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Interview Series

Janhein Berkvens

Jonker Abeln Advocaten, Netherlands

14 May 2019

Netherlands - Amsterdam

What is new with your firm?

In my small firm, the most important recent development has been Jan Willem Bitter’s joining the firm. He is specialized in arbitration, in particular in connection with international trade agreements and other major commercial contracts. George Offerhaus is also active in international trade agreements (both drafting and litigation) so the focus of my firm has gradually shifted to such commercial activities. Next to those, we maintain our corporate and general practice, both for Dutch and foreign clients.


Which practice areas are the most in demand in your firm?

The reply to this question not surprisingly is: the negotiation of international trade agreements and joint ventures, and litigation or arbitration on those, for both foreign and Dutch clients. We are general counsel to a number of Dutch midsize and smaller companies. We advise and litigate for them and for private clients in a wide practice area. Personally, I entertain a niche in compulsory purchase by the government (expropriation).

Can you share an example of cross-border work with another Legalink member?

On actual work with another Legalink member I would like to mention a case that occurred quite a while ago because it is a good example of actually working together on a case. The client was a family owned German toolmaker in the heart of the Black Forest. Staff approx. 100 p. It had decided to sell its operations in the UK and in The Netherlands. The UK operations were in the form of a branch and in The Netherlands it had a limited liability company. So we worked together with Weightmans on the replies to due diligence questionnaires and subsequently negotiated an S.P.A. which was substantially in line with the English sales contract. I am mentioning the matter specifically because the German managing director, the pater familias in his company, was not used to working with lawyers. As a Legalink team we created sufficient confidence for him to carry on. At a personal level I found it an interesting case because I have never seen a better example of the famous German Mittelstand  than this company.

An example of a more recent matter: Ekelmans & Meijer referred to us a Netherlands Antilles client who needed advise on a US$ 25 million ICSID arbitration, following a series of proceedings handled by an Ecuadorian law firm. My partner George Offerhaus dealt with this cross-border work, as he could deal with the whole pile of documents which was in Spanish. On our part, we referred to Ekelmans & Meijer inter alia a construction matter, a tenement improvement project in Amsterdam, referred to us by a former U.S. Legalink member.

Legalink expansion

 In my view, Legalink is doing well as a network because most of its members (or rather their delegates) are prepared to devote time and energy to get to know each other so they are ready to do and develop business when the occasion presents itself – a second factor for its success being our enthusiastic Committee and staff. It follows that in my view we should not feel compelled to fill in blank spaces on the global map in countries where we cannot find a candidate for membership who is not sufficiently enthusiastic. In other words: we should be happy with a controlled growth.

 

As regards to Legalink, are you happy about your firm’s membership?

Personally, I am quite happy about my firm’s membership. We joined Legalink when it consisted of a small band of small firms. We have seen the network grow, yet not losing the charm of membership by providing a mix of professional networking and collegial friendship. What I consider as a very useful asset of Legalink membership is the possibility of obtaining and providing immediate answers to incidental questions of foreign law. As an example, from Bratschi Ltd. we got information needed for considering a transfer of a Netherlands Antilles company, part of a listed Swiss Group, to Switzerland, which of course must comply with both Netherlands Antilles and Swiss rules. This type of service is of great value for efficient assistance of clients. As those who were interviewed before me, I recognize it is a challenge to do the follow-up between the conferences. It is too easy to go back to work after returning from a conference. We once had a South-African delegate who repeated time and again that we should “think Legalink” at least once a day. This, of course, is exaggerated but she had got a point.


Legalink Amsterdam Conference

In  the previous interview in this series, Adriaan de Buck already enthusiastically described some of the highlights of the Amsterdam conference his firm and mine will be hosting shortly. Further to his description I would wish to mention that we will have the conference held in the Krasnapolsky Hotel – there is no location in Amsterdam which is more central than  this hotel. And already announced as a teaser at the Mexico conference, we will take delegates and their guests to dinner in the West India  Company House, the building having been commissioned after the most successful year of that company. We are all set to receiving the delegates and their guests. See you soon!

 

What is your favourite thing to do in your spare time?

 One of my favourites is travelling. Most delegates will have noticed that I almost invariably combine attending Legalink conferences with some travelling in the country of the hosts. I like reading, mostly biographies, novels and travel accounts; attending theater and concerts; sports: rowing, sailing (centerboard boats) and skiing.