Selected as “European Specialist Law Firm of the Year” by “The Lawyer”, Vandenbulke continues to develop while remaining true to its DNA. Its speciality is corporate law and finance. Here we interview Managing Partner Denis Vandenbulke.
What is your firm’s founding vision?
We remain faithful to our original values and this is succeeding very well. Our philosophy is linked strongly to my dual training in finance and law and my professional background. I founded the firm 15 years ago after accumulating selected complementary professional experience. These were related to environments as varied as working with the European Commission, on auditing projects and with other international institutions. Notably I was a financial expert and project manager for a United Nations investment fund in Rome. In my career, I have always striven to use the knowledge I acquired in law, macroeconomics and anthropology in an interdisciplinary fashion. I did this for investment projects in the Middle East and North Africa, and in a European bank. I then left these quasi-military organisations to become independent and join the Brussels Bar. Hired by Dorsey & Whitney during the golden age of Anglo-Saxon M&A deals, and associated with Walter Mondale – US vice-president – I was exposed to “Wall-Street style” transactions with their pressure and sleepless nights… This career path enabled me to rethink the concept of the law firm. I saw with clarity the value of skills and gave priority to specialisation and the need to develop the osmosis between law and finance, alongside adopting a more anthropological vision putting the lawyer back at the centre of the game. I took the gamble of eliminating the excessive ratios between partners and associates, giving priority to the satisfaction of advising rather than just productivity, while setting up internal teams specific to each transaction. In 2005, Luxembourg was still a little behind in this respect. Anglo-Saxon clients were desperately looking for lawyers who spoke a corporate finance language they knew. They didn’t want academic theories, but practical and straight to the point advice. This is where our specialist and transactional strategy of mixing law, finance and tax originated. We thus filled a void in the legal market. Since then, we have never deviated to follow other strategies. The path was the right one, as we can see from our recognition as “European Specialist Law Firm of the Year”.
Vandenbulke capitalises on its 100% independent positioning, as well as on our 15-year track record leading complex, high-profile transactions.
What risks and opportunities do you identify for the Luxembourg market and for your firm?
In terms of risks, the inflationary arrival of global firms in Luxembourg represents a substantial increase in local competition to attract Anglo-Saxon clients. However, as the pool of skills remains by definition very limited in Luxembourg, these newcomers are often forced to recruit junior profiles which cannot match our level of experience. In this context, Vandenbulke is capitalising on its 100% independent positioning, as well as on our 15-year track record leading complex, high-profile transactions. Maintaining our highly specialised, extremely responsive, close, customised and personalised service continue to be growth factors for a firm like us. If growth is really an objective… Our vision is to attract a promising new generation, and this year we welcomed Valérie Kopéra, Hida Ozveren, Seamus McCallion and Luis Alberto Aguerre Enriquez, who have reinforced the great diversity of our firm, both in terms of skills and language.
What does the award received from ‘The Lawyer’ for ‘Specialist Law Firm of the Year’ represent?
We are not prize or award hunters, but they are sometimes useful in this competitive market. The award from The Lawyer is special due to the prestige and the quality of the jury involved in the decision making. It is real international recognition, much like the Oscars in the cinema world. Its value lies in its highly selective process and its influence on European and Anglo-Saxon specialists. These awards are awarded on the basis of the submission of a complete dossier, without any financial contribution, and are adjudicated by an impartial jury of 31 judges composed of the best Anglo-Saxon legal professionals, i.e. general counsels of large international groups (Coca-Cola, KFC, Unilever, etc…) or managing partners of the largest Anglo-Saxon law firms.”
We cannot hide the fact that this award is a real source of collective pride, as it is a tribute to our demand for excellence and specialisation that we have cultivated at Vandenbulke for so many years. For a firm such as ours, it is also a great demonstration that whatever your size or speciality, there are no limits to your ambitions. It proves that a consistent and persistent strategy can lead to a reputation that transcends borders. Finally, it is indirectly a contribution to Luxembourg’s image and the reputation of the financial centre, which can also count on a local corporate finance firm that is now recognised as a European champion. If this prize is a success, it is also a strong factor that boosts our reputation, particularly valuable at a time when we have redoubled our ambition to be the “next generation of law firms”.