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Lawyers Jan Stijns and Wies Ooms on seniority at Nelissen Grade

Thirty-three years separate partner Jan Stijns and trainee lawyer Wies Ooms, specialising in construction and contract law. The two lawyers are of different generations, but they view as an asset rather than a stumbling block. \'Younger lawyers think, write and talk differently. Those differences are instructive, and we should cherish them,\' says Jan. Read more!

Jan Stijns
- Lives in Keerbergen
- Started at the Leuven Bar Association in 1987
- Studied philosophy on the side, fills his spare time with taking care of his dogs, horses and donkeys
Wies Ooms
- Lives in Herselt
- Started at the Leuven Bar Association in 2020
- Interested in politics, plays guitar and drums, is a former leader in the Chiro

Hi Jan and Wies. How did your story begin at Nelissen Grade?
Jan: 'My story starts in 1989; I was about twenty-five years old. There were about ten of us working here at the time, and we took care of almost all legal matters. Family law, traffic law, liability law, you name it. As a new lawyer you were trained as a generalist, that was how it was back then. Only a few specialised in a particular field.

Wies: 'It was very different for me! I am currently on my third year of internship and have come to know Nelissen Gradeas a fairly large association, divided into different departments. As a new lawyer, I was immediately immersed in a specific field, and I think that's great. After all, during your law studies, you already tend to focus more on certain areas. It's good to be able to pursue these further at the start of your career.'

Did you always aspire to become a lawyer?
Jan: 'Actually, no. I was living in a student room in Leuven and, while waiting for my army service, I applied to be a lawyer. There was no clear plan—I was actually planning to take over my father's business.'

Wies: 'I also never thought I would get into the legal profession. My first plan was to become an in-house counsel. There are no lawyers in my family, but there are some scientists. They tend to be rather sceptical about our profession. (laughs) That idea only changed later during my studies, and I thought it would be interesting to start my internship.'

'At the office, everyone helps each other. Jan and the other lawyers' doors are always open.'
– Wies Ooms

And then you got to know Nelissen Grade at the job fair.
Jan: 'And we immediately thought: if we can recruit Wies, we are in luck!'

Wies: 'I am a Kempen native, but I have always been a fan of Leuven. Nelissen Grade appealed to me thanks to its 'small but big' character, as I like to call it. It is a firm with a large team and extensive experience, but where you can immediately learn in practice as a trainee—going to court, expertise, consultations, etc.'

Jan: 'We do that from day one. The approach for the first three months is: go everywhere with us, see and learn as much as you can. We regard young lawyers as fully-fledged employees with equal decision-making rights and valuable insights.'

Wies: 'You feel that here at the office; everyone contributes and wants to help each other. Jan and the other lawyers' doors are always open.'

Jan: 'I find it important to surround myself with colleagues I can trust 100 per cent. When Wies goes on expertise, I know it's under control—and clients feel that too.'
'The structure, the know-how, the way of working... I strongly believe in the concept we have created at Nelissen Grade.'
– Jan Stijns

As lawyers, what drives you the most?
Jan: 'I think it's the best job there is. You work hard, but you have a lot of freedom, and you can do something meaningful for people. We dissect problems in a very solution-oriented way during consultations to help people in the short term. That may sound romantic, but it gives me the greatest satisfaction. For instance, we assist people who want to build a house but cannot get a permit. Or clients in a succession case, where we take the administrative stress off their shoulders.'

Wies: 'The gratitude of the clients we help is enormous. Of course, many cases revolve around a conflict, in which case I really go to extremes to defend our client's interests. That gives me energy.'

There is quite an age difference between you. Does that generation gap create different insights?
Jan: 'Definitely. Young people are really different; they think, speak and write differently. I have developed my own ways of working over the years, but I don't impose them on new employees, quite the contrary. We can learn a lot from each other.'

Wies: 'I respect the experienced lawyers on our team. While I still have to look things up, they often know more quickly how a case fits together and can anticipate what is to come. I hope to be able to do the same in a few years. I also learn from younger colleagues every day! Our desks are close together, so you are more likely to ask a question about similar cases. We also share a lot of laughs and go for drinks together after hours. That dynamic works very well.' Jan, you have been at the helm of the firm for several decades. How do you think Nelissen Grade will continue to evolve in the coming years?

Jan: 'I strongly believe in the concept we have created at Nelissen Grade. The structure, the know-how, the way of working—the framework is there, and we grow steadily every year from there. In materials, in new offices and in people, in a setting that works, both for our current teams of lawyers and new colleagues. I am convinced that the future is assured!'

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