In 2024, we celebrate NautaDutilh’s 300th anniversary. Looking back over our shoulders, we acknowledge an impressive ancestry that includes illustrious predecessors such as Nobel Prize winner Tobias Asser, entrepreneur Job Kappeyne van de Coppello, and Frits Korthals Altes. Legal professionals who, each in their own way, had a forward vision of the evolution of law and their responsibility in this process. Professionals who understood about weighing opportunities versus risks, and who at times took unconventional decisions. Decisions which sometimes were contrary to the accepted opinion and ruling order. Yet, it is these adventurous moments that we look back on with respect.
Adriaen Schadee starts notarial practice
On 1 July 1724, Adriaen Schadee was sworn in as a civil law notary. At that time, there were over 30 civil law notaries practicing in Rotterdam. Schadee first carried out his practice from his parents’ home in Hoogstraat. In 1732, he married Zoetje van Kleef (1701-1741), and continued to base his practice at his parents address until, in 1738, he purchased an office at Oppert. In 1771, Schadee moved his firm to premises on the prestigious south side of ‘Blaak’. In 1769, Adriaen’s eldest son Adam succeeded him as the principal of the firm. At the same time, his second son Dirck established a legal practice. Whereas Schadee’s practice had mostly dealt with matrimonial property law, family law and inheritance law, under the influence of his son Adam the firm begins to specialise in maritime and mercantile law.
Birth of the Asser dynasty
Mozes Salomon Asser (1754-826) opened his legal practice in Amsterdam. Originally a coffee and cocoa merchant, Mozes Asser developed an understanding of mercantile and maritime law while working for the Verenigde Oostindische Compagnie (United East India Company). In 1787, he set up practice as local counsel to the Amsterdam Maritime Chamber. After five years in that office, he was appointed Attorney to the Amsterdamse Kamer van Assurantiezaken (Insurance Chamber). In 1808, together with the State Councillor Van Gennep and the Amsterdam solicitor J. van der Linden (1756-1835), he was appointed to the commission established to draft the first Dutch Commercial Code. Notably, Mozes Asser was also legal adviser to the King of Holland. Mozes Salomon Asser went on to found a respected family dynasty of law practitioners. His wife Cheila Tobias (1745-1821) bore him three sons: Carel, Tobias and Hendrik. Tobias continued the Asser tradition and was in turn succeeded by generation after generation of the finest law practitioners in a dynasty that lasted more than two centuries.
Advising on construction Washington DC
In 1791, President Washington commissioned Pierre Harles L'Enfant to develop a plan for the new Washington DC. L'Enfant subsequently designed his plan for the city designated as permanent seat of the government of the United States. The draft of his first lay-out shows a grid converging on the Capitol building, envisaged on the top of Jenkins Hill. On 19 August 1791, L'Enfant presented his plan to President Washington. Unfortunately L'Enfant embroiled in a disagreement with three commissioners and several other parties. President Washington terminated the agreement with L'Enfant soon thereafter and replaced him with Andrew Ellicott. Ellicott revised Massachusetts Avenue, deleted five radial streets and added two others, removed several squares, and drew a rectangle of straight lines around the future Justice Square. In 1794, the predecessors of NautaDutilh advised Dutch bankers in their negotiations with the American government concerning the financing of the construction of this new Washington DC. In 1800, the seat of government was formally relocated to the new city.
Adolphine Kok first female lawyer in the Netherlands
In Rotterdam, in 1903, Adolphine Kok (1879-1928) was sworn in as the first female lawyer in the Netherlands. Only in France had there earlier been a female lawyer. The practice which she and her fiancé, Johannes van den Hoek (1873-1954), founded together was a forerunner of NautaDutilh’s legal practice. The young couple established their firm in 1904 under the name of Kok and Van den Hoek, Partners in Law, at Korte Hoogstraat 39 in Rotterdam. In 1907, the office was moved to Zuidblaak and in 1916 it relocated to premises at Leuvehaven 24. In response to questions about her appointment as a lawyer, Ms. Kok was direct and confident. She once challenged the local newspaper, the ‘Rotterdamsch Nieuwsblad, in its assumption that her appointment was an ‘extraordinary event’, pointing out that attaining a law degree was no more difficult for girls than it was for boys. Her law practice initially focused on matrimonial law and property law. She obtained a post graduate degree in 1903 for her thesis Matrimonial Property Law in the German Civil Code. A year later she completed the task with the publication of a second part; a treatise on German matrimonial property law under prenuptial conditions.
Tobias Asser wins Nobel Peace Prize
Tobias Michaël Asser (1838-1913) combined his work as a practitioner of law with a career as lecturer at the 'Academie Illustre', the forerunner of the University of Amsterdam. The young lawyer received his lecturer’s appointment at only 24 years of age. In a teaching career that spanned more than 30 years, Asser predominantly lectured in mercantile and constitutional law. He was a man who displayed a particular adeptness in reconciling the theory of the law with the practice of law, displaying an astute awareness of the inherent divide between the two. In parallel with his academic career, Asser was an active politician who was a member of the Lower House of Parliament for many years. In 1873 he founded the Institut du Droit International. After the turn of the century Asser gained international recognition for his service to the European peace movement: in 1911, two years prior to his death, he received the Nobel Peace Prize.
Gerhard Nauta joins firm Schadee
In 1927 Gerhard Nauta (1884-1976), a notary from Scheemda in the province of Groningen, joined the firm of Schadee. His son, Hemmo Nauta, to whom the firm owes part of its present name, NautaDutilh, followed in his father’s footsteps when the offices of Schadee were established at Wijnhaven 11 in Rotterdam. Together with Gerhard Nauta and the three sons of Herman Schadee (1764-1813), a grandson of founder Adriaen Schadee, the Rotterdam family of Lambert supplied many of the legal professionals that contributed to the flourishing law practice at the Wijnhaven.
Ian Dutilh becomes partner
Ian Jacob Dutilh (1915-1998) was born in The Hague. His father was an electrical engineer, from a family of Rotterdam merchants. Ian’s own close bonds with Rotterdam began when, in 1942, after his apprenticeship in Dordrecht, he was invited to join the law firm of mr. A. Blom and mr. L.J. Hijmans van den Bergh. In the firm there was an urgent need for a ‘collision’ lawyer; a legal counsel to assist in criminal as well as civil proceedings relating to collisions on the water, especially those that involved the inland shipping trade. From 1945 onward, Ian Dutilh specialised in insurance and company law. Many major contracts, notably those associated with the hydro graphic engineering industry, were finalised under his supervision. For many years he occupied a seat on the Raad van Toezicht van de Rotterdamse Orde van Advocaten (the Supervisory Council for the Rotterdam Bar Association), and long held the post of deputy judge. In 1971, notably on account of his work for the Netherlands School of Economics, Ian Dutilh was bestowed a Knighthood in the Order of the Netherlands Lion.
Foundation of today's NautaDutilh
In 1990 Dutilh, Van der Hoeven and Slager merged with Nauta Van Haersolte. The new combination elected to set up offices at Weena 750 in Rotterdam and at Prinses Irenestraat 59 in Amsterdam. As of that year, NautaDutilh began establishing branches in New York, London, Brussels and Luxembourg. The premises at the Weena address form part of a building complex whose history dates back to the reconstruction of Rotterdam. The building was designed by the architect J.W.C. Boks, at whose request the famous British sculptor Henry Moore designed a relief in brick, financed by Dutch brickyards. In 2016 we moved to BREEAM Excellent offices in both Amsterdam and Rotterdam; buildings that meet high environmental standards.
NautaDutilh wins multiple awards
In 2021, NautaDutilh was voted 'Netherlands debt & equity-linked capital markets firm of the year' by IFLR Europe and awarded as 'Best Diversity Firm' by the Dutch M&A Awards 2021. In 2021's FT Innovative Lawyers Awards, the Financial Times ranked NautaDutilh as one of Europe's most innovative law firms, the only Benelux headquartered firm ranked in the top-30. At the Managing IP awards 2021, NautaDutilh has won Benelux Firm of the Year–Trademark.
In 2020, NautaDutilh was named 'Law Firm of the Year: The Netherlands' at the IFLR Europe Awards 2020 and won the Resilience Award (at the Gouden Zandlopers) for our community outreach initiative during COVID. The Financial Times ranked NautaDutilh as one of Europe's most innovative law firms in the 2020 FT Innovative Lawyers Europe report.
In 2018, we placed the subtle art of adaptive thinking at the forefront of our positioning. This combination of mental agility, flexibility and creativity is all about learning how to think instead of being taught what to think. It is about being able to respond to our environment, digest information and apply different methods and perspectives so the best solution can emerge out of the different – often contrasting – ideas and insights.
For almost 300 years, adaptive thinking has been our weapon of choice in staying relevant for our clients. It helps us to sharpen our learning edge, further open our mindset and create energy. That way, we can retain the best of the old, embrace the new and – together with our clients – keep on moving forward.