Niels de Waele
Senior Associate, Banking & Finance, Antwerp
After two internships with A&O, I was delighted to join the Banking and Finance team in 2013 when I graduated from Ghent University.
Since then, I have developed broad experience within the sector. In my role, I advise financial institutions and insurance and reinsurance undertakings on a wide range of regulatory matters and assist both issuers and arrangers on debt capital market transactions and securitisations.
I have always been interested in getting involved in the firm’s pro bono work, and a couple of years ago, I jumped at the chance to become the local pro bono coordinator. In this role, I have the opportunity to give something back, and really enjoy the variety of people that I meet and liaise with on a daily basis. This includes my A&O colleagues from across the network, and the many volunteers working for the NGOs we are supporting.
At A&O, we are encouraged to undertake pro bono work that we feel passionately about, and align to our guiding principles around increasing access to justice, education and employment. Our local pro bono committee is comprised of representatives from all areas of the firm, and together we decide which requests for legal advice, financial, or in-kind support are accepted and how best to use our resources. We believe that pro bono is at the core of our societal role as a law firm and there are plenty of opportunities for both lawyers and non-lawyers to get involved on pro bono matters and community investment work.
We find the work we do with ToekomstATELIERdelAvenir (TADA) particularly rewarding. TADA is a Brussels-based charity that coach socially vulnerable teenagers. Our lawyers deliver ‘Law for Kids’ courses, and we are now exploring internships at our Belgian office for TADA alumni to further strengthen our relationship. Initially targeted to Law students, we hope to extend placements to those interested in Human Resources, IT and Business Services.
We also work with SOS Children’s Villages who run a variety of programmes to support children, youths and families. Although Belgium has a relatively low child poverty rate, there are still certain groups that are particularly vulnerable to discrimination and poverty. We offer support in a variety of ways, such as providing pro bono legal advice (such as assistance with contract drafting) and being present ‘on the ground’. A couple of years ago, I had the pleasure of participating in a series of fundraising events including a fieldtrip with four of my colleagues to a family strengthening project of SOS Children’s Villages in Fatick, Senegal. Such projects aim to strengthen families in need, helping to keep them together, through counselling and skills development. Our primary focus was on training young fathers and mothers on how to develop a business to earn an income and create a stable home.
I am also proud of the long-term, global relationship we have with the Jane Goodall Institute, supporting its sanctuaries, reforestation programme and youth movement (Roots & Shoots). At the start of 2020, Jane Goodall launched ‘One Trillion Trees’, a global initiative to grow and conserve trees around the world to help restore biodiversity and fight climate change. In Belgium, we now have a formal pro bono relationship with the institute where we provide strategic advice and contracts expertise to local forestry groups in Flanders and Wallonia.
Being a part of these pro bono initiatives adds a refreshing dimension to my role, and I thoroughly enjoy working with determined, like-minded colleagues and inspirational NGOs on a regular basis. It is very rewarding, both from a personal and professional perspective.