Geert Somers, Partner at time.lex

In time.lex, a niche Brussels-based law firm specialising in information, communication technology (ICT) law, was created.

Brussels Legal spoke with Geert Somers, a founding partner of the firm. We asked Mr. Somers about the reasons for the firm's creation, its structure and development over its first year.

BL: When and why was time.lex created?

GS: time.lex was created in the summer of by a team of Belgian-qualified lawyers practising information, communication and technology (ICT) law. The firm has four partners: Jos Dumortier, Hans Graux, Edwin Jacobs and myself and in total the team consists of five associates and five professional support lawyers. Everyone is multilingual and has a complementary legal and technical professional background specific to this field.

For example, Jos Dumortier is professor of information technology and communications law at the University of Leuven and director of ICRI (www.icri.be), the leading Belgian research centre for law and information technology. With ICRI, Jos has carried out a large number of academic studies and provided consultancy services to public bodies at the local, regional, national, European and international level. ICRI has helped create much of the legal ICT framework currently in place.

Hans Graux, our managing partner, has worked for several years as an assistant at ICRI and has been involved in many IP and ICT related proceedings. Hans has expertise in carrying out large cross-border studies at the European level and has specialised in open source software, electronic signatures and identity management.

I started my legal career in 1998 with an internship in the European Commission's DG Competition followed by a year of research assistance at the Italian Constitutional Court. During my first four years at the Brussels bar, I worked for Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer, where I became familiar with large M&A transactions (including due diligence exercises). I am Chairman of the legal working group of the Belgian association of internet service providers.

That background has enabled us to spot particular opportunities and legal problems present in today's ICT-environment.

BL: With reference to spotting ICT opportunities, has the firm been innovative in the way it is set up and what it does?

GS: Most certainly. Coming from large international and full service law firms, we saw the need for an independent and truly specialised ICT firm in the Brussels market. So our main areas of practice include privacy protection, e-government, e-commerce, electronic signatures, and the legal support of business process re-engineering as well as ICT related contracts.

We try to work in the same way as many modern organisations, including a lot of our clients, operate. That means, amongst other things, we strive for a fully paperless, accessible and goal-oriented service.

What does that mean practically-speaking? We are now in a position to fully decide on the nature and scope of our work - much more than when we were still working as a practice group in a large law firm! Instead of limiting ourselves to traditional legal work, our clients appreciate that we can offer strategic and operational legal support in the creation, management and exploitation of their information and technology. We have developed our own specific profile combining legal and technical knowledge, understanding of the very latest ICT developments and contacts with professionals in various fields. For example, we have carried out feasibility studies for data exchange and archiving projects, advising on adequate protection measures for large databases and auditing innovative eID applications.

Also while we have our offices in Brussels we have a strong virtual working capability. The firm is very flexible in the way it operates, so we do not need to be physically present in Brussels all the time. For a niche firm, that maximises our efficiency.

In addition, our increased flexibility makes it much easier for us to free ourselves for interim legal consultancy services at our clients' premises whenever they face a very high workload. We have noticed how increasingly clients demand such on-site assistance. The advantage is that we can decide ourselves whether the opportunity is interesting enough, determine the daily fee and divide our workload accordingly, without depending on the decision of a large group of partners. Typically such interim assignments have lasted between three and six months.

Finally our high degree of specialisation also enables larger law firms to frequently call upon our services for assistance in particularly complicated files which are outside their core expertise, without having to fear competition from our niche firm. Many international firms indeed have a rather multidisciplinary profile but really only focus on large transactions. Being able to call upon our expertise when the need is there, be it for advice, contracts or due diligence work as part of such transactions, and knowing there is no risk of losing a client, gives them a high degree of comfort.

In the end, our structure is a win-win situation for our clients and ourselves. Clients know they can come to us for complicated advice and contractual assistance and trust we will do the work ourselves as partners in the firm. At the same time, this gives us the opportunity to work predominantly on challenging and intellectually stimulating files.

BL: What is the firm's relationship with the University of Leuven?

GS: All the members of time.lex combine their activities as practitioners with academic roles at the University of Leuven. This allows us to have a very broad, high level but still pragmatic understanding of complicated ICT matters. As part of our research activities, we regularly write books and publish articles in legal magazines and periodicals. In addition, we teach courses and hold presentations at events touching upon our field of expertise.

According to their degree of academic involvement, some of our team members can dedicate more time to the firm than others. We leave it up to each individual to choose how and at which speed they wish to steer their career.

BL: You also mentioned the firm has undertaken studies for the European Commission. How has that benefited the firm?

GS: time.lex has been involved in a number of international studies, particularly for the European Commission. Typically, these studies require a cross border analysis of recent developments and legal practice in the member states and candidate countries. So we are familiar with regulatory and technical developments throughout all the countries of the European Union.

In a fast changing environment like ICT law, this puts us in a unique position to advise governments and international companies. This work has created one of our key assets: an international network of qualified legal professionals who can assist us in complex international legal studies as well as smaller assignments. This makes us one of only a handful of firms in Europe that can offer a one-stop-shop for specialised legal advice in our field of expertise in all European countries.

BL: Finally, why did you choose the name time.lex?

GS: As you can imagine, finding a free domain name these days is not an easy task. We did not want to name the firm after ourselves, as this would make the name too cumbersome and difficult for our international clients.

We came up with time.lex, “time” being a perfect acronym for the fields we work in: technology/telecommunications, IP/IT, media and e-business/e-government.

Finally, we chose to take a .eu domain name (www.timelex.eu), as this best reflects our expertise and network throughout Europe.

BL: Good luck and thank you for your time.

Other features dealing with related issues:

Alessandra Fratini and Paolo Vergano, Partners at FratiniVergano

Mario Todino, Resident Brussels Office Partner, Gianni Origoni Grippo

Marleen Mouton and Yolande Meyvis, Co-founders of Laun

Frank Wijckmans and Filip Tuytschaever, Partners of contrast