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The Brexit effect: Bristows to open first international office in 180-year history with Brussels launch

Technology and life sciences specialist Bristows is to open in Brussels next year in a move that underlines the impact of Brexit on City stalwarts.

In what will be its first move overseas in its 180-year history, Bristows’ EU regulatory and competition lawyers will be using the new office from March 2018 as a base for representing international clients on EU law, with the firm currently not planning to recruit any new partners to work there full-time.

Competition partner Stephen Smith will manage the new base and seek Brussels Bar registration to cover both the UK and Belgium, along with the firm’s other two competition partners, Sophie Lawrance and Pat Treacy.

‘Brussels is about addressing the challenges of Brexit,’ joint managing partner Marek Petecki told Legal Business.

The firm, best known for its top-ranked IP litigation work, advises clients – 80% of them from outside the UK – on EU matters including competition and regulatory law, trade mark and data privacy, which altogether involves around 50 of its 186 lawyers.

‘We want to be able to continue to offer that capability after Brexit, regardless of what arrangements there are from March 2019,’ continued Petecki. ‘After Brexit, the UK will naturally be more isolated and distant from what happens in the EU. We want to make sure we are still there and credibly tell clients we are on top of all this.’

The firm started discussing opening in one of the EU member states immediately after Britain voted to quit the bloc in June 2016, choosing Brussels because it gives it the chance to interact more closely with the European institutions and move easily across the continent.

It will initially have around half a dozen competition lawyers rotating between London and Brussels but Petecki added: ‘We will continue to review our operation there as we get closer to Brexit. If there is hard Brexit, we could see an acceleration of what we do in Brussels.’

Bristows is the second firm City-focused firm to launch in the Belgian capital in 2017 after Macfarlanes opened there at the beginning of the year with a competition trio hired from King & Wood Mallesons failing European arm.

Meanwhile, a number of larger international firms have announced plans to open outposts in Dublin since the Brexit vote: Simmons & Simmons , Covington & Burling (which launched a life sciences team in Ireland) and Pinsent Masons all launched in the Irish capital this year.