Hakim Boularbah is looked upon with enormous favour by peers who single him out as “a specialist in cross-border litigation”.
Hakim Boularbah is a partner at Loyens & Loeff (Brussels office). He focuses on corporate litigation (class actions, shareholders’ disputes, post-acquisition claims, etc), international arbitration (including proceedings related to arbitration enforcement, setting aside, interim measures, etc) and asset recovery. His expertise has been internationally recognised. Hakim specialises in complex and international dispute resolution. His practice covers civil and corporate litigation and arbitration, especially where it presents an urgent or a cross-border dimension. Hakim is one of the most renowned specialists of collective redress.
What inspired you to pursue a career in dispute resolution?
I started my career as an M&A lawyer but very soon I wanted to be able to deal with a wider range of issues. Dispute resolution allows you to address a wide variety of topics. A new case is rarely similar to a previous in terms of legal issues, strategy, client sector and stakes at hand. Being able to act in cases in court proceedings and arbitrations adds a further dose of variety and contingency. Finally, handling cross-border disputes obliges you to coordinate a wide variety of legal systems, which is also exciting.
What qualities make for an effective litigator in today’s market?
The most important qualities are certainly the knowledge of the business of the clients and the stakes of the litigation for them, as well as the ability to build a strategy and to anticipate that of the opposing party. Flexibility, creativity, empathy as well as the ability to explain complex legal or technical issues in a simple manner are also valuable assets.
What do you find most challenging about handling complex cross-border disputes?
I think it is the management of cultural differences that may exist between different legal systems which is particularly challenging in relation to court proceedings. It is extremely complex to make a client, or a colleague from another system, understand that what they are used to in their own jurisdiction does not apply in Belgium, where quite different or even conflicting rules may apply. They may sometimes be shocked and at other times positively surprised by what Belgian law provides.
To what extent does your work in arbitration influence your approach when litigating?
Because I regularly sit as an arbitrator, I have gained a better understanding of how to present a case, what will catch the court’s attention or, on the contrary, what will frustrate it. In particular, disputes or incidents between lawyers, whether in writing or at the hearing, are particularly irritating for arbitrators and judges. I therefore try to avoid them in my own litigation practice.
What role are you currently seeing third-party funding playing in litigation?
Third-party funding is called upon to play an increasingly important role in litigation. On the one hand, this can be explained by the low financial returns of classic products, which leads to the need to look for alternative investments such as litigation financing. On the other hand, there is a desire on the part of businesses to be able to outsource the costs associated with litigation, or even to transfer the rights arising from litigation to clean up their balance sheet. In other cases, it is simply a matter of granting access to a judge or the enforcement of a judgment or arbitral award that would otherwise not be pursued.
What is driving the rise in class actions in Europe, and how do you see this impacting the legal market in the next five years?
Certainly, globalisation and digitalisation, which have increased the risk of a large number of consumers being harmed by the same unlawful practice. The rise of class actions, especially with the entry into force of Directive 2020/1828 on representative actions for the protection of the collective interests of consumers, will certainly lead to a better regulation of trade practices. This may eventually lead to agreements between businesses and consumer organisations to improve consumer protection in a changing world.
How does Loyens & Loeff distinguish itself from the competition?
First, Loyens & Loeff is a truly international firm. When I have an arbitration in which Swiss law is applicable, I can just pick up the phone and call directly on my colleagues in the Zurich office. If I have to make a seizure in Luxembourg or in the Netherlands, I can just do the same with my local colleagues. Loyens & Loeff also has a fantastic network of best friends when we need assistance outside our four home markets. Besides, Loyens & Loeff is an integrated structure where the different departments really work hand in hand according to the needs of the case or the client.
In your opinion, where does the future of dispute resolution lie post-covid-19?
The return to the “new normal” will certainly impact dispute resolution in various ways: changes in approaches to dispute management with early settlements, increasing use of videoconferences for state court (virtual) hearings while acknowledging the benefits of a face-to-face interaction.
"He is a court procedures specialist"
"He has superb advocacy skills and great knowledge"
"One of the best practitioners in Brussels"
"He is brilliant"
Hakim Boularbah specialises in the field of complex and international dispute resolution. He is recognised as an expert in civil and commercial litigation and arbitration at national, European and international levels (The Legal 500, Chambers, WWL: Litigation, WWL: Arbitration and WWL: Asset Recovery).
Hakim has broad experience as sole, chair and co-arbitrator, and as counsel, in national and international commercial arbitrations (CEPANI, ICC, OHADA, ad hoc, etc), especially in contract and corporate disputes.
He is frequently appointed as arbitrator by the ICC, CEPANI and the Belgian Courts of First Instance.
Hakim also specialises in all types of court litigation related to arbitration (constitution of arbitral tribunal, challenge of arbitrators, setting aside of arbitral awards, interim and summary measures, document production against third parties, etc).
Hakim is one of the most renowned experts in Belgium when it comes to enforcement of arbitral awards, especially against sovereigns. He recently enforced in Belgium the awards in the Micula and Yukos cases.
In 2018 and 2019, Hakim co-authored the Belgian chapter of Arbitration World and GAR Know How Guide on Challenging and Enforcing Arbitration Awards. He is regularly invited to speak in conferences on international arbitration organised by CEPANI, the IAI and Francarbi.
Hakim is professor of dispute resolution law at the University of Liège. He is the author of numerous books and publications on judicial law, private international law and arbitration.
He holds a law degree (1996) and a PhD (2007) from the University of Brussels (ULB).
Hakim is a Partner at Loyens & Loeff (Brussels office) where he heads up the international litigation and arbitration practice.