRESSIVE EXAMPLES OF IUS LABORIS MEMBERS WORKING TOGETHER?
While the sensitivity and confidentiality of much of the work we are involved in, as well as bar rules, prevent us from revealing clients names, we are currently helping a large multinational corporation in the pharmaceutical industry with the integration of a large global business it has taken over. Following a more theoretical study of labor and employment law and pension law issues that may come up, we are assisting the client in its actual integration of the businesses in more than 25 countries.
We are also running help desks for clients, through which we answer day-to-day questions about their HR issues. Help desks are established in all countries where a client has operations and a need for assistance. In line with client requests, billing is often handled centrally by one of the Ius Laboris member firms. One bill is issued for services rendered globally.
We have also engaged in company restructurings that span the globe. Reductions in the work force quite often require difficult procedures to be respected in the different countries in which they take place. Combining and streamlining these exercises is quite difficult and requires a very close and intense collaboration not only with the client, but also with that clients local operations.
WHAT RECENT DEVELOPMENTS IN INTERNATIONAL HR LAW ARE CREATING CHALLENGES FOR GLOBAL COMPANIES?
Data privacy issues are of major concern to multinational companies. This is certainly the case when shared service centres handle HR issues from all over the world, raising questions about what kind of data can be exported, who can have access to it and how employees can give valid consent for exporting their data.
Issues dealing with discrimination and harassment are also at the forefront. While these issues are difficult enough to tackle when dealing with one jurisdiction, they are so much more problematic when dealing with them on a global scale.
Lastly, trade unions are going global, creating worldwide networks trying to force multinational employers to accept International Frame Work Agreements that spell out fundamental rights and issues for workers globally, regardless of where they are located. The legal framework for such agreements is lacking and the general nature of the concepts used pose problems of interpretation, meaning employers could be charged with violating principles they never understood they accepted.
HOW MUCH OF YOUR MEMBERS WORK CROSSES BORDERS?
In 2011 the alliance was involved in over 40 cross border projects and 35% of our members handle cross border projects. Even though labor and employment law are still very national, a lot of our members works transcends their national boundaries. This is still true for Europe even if a number of the HR related issues, such as collective redundancies and transfers of business, have a common European background.
HOW ARE DEVELOPING MARKETS NEEDS CHANGING GLOBAL HR LAW?
Global companies should develop global policies that cover all the countries in which they operate. While labor and employment law are often not very developed in emerging markets, exporting best practices can influence the creation of local labor and employment law in developing countries.
On the other hand, many developing nations show a degree of flexibility that most of our developed nations seem to have lost. In order to strengthen their competitiveness, developed nations may need to take a stern look at themselves and ask whether changes to traditional labor and employment law is required.
WHAT ARE YOUR GOALS FOR IUS LABORIS GOING FORWARD?
We need to geographically expand to complete our global footprint. We can do this only through continued focus on absolute quality, which means we can only accept the best of the best as our members. HR law has become so complicated that specialists are essential. These specialists need to be able to work together seamlessly across borders. In Ius Laboris, different members often know each other better than the partners in many big law firms. Potential new members must be willing to work together closely while maintaining their independence on a local level. We all need to work to be the best and stay the best. This is the only way in which we can deliver the best global services for our clients. Continuously learning from each other and developing best practices is what allows us to stay ahead of our competitors.