Frank Wijckmans and Filip Tuytschaever, Partners of contrast
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contrast, a Brussels-based law firm specialising in European and business law opened on 1 January 2006.
Two of the firm's partners, Frank Wijckmans and Filip Tuytschaever, spoke with Brussels Legal about the launch of their firm.
We started by asking about the firm name.
BL: The name contrast is an unusual one for a law firm. Why did you choose it?
FW: There are a couple of angles to the choice of this name. From the very beginning, we decided that the name of our law firm should be depersonalised. Our aim is for contrast to be an attraction pole for promising young talent, as well as for experienced lawyers. The firm is their firm as much as it is ours. We felt that it was important to symbolise that via a depersonalised name.
Secondly, we believe in the marketing value of a law firm name. A well-chosen name easily registers with the legal community and those that call upon that community. A name including our surnames would have been a nightmare to any non-Dutch native speaker clients and would have taken ages to acquire any marketing value. Such a name would be a handicap instead of an asset. So we decided to opt for a name that is easily registered in our main working languages (English, Dutch, French) and, once heard or seen, hopefully difficult to forget.
FT: The most difficult part of the exercise was that we wanted the name to convey the firm's philosophy about how we practice law. We considered many names and many more were suggested to us, but while being sometimes catchy, most of them remained abstract and therefore difficult to link to a clear message. That is why in the end we chose contrast.
The word reflects the firm's mission statement. It emphasises that we want to make a difference for our clients. Also, different from the somewhat old-fashioned view on lawyers, our aim is to be a solution-driven organisation. We believe that contrast bears out that message.
BL: You make it sound like you never had any doubts about the name?
FW: This is not to say that we did not hesitate. contrast was the first name that we considered in the process. We were worried for a while about the fact that it can be given an antagonistic reading ('contra' or a law firm that is taking a distance from other firms or wants to be different per se).
FT: We nevertheless felt that proper communication would be able to avoid this potential misunderstanding. This is for instance the reason why our website starts by stating the objectives covered by contrast.
FW: It is also the reason why we opted to introduce, at least in the initial stage, a baseline ('European and Business Law'). Within a couple of years, we might decide to drop that baseline.
BL: What has been the initial reaction from clients and other Brussels-based lawyers to the firm's name?
FW: Very positive. We have received many compliments. The name is seen as refreshing and, as we had hoped, has registered immediately. We are amazed to see how creative our clients and colleagues have been in working the name contrast into their congratulation messages! The name has been picked up instantaneously.
Some lawyers suggested that the choice of our name may trigger a new trend (a bit similar to the trend started by 'Eubelius' and 'Altius'). To be honest, we do not hope so. The value of the name contrast would probably be somewhat reduced if other firms would start to imitate it.
BL: Even so, do you not secretly feel a little embarrassed by this name?
FW and FT (in unison): Not at all. contrast stands for a challenging new project launched by a fantastic team of lawyers. It is difficult to be embarrassed about that.
BL: Marketing any new business is a challenge. As part of your marketing launch at the start of January, you sent out Christmas-type cards to clients and lawyers in Brussels with the front cover saying 'This is not a Christmas card', followed on the next page by 'This is a business card: A new law firm is born!'. Was there a concern that such a tongue-in-cheek marketing tool, in combination with the firm's unusual name, meant the firm risked not being taken seriously?
FW: The answer to this question has two aspects.
Given the starting date of our firm (1 January 2006) we were inevitably confronted with the Christmas and New Year period. Our announcement risked getting buried under stacks of ordinary Christmas cards. So our challenge was to make sure that it would not go unnoticed.
We believe that no-one who received our announcement has confused the tongue-in-cheek approach with a lack of seriousness on our side. On the contrary, many people congratulated us with the professional clin d'oeil. One lawyer from a large US firm, who called to congratulate us, even said that, from a communication perspective, our announcement was amongst the best material he had seen for years, even in his own firm. Others have congratulated us by saying that the card reflects our 'out-of-the-box' thinking, just as in some cases in which we encountered them. That is a great compliment. So mission accomplished.
BL: So having started contrast, why should a prospective client come to you and not one of the established firms in Brussels?
FT: First of all, we are of course entirely aware of the fact that there are many good law firms in Brussels. However, at contrast, we offer what we believe is a unique mix of qualities. In the European and competition law area we have expertise which you would not expect to find outside the larger international firms. That is to say that we have represented clients, including the European Commission, before the Court of First Instance and the Court of Justice in Luxembourg; we have second phase merger investigation experience at EC level; we have represented clients at oral hearings in cartel cases before the European Commission; we have represented Belgian public authorities before the European Commission in several State aid cases, etc.
FW: Also in the business law area, we offer expertise that must be particularly appealing to the business world. For instance, the list of M&A transactions (often complex ones) in which lawyers of our team have been involved is impressive. We also offer highly specialised corporate and commercial law advice as well as full litigation support. There are also significant synergy advantages in the specific combination of the EU and business law practice, and this in areas such as M&A, joint ventures, distribution agreements and licensing.
Combining this expertise with competitive rates and the 'aiming to make a difference' philosophy of contrast seems to us a challenging offer. In that respect, the proof of the pudding is in the eating. Many multinational groups have indeed turned to our team and have since continued to work with us.
BL: Good luck. Thank you for your time.