The origins of the Tiberghien law firm are inextricably linked to the life path of one particular person: Albert Tiberghien. This man, who is considered to be the founder of fiscal studies in Belgium, left a permanent footprint in the Belgian fiscal landscape throughout his career. One of his biggest accomplishments was starting a small law firm in 1939 called “Tiberghien and co”. A project that has grown non-stop over the years, strongly sustaining its core values and leading to today’s Tiberghien law firm.
The tax specialist
Tiberghien grew up in Ghent and initially wanted to become a painter like his father. However, his mother wanted him to have a more stable and secure future and sent her son to University to study law. Tiberghien obtained his degree in law, public notaryship and administrative sciences in 1939. During his time at University he first became acquainted with tax legislation. The field of tax law as we know it today did not yet exist. However, his interest in fiscal matters was fuelled, mainly by the gaps in a practically non-existent area of law and, therefore, one which offered lots of opportunities. He wanted to become a tax specialist. A daring, unconventional position that was initially received rather sceptically by clients and lawyers.
However, with the help of his former patron, Edmond Ronse, a first publication about war damages was written. A few years later they joined forces once more for a second publication: ‘The income tax guide’. This book was favourably received by the public and encouraged the real launch of Albert Tiberghien’s career.
Albert Tiberghien, who was known to be a very entrepreneurial man, then started his own tax-law company, ‘Tiberghien & Co’, in 1939. Over the years, he ensured that the Tiberghien name remained inherently tied to quality, expertise and devotion. He himself reflected on this quality guarantee by saying: “You have to be a tad obsessive to be a tax lawyer. All good crafts are hard. You must deliver quality, gather information on all relevant fields, you constantly have to work for your client base. You must show you are academic and publish as much as possible.” His approach remains highly respected within the corridors of the Tiberghien law firm today.
In 1941 Albert Tiberghien was appointed professor in tax law at the Brussels Sint-Aloysius business school. In 1951, he was at the root of the National Union of Tax Lawyers, of which he was president until 1974, and in 1958 he co-founded the 'Confédération Fiscale Européenne', of which he also remained president for twenty years. "I have co-founded a lot", he spoke on the subject, ",but that's obvious, the landscape was empty". Surely, one of his greatest accomplishments was the establishment of the Brussels Tax College in 1969 together with Will Maeckelbergh. This college went on to become THE ‘breeding ground’ for an entire generation of tax lawyers.
Finally, numerous other publications contributed to his monumental status in the field of tax law. In 1955, he wrote the ‘Tax law manual’ (often referred to back then as ‘the Tiberghien’). This reference work is still updated on an annual basis and is still considered to be the ‘bible’ for tax lawyers. Next to that, he wrote around 4000 articles in the financial column of a quality Belgian newspaper called ‘De Standaard’. With a subtle, distinctive, and humorous approach, his sharp writing was known not to spare any criticism about the Belgian tax authorities, legislation and politics in general.
In 1995, Albert Tiberghien wrote in an article for a Belgian newspaper, ‘De Tijd’, that he felt connected with his mother, a rational no-nonsense woman, as well as with his father, a romantic, emotional man. Two rather opposite personalities that he managed to harmonise during his life.
As a response to the, from time-to-time, dry and sharply-defined fiscal matters, he often fled into the world of arts, culture and music. “Art was the alcohol keeping me going”, he said about himself. He was a talented painter, mastered the piano and violin and enjoyed writing about matters other than those related to tax law.
When he turned seventy-five in 1990, Albert Tiberghien put a stop to his active career and he relaxed in his renovated castle in the Ardennes or, alternately, his house in Florida to indulge himself in his first and lasting love, the arts.
In his flippant memoires, “Tiberghien talks about Tiberghien” (not available in English), he referred to himself as a ‘clown triste’. “I have never done anything easy in my entire life”, he explained, “and I’ve seen a lot of misfortune around me. I’ve lived nine years of my life in times of war and another nine years in economic depressions. That’s a total of 18 years. To be honest, I always feel a bit sad. I try covering this up with a thin layer of humour”. Albert Tiberghien died in 2001 at the age of 86.