> FORUM ADVOCATEN

WAS FOUNDED IN 2012 BY FOUR ASSOCIATES: REINER TIJS, FREDERIC ROSIERS, JANA KERN AND ILSE DE GEYTER. THEY DRASTICALLY CHANGED THE LEGAL LANDSCAPE WITH THEIR UNIQUE METHODOLOGY: THEY BASE THEIR WORK ON A RELATIONSHIP-ORIENTED APPROACH TO LAW

At the root of this is the idea that clients are a hub of ‘relationships’ and ‘interests’ that need to be monitored, supported and/or improved. Rather than just looking at what is “ legal “ in a specific “ case “, the focus is on what is really important for clients in their professional (and non-professional) relationships with other actors.

Reiner Tijs, who specialises in both public and environmental law, illustrates this with an example: “Realising a construction project is not a matter of merely applying ‘environmental law’. The main objective is to maintain relations with the authorities (who are responsible for issuing the permits), with local residents (who must be convinced of the quality of the project in their environment) and with the advisory bodies (who monitor the interests of the water, cultural heritage, nature, etc. sectors). If the Codex Environmental Planning is applied without taking all these relationships and interests into account, this can lead to (lengthy) procedures, while our clients benefit from sustainable solutions. This is exactly what we prioritise when dealing with these types of cases.”

“The same applies to construction and real estate law,” adds Ilse De Geyter. “If the client/ contractor/architect relationship goes sour, nothing good can come of it. Sometimes a construction partner has a legal claim, for example, to suspend its payment obligation, but exercising this right could lead to a full-scale standstill. In which case, it is not only important to be aware of the contractual rights and obligations, but also to be aware of the interests of all parties in order to ensure that the ultimate goals of the project are not compromised by blind litigation. At the end of the day, all that matters is the result, is in our clients’ favour.”

Frederic Rosiers also recognises the advantages of this relationship-based approach: “I mainly deal with cases in the field of entrepreneurial and corporate law. Companies are micro- societies with associates, directors, shareholders and employees. Conflicts within the company can degenerate into lengthy procedural wars. But a deeper insight into the real underlying interests of the various stakeholders can often prevent this. This is particularly applicable for family businesses and SMEs, where personal and family relationships very often define the business climate.” Frederic, who also took a course in mediation, also states: “We negotiate and mediate when possible, but litigate when necessary.

Jana Kern, proficient in (international) labour and social security law, acknowledges this by saying: “Naturally, both employers’ and employees’ rights and obligations must be respected. However, this does not diminish the fact that there are often underlying professional and/or personal interests, which require attention in order to find solutions in the clients’ interest. Speaking the right language helps as well.” Additionally, Jana has an asset that holds particular importance for a relationship-oriented legal profession: she is fluent in six languages and lived in 5 different countries. “Law can be a means to an end, but proactive, clear and transparent communication is often a more powerful weapon. Acknowledging the different international and cultural backgrounds of all parties involved is of the utmost importance. This is one of our firm’s key ambitions. We say what we do and we do what we say.

By doing so, we build long-lasting relationships with our clients and with our staff members within the firm. That really is a key to success.” “This innovative strategy within the legal profession is greatly appreciated by our clients,” notes Reiner Tijs. “In 2022 we will be celebrating our tenth anniversary. We have grown from a practice with four lawyers to a specialised and close-knit team of about 20 lawyers. Meanwhile, we are working alongside our clients on many large and sustainable projects. For instance, we are currently collaborating on the realisation of the Oosterweel connection, the completion of the Antwerp ringway. This project will drastically change the traffic situation and the way of life in the city of Antwerp through connection and innovation. We are proud to be at the forefront of one of the largest megastructure projects in
Europe.

Recently, we also realised one of our own projects,” Ilse De Geyter points out: we moved to a brand new, easily accessible location at Rijnpoortvest, on ‘de Leien’ in Antwerp. “We opted for a lot of light and glass, which highlights our open communication and transparent working method. This is the way we want to proceed, alongside our clients and the entire Forum Advocaten team. We work for people, not just clients.”

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