Relaxing whilst doing Competition Law is not an Oxymoron

The Friday Slot (1) – Ian Forrester

with 4 comments

At Chillin’Competition, we have decide to emulate an unpopular practice of DG COMP. From now onwards, we will be launching Friday requests for informations (“RFIs”).

In line with the spirit of this blog, our RFIs will be a bit different from those of DG COMP. Our targets will be big names in the antitrust world who, in addition, are interesting people with a good sense of humor. Just like this blog, our questions will be partly professional and partly personal.

To start this new venture – in principle, the Friday slot will be opened twice a month – we have sent our first RFI to no other antitrust superstar than Mr. Ian Forrester (White and Case, full biography available at the end at this post)!

And guess what: Ian has accepted to address our questions very swiftly, and has provided remarkable, insightful, thought-provoking answers. Again, we are immensely grateful to Ian for the time he took to answers our questions. In exchange for his time, we offered him to baptise this new series of posts, and he offered the title “The Friday Slot” that appears on top of this post.

Question 1: “Oscar” of the best competition law book?  And of the best non-competition law book?

The shortest and simplest book is by David Edward and Bob Lane: “European Community Law: An Introduction”.  Competition law is not complex, though it can be made sophisticated.  Proper analysis of the realities of the marketplace is where everything should start.

The items of competition law literature which I most regularly use are the reviews of competition law in the Oxford Yearbook of European Law since the first volume in 1981. Francis Jacobs was the first editor and for about fifteen years Chris Norall and I squeezed the juice from every development. We tried to avoid accepting the official propaganda and to enjoy advancing our particular theories. Then the reviews went through a period of being too comprehensive and too lengthily thorough, but now we are back on a good rhythm. The reviews are lively and opinionated, and you can disagree with them, but they ought not to be boring. Writing them has been hugely instructive for my colleagues (jacquelyn Anthony , Makis and a platoon of other talents) and me, a great way of learning, digesting and explaining. I often use the OYEL review as a way of reminding myself of what was important in a case. Sometimes that matches conventional wisdom and sometimes it doesn’t.

Question 2: “Oscar” of the best case-law development in the past year? “Oscar” of the worst case-law development?

The Oscar to the best case-law development could go to the Swiss watch parts case, where the Court overturned a Commission refusal of a complaint and took us back to simpler times when small folk could look to the protection of the competition rules. It is very rare for such challenges to succeed and the Court did a really careful job in writing its judgement.

Question 3: Let’s do it like economists => assume that you could change 3 rules, principles, judgments, institutions in the current EU competition system. What would you do?

Criminal liability; proof beyond a reasonable doubt; and judicial review as ferocious as the House of Lords.

Question 4: Average working time/week?

Excessive!  I travel a lot, and when I am away the e-mails multiply, as do the messages from editors wanting manuscripts.  But I am not complaining.  It is fun to do interesting work in interesting places.

Question 5: Why do you work in competition law? How did you first get into it?

By accident.  I was a customs specialist, then made a complaint for a friend’s uncle against a whisky producer (differential pricing): Bulloch/Distillers Co. Ltd.  That was my first case in Luxembourg.  Lord Bethell was the next, about the rights of complainants.  Others followed.  I never studied competition law, or indeed EEC law, at university, an educational void which is unlikely to be remedied.

Question 6: Most interesting, intense or funny moment of your career?

I have been involved in a number of interesting cases and each was fun in a different way.  Bosman was the biggest argument in French, made more challenging by the fact that the Court selected that case to entertain visiting supreme court judges in Luxembourg.  Microsoft was a wonderful forensic experience, fantastic preparation, well-prepared Court, enough time to do a good job; the fevered atmosphere; the plethora of visual aids.  Magill was a chance to argue big principles and to have the experience of acting for the Commission (the ride is a little smoother).  A v National Blood Authority was a great opportunity to make law in the English courts.  In Pfizer Animal Health the argument continued till after 10.00 pm and involved fierce debate between articulate scientists.  Gibraltar v Council was also fascinating because of the multiple constitutional sensitivities.

Question 7: Your role model (if any) in the competition community? And outside of it?

Don Holley, now retired in Paris; Sir David Edward, now active in Edinburgh; Robert Fiske and Lawrence Walsh in New York, who show that lawyers can have successful careers while giving time to public service.

Question 8: What do you like the least about your job?

The e-mail deluge, which never diminishes; airport security checks.

Question 9: What do you like the most about your job?

My colleagues are wonderful; nice cases; no proposition is indefensible as long as you can articulate it intelligibly; the chance to shape the law by contributing to legal literature.

Question 10: What you like the most about economics in competition law?

The elegance of hearing a master craftsman explain.

Question 11: What you like the least about economics in competition law?

The death of common sense as a criterion!

Question 12: What career/personal achievement are you most proud of?

The result in ARCO Chemical v Repsol: at the Commission hearing, minds were changed (and the ensuing dinner at Comme Chez Soi was astonishingly good!).  The pro bono practice of White & Case.  The result in A v National Blood Authority.  Some articles about science, legal history, due process and other topics.  The Microsoft speech on the fine, even if it was unsuccessful.  Control Data v Commission deserves the prize for persistence.  Burns v LaVallee in 1972 was my first pro bono appeal, before the Second Circuit, where I helped Robert Fiske in his prime: the prisoner was released after his “confession” was found to have been coerced.  

Question 13: A piece of “counterfactual” analysis: what would you do if you weren’t in your current position?

Learn Japanese; clear the millions of bits of paper which have accumulated; do some serious sailing; work in a restaurant.

Question 14: Besides being a “competition geek” (sorry for this one, but we all are), what are your hobbies?

Planting trees in the Ardennes; cooking; sailing.  At a different level of challenge, from time to time I lead the service at the Church of Scotland in Brussels on the chaussée de Vleurgat.  Preparing a sermon for adults as an amateur is a challenge; talking to the children is wildly unpredictable.  And last year I accepted an invitation to be the narrator of a Christmas show for children and their parents.  I was hesitant, having never before done anything like that, but it turned out to be fun (and even folk from DG Competition left smiling).  I narrate again this year, so if you want to hear the soloists of the Monnaie’s orchestra, an excellent boy soprano, and nice visual effects, come to the Centre Culturel d’Auderghem on Saturday, December 3, 14.30 and 17.30.  One piece is about baboons in Africa who have a power struggle along the lines of Macbeth, but the ending is happy.  The second is about a boy who goes flying with a friendly snowman, lovely music, nostalgic ending.  Information:

Question 15: Favorite movies?

The Virgin Spring (not soothing); Tom Jones (a cheerful riot); Chariots of Fire (Scottish sports lawyers cannot do otherwise).

Question 16: Favorite music style in general?

Baroque.  I am a trustee of the European Union Baroque Orchestra, a training orchestra for young professional musicians.  Their performances reach across language, age and nationality.

Question 17: Your favorite motto?

Not sure if it is a motto, but Cicero (De Officiis, I.22) wrote that we are not born and brought up for ourselves alone, since the public interest is entitled to a part of us and our friends are entitled to another part: Non nobis solum nati sumus ortusque nostri partem patria vindicat, partem amici.  It is possible to have a career which is fun, earn a living, and spend part of one’s effort on cases which are unremunerated.

Question 18: Websites that you visit the most (besides Chillin’Competition)?

BBC; Slashdot; The New Yorker; Uffizi.

Question 19: A piece of advice for junior competition professionals?

Keep it simple; be clear; perfect grammar and spelling, whatever language you are using; look for the big principles; do not complicate it; assume ignorance; do not mock the opposition and instead let clarity be your weapon.

ISF 2011 short competition bio N PETIT

Written by Nicolas Petit

2 December 2011 at 1:22 pm

Posted in The Friday Slot

4 Responses

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  1. What an awesome interview ! (“Keep it simple; be clear; perfect grammar and spelling, whatever language you are using; look for the big principles; do not complicate it; assume ignorance; do not mock the opposition and instead let clarity be your weapon.”).

    Looking forward for the next Friday Slot !


    3 December 2011 at 6:53 pm

  2. Fantastic interview, intelligent and inspiring. Thank you!

    José Antonio de la Calle

    2 March 2012 at 10:25 pm

  3. It’s going to be ending of mine day, except before finish I
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  4. […] proceedings Wouter Wils [link], judge Marc van der Woude [link], judge Ian Forrester QC [link], Harvard Law Professor Einer Elhauge, former Chairman of the Antitrust Advisory Committee to the […]

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