Littler Mendelson’s next port of call in its European expansion will be Belgium, as the firm is announcing a tie-up with 20-attorney Reliance just four months after moving into the Netherlands.
Leaders of the international employment law giant emphasized Belgium’s importance for employers as the home to the European Union’s headquarters. The move follows Littler’s expansion to France, the U.K., Italy and the Netherlands, all over the last three years.
“It’s a unique opportunity for us, and our teams in Europe in general are thrilled,” Littler co-managing director Jeremy Roth said. “It’s a very important country for what we’re trying to do with our clients as a whole.”
Reliance has a primary office in Brussels and a second office in the city of Mechelen, between Brussels and Antwerp. The combination, which will become complete on Oct. 1, will give Littler a total of 1,500 attorneys across 82 offices and 19 countries.
As with the firm’s move into the Netherlands, Roth highlighted the firm’s focus on identifying strong markets for expansion as well as highly capable firms as potential partners.
“We look for the right alignment of opportunity and talent, and we don’t push the one if the other doesn’t exist,” he said.
Reliance was founded in 2009 by two veterans of international law firms. Edward Carlier had worked for Linklaters, while Koen De Bisschop spent time there as well as at Freshfields. Both Dutch speakers, the pair later added French speakers Anne-Valérie Michaux and Erwin Crabeels. The firm is now evenly split between Dutch and French speakers.
“We can plead in both Dutch and French,” Carlier said. “There are quite a number of firms in Belgium, but most are either Dutch or French.”
He said Reliance was able to thrive as an employment boutique in an environment where local firms were cheaper than international firms but less capable, while international firms earned points for responsiveness but were too expensive to be counted on for employment law “from a to z,” particularly litigation matters.
Carlier noted that the firm has already been advising a number of international clients, but it had encountered two major problems that made the combination with Littler appealing: These clients were unaware about its existing international network, and it was challenging to offer a consistent level of services when working with different partners across differing jurisdictions.
Stephan Swinkels, a Netherlands-based Littler shareholder who helps lead the development and integration of the firm’s global practice, noted that new acquisitions gain access to the firm’s back office support, knowledge management technology as well as its marketing efforts.
“We make sure that it’s more than just a number of firms that carry the Littler name but that they also function as a well-integrated unit,” he said.
Even with the firm’s rapid growth, the decision to expand isn’t taken lightly, according to Roth. “When we make a decision, all of our components weigh in on it: Europe, Latin America, North America.”