Legal Opportunities in Brussels
Brussels is a vibrant city in the heart of Europe. English is widely spoken but the city’s mother-tongues are Flemish and French. The population sits at around 1.1 million with at least a quarter of its inhabitants made up of ex-pats from across the globe.
Legal Market in Brussels
The quality of legal practice in Brussels is second-to-none, being at the cutting-edge of EU anti-trust and competition law. Whilst there are some local law firms and other European outfits, it is the UK Magic Circle and New York white shoe firms which dominate. As an evolving and dynamic jurisdiction, the landscape relating to who’s who regularly changes, with firms opening up new offices from time-to-time.
Legal Opportunities and Predicted Trends for 2015/16
In positive news for Brussels-based or Brussels-bound lawyers, and indeed for the law firms themselves, we have observed the Belgian legal recruitment market becoming increasingly busy over the last 12 months. There has been an increase in workflow across all transactional areas, but particularly within the market’s ‘engine-room’ practice area, EU/competition law.
It is still apparent that practice areas outside of EU/competition (namely corporate, finance, real-estate and dispute resolution) are the reserve of local Belgian qualified lawyers. However, there is a notable appetite for overseas qualified lawyers in EU/Competition, and lawyers from the UK, Germany, and the Netherlands are especially sought after.
The work on offer tends to include a mix of general competition, anti-trust, cartel, state aid, ‘whistleblower’ cases and merger matters. Various European languages are desirable. And for most positions, perfect written and spoken English skills are essential. There are almost always opportunities for high calibre candidates, ranging from newly qualified to partner level. To put you in a strong position, at least one seat in your training contract (in London or Brussels) and/or good training post-qualification is essential. Some experience with the Commission (‘stage’) may be helpful, as will post-graduate study (LLM) in the field.
Remuneration & Benefits
For a common law lawyer, salaries in Brussels are usually equal to those in London. This has not always been the case. Until recently, the Brussels market paid common law lawyers up to 20% less than their London counterparts.
A newly qualified lawyer at a strong UK firm for example, could expect to be paid the same as their London peers, depending upon the strength of the Euro.
As in other parts of Europe, lawyers can expect to be paid on a self-employed basis whereby they submit monthly invoices for the agreed rate.
The cost of living is considerably lower in Brussels than London by about 40%. In particular, accommodation is cheap in comparison to London and the overall cost of living is typically around 40% less. You’ll pay around €1,000–1,500 per month for a two-bedroom apartment in the city centre.
Living in a major European capital, you can expect to find a variety of after-hours pursuits on your door step – and on the basis of significantly shorter commute times alone, you will definitely have more leisure to enjoy them. One of the joys of Brussels is discovering the beauty in the history and the idiosyncrasies of its diverse and multi-cultural population. One constant is the enviable quality of everyday life, with a café/bar scene that keeps things social.
Belgium is also well located for travelling throughout Europe with London, Paris and Amsterdam only a short train ride away.