Attorneys with a personal touch
TEXT: EVA MENGER | PHOTO © WWW.A-LEX.BE
A.lex attorneys are more than just attorneys: they are their customers’ sidekicks – their number one go-to for both legal and personal enquiries. When founding partners – and childhood acquaintances – Kevin Desmet and Julie Van Acker bumped into each other for the first time in years, they each had already had a long history in working for large, corporate law firms. As they were both seeking a change, the decision to start their own, much more personal firm, was easily made.
“We were both looking for something a little more hands-on,” says Van Acker, hinting at the often long-winded, bureaucratic procedures inherent to large organisations. “When we realised that we could complement each other rather than being one another’s competition, starting our own firm seemed a very logical thing to do.” Together, Desmet, Van Acker, and their associates Jean-Marc Simoens and Nicolas Lauwers, have become experts in supporting medium-sized businesses and entrepreneurs.
“We aim to be an extension of our client,” Desmet explains. “We very much enjoy taking on an advisory role rather than just responding to our clients’ immediate needs.” Each legal action is carefully considered, and every personal, professional and financial aspect of the client is taken into account. He continues: “Though we do assist our clients during legal procedures, we aim to prevent these long, expensive procedures from happening in the first place. It is mainly thanks to our advisory roles that we are often able to do so. As we are a small firm, we can offer our clients non-stop availability, reliable service and a very personal relationship.” And that is where their core strength lies: the ability to break down the classic barrier between client and attorney.
Though the firm is slowly growing, Desmet and Van Acker are not too focused on expanding. “We are currently looking to hire a new associate, but expanding our firm is not our priority,” says Van Acker. “Adequate assistance in a limited number of cases is preferred to poor assistance in hundreds of cases. Besides, the scale of our team allows us to work together without any hierarchy or communication issues.”
The firm’s areas of expertise are social and commercial law, corporate and tax law and estate planning. As they are based in the ‘Texas of Flanders’, a small prosperous region in the Kortrijk area near the French border, they focus predominantly on small to medium-sized businesses (up to 150 employees) and high net-worth individuals. Still, that does not mean that client relationships are strictly juridical: “One of the best things about our approach is that every now and then, clients call up just to get something off their chest. They know what they tell us remains confidential, and experiencing that amount of trust makes us very proud of what we do,” says Desmet.
While Desmet and Lauwers predominantly focus on estate planning and (corporate) tax related cases, Van Acker and Simoens are specialised in HR and commercial law. This mostly involves helping businesses set up their corporate structure, examine its tax implications, draft their terms and conditions, implement legally enforceable ordering processes and detect privacy or safety (welfare) issues. All of this, as Van Acker states, can only be done properly when you know the company inside out. “Before doing anything, I visit our clients for initial inspections. That way, I know exactly how people work, what procedures are in place, and which ones are missing. This all needs to be reflected in the terms and conditions we set up for our clients.”
Ultimately, this leads to a good relationship in which both parties help each other. “I truly learn from my clients every single day,” Van Acker admits. “Social inspection is rigorous in Belgium, and it is rewarding to see that I can help take away some of my clients’ biggest worries. When we recently won a tricky and rather unreasonable case for a Flemish fire department, I was happiest about being able to make my clients’ lives easier.”
Despite their modest size, A.lex is not limited to national law. As they have good multidisciplinary partnerships throughout Europe, the United States, Asia and beyond, they can find out about how international laws affect their clients’ specific circumstances at the drop of a hat. “When a new Belgian tax law was implemented recently, a client called up to ask how a foreign bank would be adapting his procedures to it. I only needed to make one quick phone call in order to find out,” Desmet says.
In combination with the in-house specialties, these international, multidisciplinary partnerships make sure that A.lex can offer their clients full covering services. “When a company is restructuring, for example, we will be able to help them from start to finish,” Van Acker explains. “Essentially, this means that we offer the exact same services as all the bigger firms, though with us, clients will not have to worry about bureaucracy or a lack of transparency.”
This focus on transparency means that A.lex attorneys always put honesty first. “The reason we conduct cost-benefit analysis for all of our clients is because we want to make sure that we know exactly what is going on in order to give the best possible recommendations,” Desmet emphasises. “It is for the same reason that we often work with fixed rates. We want our clients to know exactly what they can expect when they work with us, both practically and financially.”
Whether you are an entrepreneur or own a small to medium-sized business, the benefits of working with A.lex are multifold. First of all, the very reason the firm was founded is because Desmet and Van Acker wanted to take on more advisory roles. What is not to like about attorneys that go above and beyond, just so that they can properly advise you on what is best for you and your business? Second, their exceptionally personal approach will never leave you in the dark, no matter how small or big the issue, whatever the time. And lastly, they truly care about wellbeing on the work floor, which means that they will not just help your business with legal matters, but will also advise you on every other aspect of HR, including employment standards and employee benefits.