There is ongoing debate about the role of large tech companies in our economy and how competition law should respond. There is even a branch of competition law known as ‘hipster antitrust’ that seeks to address these issues.
Competition law is about making markets operate fairly for consumers. Broadly, it can be divided into antitrust (ie preventing abuse of dominant market positions and anti-competitive agreements between market players) and merger control (ie preventing companies from getting dominant through mergers and acquisitions).
What does a typical transaction in competition law look like?
A competition lawyer usually does antitrust and merger control, and advising clients on day-to-day compliance – often at the same time. Matters tend to involve large, well-known companies that are more likely to influence competition on markets and include large M&A transactions and global cartel investigations.
A typical cartel case begins with a ‘dawn raid’ where the competition authority gathers evidence at the client’s office. We attend the raid to protect the client’s rights. Afterwards, we assess all the evidence and advise the client on strategy e.g. whether to fight the case or admit liability in return for a lower fine. Cartel cases usually last for several years. Merger cases are usually done in a few months.
Less complex cases will be staffed by a small team of junior lawyers, providing client exposure and early responsibility. Larger cases can involve teams of ten or more – offering the opportunity to work with and learn from a range of lawyers at all levels. Competition lawyers often work very closely with people outside their law firm as well – for example, competition economists and lawyers in other countries (cases are usually international).
Clients are usually large, multi-national companies that attract a lot of media attention and are more likely to impact competition. Clients may span a whole range of sectors and a competition lawyer can find their work jumps from industry to industry covering new markets.
Meeting clients and competition authorities, attending hearings and conferences, and social events with clients and other lawyers are important to our job and may mean large parts of the week outside of the office – a competition lawyer shouldn’t expect to be chained to their desk.
What is the work/life balance like for competition solicitors?
The fast-paced and challenging work can mean early morning or evening work at times, particularly around deadlines. Cross-border cases require flexibility in communicating with clients and lawyers across time zones. There are peaks and troughs and so in quieter periods we try to leave the office promptly.
Visiting client sites, attending international conferences, and meetings with clients and competition authorities provide plenty of opportunities to travel. Also, many competition lawyers spend a portion of their career in Brussels.
The best and worst aspects of being a competition solicitor
It is a great job for people who are interested in how business and markets work. A competition lawyer needs a deep understanding of their client’s industry. This involves constant learning and a lot of time can be spent talking to management and industry experts. As markets change, you can be expected to quickly get to grips with new products and services. The downside can be the need to wade through large volumes of evidence, especially in the digital era.
What developments in this area should students be aware of?
Competition authorities globally are grappling with how to regulate fast-moving digital markets. There is ongoing debate about the role of large tech companies in our economy and how competition law should respond. There is even a branch of competition law known as ‘hipster antitrust’ that seeks to address these issues. Future trainees should take a keen interest in the news, particularly business and political developments, for a head start in learning about new industries and understanding how clients operate on their markets – which is what the job is all about.
What work would trainees in a competition law seat experience?
Typical trainee tasks include research, data analysis, reviewing evidence and drafting submissions to competition authorities. Trainees work closely with associates and may take the lead on discrete aspects of project management where appropriate. Trainees can also be responsible for drafting sections of documents.
What impact will Brexit have on competition law?
The full effects are difficult to predict without knowing how the future EU-UK relationship will look, but even a ‘hard’ Brexit is unlikely to have an adverse effect for competition lawyers. Many of our cases are currently handled solely by the European Commission. In future, many of these cases will come under the jurisdiction of the European Commission and the UK authority. This will add an interesting new angle to our work.
Choose competition law if you have…
- an interest in markets
- an inquisitive and analytical mind
- an ability to draft persuasive arguments
- an ability to get on well with people.
Types of law practised in competition law
- EU and UK competition law.
- Competition litigation.
JORDAN ELLISON is a partner in the competition group at SLAUGHTER AND MAY. He graduated with a degree in law from the University of Oxford.