Many of NautaDutilh’s lawyers work in New York or London for a part of their careers. “This one- or two-year period abroad is a time of professional and personal discovery. Working abroad requires courage and is not always easy, but incredibly valuable. Not only for yourself, but also for our firm and our clients.”
Elizabeth van Schilfgaarde leads the New York office. “This office serves as on the ground Dutch, Belgian and Luxembourg counsel in US transactions and litigation, working closely with major US law firms, financial institutions and corporate clients. By practicing Dutch, Belgian and Luxembourg law alongside these US based businesses, we are immersed in US professional practice,” she explains. “An experience like this, where you must be ‘on’ all the time, practicing in a different language, at a - sometimes - even faster pace than back home, in a different country, inevitably leads to growth. You revisit many of the expectations and beliefs you took for granted, find a new meaning to some of them, discard or hunker down on others.”
Serving clients within their frame of expectations
“The saying ‘time is money’ is taken very literally in the US. This may be a reason people in the US have a different notion of work life balance than you might have brought over from the Netherlands, Belgium or Luxembourg. In addition, politics may be more charged than they are back home. It can be challenging to find a balance in serving your clients within their frame of expectations on tempo and communication style. You will need to figure out how to meet US timing and availability expectations, while still being comfortable with how you spend your time. You will also need to learn how to address issues effectively with your US audience. The Dutch are known to be direct and generally somewhat proud of that. However, it does not work to expect your clients to accept your explanation that you are not ‘blunt’ or ‘rude’ but that you are ‘just Dutch’.
You will be given plenty of space here to discover new aspects of yourself. You will undoubtedly encounter yourself here. At the same time, you will be more open to perspectives that you might have less room for in typical professional settings. In addition, you can try on approaches that you may not have dared to in the Netherlands. When you step up to meet all these challenges head on, you are bound to find that this can be a lot of fun. The best thing is that you learn to create space not only for yourself, but also for the people around you.”
Diversity, equity & inclusion
“For at least the past 20 years diversity and inclusion has been a requirement for engagement by many US companies,” Elizabeth continues. “Well before this became a topic in the Netherlands, Belgium or Luxembourg, US companies have been asking about the composition of the teams of their professional service providers. Their questions include: are women part of the team? Is there any LGBTQ+ representation on the team? Does the team reflect ethnic and cultural diversity? Having a New York office gives us a platform for identifying these trends in the US and incorporating them to be the best firm we can be. The US focus on equity for women in partnership was recognised by NautaDutilh earlier than in many other firms in the Benelux. By embracing and acting on this approach to equity, women have been getting more equitable opportunities at the firm than was the case before. As a matter of fact, we are proud to be able to say that the New York office has been run by three women partners for the last few years. And the Luxembourg office has always been run by a woman.”
The best thing is that you learn to create space not only for yourself, but also for the people around you.
Another example is the #MeToo social movement. “Here, social developments in the US are outpacing those in Europe. We can learn from the developments in the US. This helps us in recognising and creating the conditions for a safe working environment at the firm. We can also apply the lessons learned in our Benelux offices in corporate employment law and MeToo cases.
The differences in legal practice around #MeToo featured prominently on the agenda during our biannual US/NL corporate counsel event.”
“When it comes to the ‘E’ of environmental, I see the flow of information in the opposite direction: those developments are, especially a few years ago, mainly driven by Europe. When our partner Harm Kerstholt resided in New York between 2016 and 2019, he analysed how and if US companies and peers are addressing ESG. Marieke Faber has taken over this baton in relation to climate change and the energy transition. On environmental themes, our US peers are the ones who want to understand what is happening on the other side of the Atlantic. Consequently, Marieke is regularly asked as a panel member and speaker at conferences, events, and academic institutes.”
Elizabeth also discusses the heated debate in the US on the criteria for sustainable investment. “Funds that want to take ESG factors into account are faced with counter pressure from influential groups. According to some conservative perspectives, the green agenda is forced on the capital markets ‘at the expense of pensioners’. This is an entirely different argument than our Dutch, Belgian and Luxembourg lawyers are accustomed to hearing. Although an unwelcome note for many Europeans, it’s good to experience this side of the public debate on climate change as well.”
According to Elizabeth, by experiencing such discussions from up close, professionals are more open to differences in the perspectives. “And that makes them better lawyers, tax advisers and civil-law notaries. That is why I am very curious to know what we from New York can contribute to the discussion in our international practice about not only the S, but also the E and G of the ESG factors.”
“What raising the bar means to me personally? I want to help our people continue to look for opportunities for personal and professional growth, which is what enables us to achieve greater goals together. As a firm, we foster a culture of stimulating ambition by continuing to look for opportunities to improve our own environment, our experience, and the world. Colleagues who come to New York bring this mindset from our home offices and get to put it into practice in a US context. The variation of CSR beliefs and practices abroad and in the US has been a source of inspiration for the work we do. This creates an ambitious and rewarding experience of personal and professional enrichment. This dual flow of information serves to further our firm values making NautaDutilh an open culture with vitality, with room for a diversity of people, ideas, backgrounds, and cultures.”