A new Amsterdam-based firm aims to take advantage of a growing European market for mass claims and opportunities to work with funders on a range of commercial cases.
Unveiled last week in Amsterdam, Birkway is aiming to combine a United States claimant model with a civil law sensibility, in what its founders believe is a fresh approach to dispute resolution in Europe, particularly in class actions.
The firm has four partners, all established practitioners in the Netherlands, with plans for a second office and further hires in the coming months.
One of the founders, Ianika Tzankova, tells CDR that Birkway’s “natural habitat” will be financial cases, including consumer and regulation claims, as well as securities, competition and data protection matters.
Although the firm is not a class actions boutique and will be working on a range of commercial and investment disputes, she touts the firm’s collective actions experience, saying “mass claim dispute resolution has become a specialisation in itself”, and predicting a future need for “mass claim specialised lawyers in addition to lawyers who specialise in a certain substantive area of law”.
Class actions “are becoming increasingly complicated even for lawyers who specialise in that field while the question is whether the judiciary is sufficiently trained and prepared to deal with collective redress” she adds. “Furthermore, one sees different litigation patterns with respect to competition and financial disputes, between domestic and international matters. What currently seem to be lacking in civil litigation are product liability cases. That might change however.”
It is not the only disputes-focused firm to be building out from the Dutch capital. Well-established international disputes boutique Hausfeld opened an Amsterdam office in early 2020. Elsewhere, disputes boutiques have had a resurgence in the past few years in Germany, a market which will likely also be of interest to Birkway.
Tzankova is joined at the new firm by partners Joost Edixhoven and Michiel Van Eersel, both formerly of Amsterdam-based VIOTTA Advocaten, and Quirijn Bongaerts, whose varied career included a stint at De Braew Blackstone Westbroek and Amsterdam commercial firm JB Law.
Tzankova herself is an academic with Tilburg University, which she intends to combine with her role at Birkway, and had short spells with third-party funders Burford Capital and Bentham Europe (now Omni Bridgeway). She previously practiced with Dutch firms NautaDutilh and BarentsKrans and her own firm.
The founding partners believe there is a gap in the market between the entrepreneurial approach of lawyers and funders from the US, and the European market, where those ideas “get lost in translation”, according to Tzankova. “At the same time, we do not want to be typecast as a US-style plaintiff only firm,” she adds.
The firm is targeting professional negligence claims against financial service providers, fund-related cases and regulatory matters, among others, with the aim of acting for a broad base of clients, for whom it can co-counsel with Dutch and foreign lawyers on managing multi-jurisdictional disputes or obtaining funding.
Although the European funding market has grown in size and sophistication over the past decade, Birkway believes that law firms and clients struggle with identifying the best providers, and Tzankova and her partners see an opportunity to embrace funding, at a time “when most European lawyers are more or less scared of it”.
The firm will also offer litigation project management services. “Funders expect lawyers to actively manage international matters, while most lawyers and law firms are not used to operating outside their own jurisdiction. Litigation project management is often outsourced to US global law firms,” but that is not always affordable and sometimes leads to misunderstandings.
The new firm also sees potential in acting for family-owned businesses. “The percentage of family businesses as a percentage of investment is huge,” she says. “Typically the listed companies and multinationals get all the attention, but there is this other area and family businesses typically don’t have huge litigation departments.”
Edixhoven has worked on shareholder, insolvency and directors and officers’ matters, and has particular expertise in environmental governance. Van Eersel brings a background in financial litigation and regulation, including cryptocurrency, while Bongaerts has mergers and acquisitions (M&A) and in-house legal experience from a role at the Dutch Investors Association and has also worked on fraud-related litigation and mass consumer claims.
Tzankova discussed European collective redress and arbitration at Global Legal Group’s Global Class Actions Symposium in November last year. She and Bongaerts first met on opposing sides of a case 18 months ago, subsequently working together, during which, she says, “we discovered that we share the same values and ambitions to set up an international conflict free dispute resolution boutique”.
Edixhoven and van Eersel had similar ambitions and after working with Bongaerts on the Volkswagen emissions case, the two pairs joined forces.
Looking ahead, Tzankova anticipates a busy year for Covid-related disputes relating to insurance, government and contracts, as well as Brexit-related, fraud, data protection, insolvency and property matters.
Simmons & Simmons hired an Amsterdam intellectual property (IP) partner late last year from De Brauw Blackstone Westbroek, while this year Bird & Bird hired three Dutch IP partners of its own. In Belgium, McDermott Will & Emery last month added a European Union competition lawyer.