Leen Hooites is a tax and insolvency partner with PlasBossinade Advocaten in Groningen in the Netherlands, which is also an ILN member firm. In this episode, Lindsay and Leen consider the benefits of the firm’s ability to renovate and invest in technology at the start of the pandemic, the importance of in-person engagement despite the efficiency and effectiveness of remote working, and our collective contributions to improving the world around us.
You can listen to the podcast here, or we’ve provided a transcript of the highlights below.
Lindsay: Hello, and welcome to the Law Firm Intelligence podcast. I’m your host, Lindsay Griffiths, Executive Director of the International Lawyers Network. And our guest this week is Leen Hooites with PlasBossinade lawyers in the Netherlands. Leen, why don’t you tell us a little bit about yourself and your law firm?
Leen: Thank you, Lindsay. So I’m Leen Hooites, a tax partner within PlasBossinade law firm and notaries. Our firm is based in the northern part of the Netherlands in Groningen, and we have approximately 25 to 30 lawyers. That changes now and then, of course…and two notaries and staff. We have various disciplines, corporate law, real estate law, environmental law, insolvency law, tax law, of course. So yeah, we are doing very well during this COVID-19 pandemic in the northern part of the Netherlands.
I work with the company as of 1994, being head of taxes. We work with approximately four to five tax lawyers and together with some notaries who are also familiar with tax law, especially. So that’s, let’s say, in brief, a description of our company. And one of the most important issues at this moment is how to work within the scope of the COVID-19 pandemic, of course. It’s quite a brain breaker, so to say.
We were lucky, in fact, that we planned in 2020 a relocation of our office. And in 2020, in the beginning of 2021, our new office was renovated, stripped, and renovated. And we were in a position to anticipate, let’s say, working remotely and working in a more digital way. So we invested very deep in digital infrastructure in our office in order to serve our clients and to participate in a very professional way during court sessions and court hearings. So although this whole COVID-19 pandemic is a disaster, of course, we are doing very well under the circumstances.
Lindsay: That’s good. I’m glad to hear it, and I’m assuming … I mean, obviously you’re a tax partner, so you must do quite a bit of international work. And it must be challenging the last two years now, going into year three of this, going back and forth between being locked down and lockdowns being lifted, international travel being somewhat limited, and having to manage your clients that way. Obviously, as you say, you’ve invested heavily in technology, and that must make things easier. But tell us a little bit about the challenges of working with clients, both domestically and internationally, when you don’t have the opportunity to see them face to face as often as you would have pre-pandemic.
Leen: From an international perspective, this whole thing on, let’s say, video telecom calls, this video calling came up immediately with the speed of light, so to say. Because from one day to the other, we were not able to travel anymore. And yeah, we were able, with our dedicated IT team, within 24 hours to work in a digital way, to work remotely from home. And I have to say, we get used to it very quickly.
And traveling is exhausting, I mean, if you travel by public transport, by planes, et cetera, et cetera. And now these telecom calls are very efficient, not that time-consuming. You have to be concentrated. But in the end of the day, we were in the position to manage that very, very professional in a proper way.
Looking into it from a national point of view, I mean, what I saw as…I mean, part of the economy came into some kind of a standstill situation, especially restaurants and bars and companies organizing events, theater, et cetera, et cetera, where a lot of people come together. They entered into a lockdown, but also, they, from one day to the other, they were forced to stop their activities but to keep on paying their employees. And the government started a program for financing these kinds of branches, these kinds of companies, and provided a number of facilities for extension of payment for tax debts and tax liabilities.
So from our point of view, it was quite a busy period. We did very well, and it was…Yeah, we did very well, and it was, for the…I have to say, for the clients, I see it that we expected a lot of bankruptcies, for example. But due to government support, the number of bankruptcies in the past two years is on a historically low level in the Netherlands. So that’s surprising everybody. And we are expecting an overwhelming number of bankruptcies in the next few years. Because if this whole thing is going on for a certain period of time, that companies will enter into bankruptcy without any doubt.
Lindsay: Right. Right. So I’m assuming that there are things that the firm is doing, especially your restructuring and bankruptcy team, to help companies prepare for that, as you say because this is an ongoing issue and not something that is happening … or it’s not something that we necessarily see an end to in the near future.
Leen: Yeah. But I have to say, although we expected that the activities in this area, this type of law, would increase, it is still on a low level. But it will come, undoubtedly. I mean, companies suffering from lockdowns…Although, for example, online is doing very well. But the typical bars and restaurants, event companies, et cetera. So that’s quite an issue.
Lindsay: Yeah. Yeah, absolutely. And how about your firm? I know we’ve been hearing a lot from Europe that lockdowns are back and forth in a number of countries again or partial lockdowns. Is your firm, are you guys back in office? Are you still in the office? Are you some sort of hybrid? How is that working?
Leen: Yeah, no, at the moment, everybody is in the office, nearly everybody. Almost everybody is working in the office because, as I said, we have a new office as of ’21, spring ’21. There is plenty of space for everyone, so we can keep distance. And especially younger people, they have a need for socializing and practicing in the office itself. Because you have to see each other in order to learn from each other, et cetera, et cetera. And I really have to say we have very good facilities and a very good eye for the needs of these younger professionals, in my view. So that’s quite good.
And yeah, flexibility is the keyword. As a firm, we are able to provide people the facilities they need. If they feel the need for working remotely at home, then we can facilitate that. Our infrastructure is, in that respect, in order. We have internal meeting rooms where people can socialize, where they feel themselves comfortable.
So yeah, at the moment we are doing very well. The problem is more that as of two weeks, we are in a partial lockdown. The bars are closed. The restaurants are closed. You cannot go to the theater. You cannot go into sports facilities after … what is it, 7:00 or 5:00 in the evening? So that’s quite disappointing.
Lindsay: That must be challenging. You mentioned younger lawyers too. And one of the questions that we talked about a lot on this podcast is addressing the learning capabilities of the younger lawyers, which I think obviously younger lawyers have learned differently during the lockdowns that we have had and the way that they’ve had to adjust. But you mentioned the importance of them needing to be in the office and the way that they learn from senior lawyers. How has that been impacted, do you think, by the pandemic and the way that you have had to make changes? Obviously, now that you are back in the office, I think things have probably recalibrated. But how have you seen that impact on some of your younger lawyers, especially?
Leen: Well, I mean, we entered into discussion with these younger professionals, and they made us aware of the need that we should search for social interaction with these people, one way or the other. Because a lot of these younger people are…They don’t have families at home. They’re living alone at home, et cetera, et cetera. So the office is a big social part of their life, of course.
And during the lockdown, you are at home and there is no social interaction with your colleagues as it was before. So we organized…I, myself, for example, I did a lot of video calls with my colleagues, with my younger colleagues, for little things, just working on a file and then giving a call and discussing a case, for example. And although it is more or less, how you call it, an instant interaction, it is second-best at the end of the day.
But everybody was very happy at the end of springtime, during summertime, when all the bars went open again, et cetera. So we organized social events within the office or outside the office in order to restore our social infrastructure, so to say. But when it comes to the services provided to our clients, it’s more or less business as usual.
Lindsay: Of course, of course. And I think you mentioned the technology piece that you were able to emphasize when you redesigned your new offices. And I think that especially makes it easy to be fairly seamless for your clients on an ongoing basis. So I have no doubt that you’re able to service them with no interruptions.
Leen: Oh, yes, undoubtedly. And also, when we have these international telecoms, we see it also within other firms. It’s very easy, in fact, to communicate in this way. As I said, it is less time-consuming. In a certain way, at the end of the day for the client, it’s cost-saving in a certain way. Although, also as a senior partner, I miss these conferences. And I miss my friends and seeing them from time to time physically.
I hope that we are in a position to hold our Congress in the springtime this year in Amsterdam.
Lindsay: Yes, yes. You’re going to be the host of our hopefully first conference since the pandemic started. So we’re really excited about that and a little anxious.
But, I was going to ask, do you feel like these video conferences…I think before the pandemic, we were mostly doing phone calls as opposed to video conferences. So I feel like I see people more than ever now during the pandemic. So do you feel like you’ve gotten to know people better because you…I mean, obviously, it’s not the same as face-to-face. I think there’s no substitute for that, and I don’t think anybody disagrees. But do you feel like you’ve gotten to know people better because you’re actually seeing them more frequently?
Leen: In your memories, if you meet people personally, it is more … how to say it? It is more fixed in your memories, one way or the other, eh?
Leen: So if I look at you on a screen in a short period of time, then memories are fading away after a certain period of time. So yeah, definitely I feel the need for meeting people in a personal way, in a physical way. I mean, also it is an alternative and an extra way of meeting each other. But I have to say that these video calls and teleconferences, it’s comfortable in a certain way.
Lindsay: It’s better than nothing, I think.
Leen: It’s definitely better than nothing.
Lindsay: Okay. So one of the things I like to ask towards the end of these conversations is, what is one piece of advice you would give to other lawyers at the moment?
Leen: Well, keep up the good spirit. Of course, the pandemic brings people also, in a certain way, more together. So it is my feeling and my belief that in a few months, we will face another world, a better world with a decrease in numbers. People are more aware of the fact that we have to change our way of living, so to say. We have to take care of the future in a more proper way when it comes to … I mean, needless to say, but when it comes to climate change and more sustainability and taking care of each other. So it is my belief and my feeling that although we are suffering as a society, we will get through it and that we’ll become better and better. I’m convinced that that will be the outcome at the end of the day.
Lindsay: I hope that’s true, too.
Well, thank you so much. I really appreciate this. It’s been a wonderful conversation.
And thank you so much to all of our listeners. We’ll be back next week with our next guest. And in the meantime, please take a moment to rate, review and subscribe on Apple Podcasts or wherever you listen to podcasts. Thank you so much.