Denis Van den Bulke
An atypical legal career
In the early years of his career Denis Van den Bulke worked for the European Commission, an audit firm, a UN agency and a leading Luxembourg bank. Now, following a change in direction, he heads a law firm hailed as a leader in the grand duchy for corporate, finance and tax work.
A diversified path
In the 1990s, Denis Van den Bulke was involved in the early development of Luxembourg’s investment fund industry, setting up investment funds and other financial structures. Today, following a career switch back to legal practice, he’s come full circle as head of VANDENBULKE, a law firm that has carved out an impressive reputation internationally as one of the leading practices in the grand duchy for corporate, finance and tax law. Although he began legal studies in his native Liège, Van den Bulke was always wary of becoming too specialised, too soon. “I wanted to diversify away from law,” he says, which took him to Louvain to study anthropology and sociology, and then economics – an appropriately eclectic academic path for an early career that took him to the European Commission as a legal adviser on trade issues, two years as an auditor with KPMG in Belgium, and four as a financial expert with the United Nations’ International Fund for Agricultural Development in Rome.
Back into practice
It was in 1991 that Van den Bulke came to Luxembourg as head of the financial structures, investment funds and institutional banking department at Crédit Européen, forerunner of today’s ING Luxembourg, at a time of rapid growth and innovation – creating the first institutional fund, playing an active role in the fledgling ALFI, and setting up a reinsurance management company. But in 1995 he decided to go into active legal practice, joining the US-based law firm Dorsey & Whitney as a corporate partner in the international department, focusing on venture capital and cross border M&A. After seven years, Van den Bulke says, it was time to “leave the nest”, and he chose Luxembourg as the ideal location to set up his firm, because he saw a gap in the market for Corporate Finance expertise. He also envisaged a “horizontal rather than vertical” organisation offering his colleagues the opportunity to flourish, and one with an enjoyable working atmosphere. More than a decade later, VANDENBULKE is recognised by International Tax Review, IFLR, Chamber and Legal 500 and as one of the best European independent specialist firms by The Lawyer.
An internationalised profession
The past decade has seen huge changes to the legal profession in Luxembourg, Van den Bulke says: “There has been a significant increase in quality, and firms have become more international. There’s more competition too, with the arrival of leading US and British firms.” Meanwhile, the legal environment has become more complex, fuelled by the EU financial regulations and more complex cross-borders transactions. Van den Bulke fears that in the process, the flexibility for which Luxembourg’s legislation has been known could be lost unless the authorities make efforts to preserve it. In the meantime, he says, “Lawyers must be more business-centric and take up a leadership at initial stage of the transactions, not just signing off deals when they are complete.” He adds that “the future for law firms lies in their capacity to upgrade their legal skills and capitalize on technology”.
Facts & Figures
Place of birth: Liege, Belgium
Languages: French, English, Dutch, Italian
Hobbies: Field Hockey, Ski, Tennis, Cooking, Reading
Cities: Rome for its timelessness,
New-York for its energy, Liege for its conviviality
Places: A friends’ place for a good dinner…
Book: Paradoxes, Paul Watzlawick
Restaurants: L’Ambroisie (Paris), Mi & Ti (Luxembourg), Jardin des Bégards (Liege)
Music: Stabat Mater, Vivaldi by James Bowman
Artists: Magritte, Hergé, Van Goh, Piero Della Francesca