Chillin'Competition

Relaxing whilst doing Competition Law is not an Oxymoron

Archive for August 2012

Where to work in Brussels?

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Freshly graduated students often come with queries about life in law firms.

Many questions are related to wages and working hours.

But the key question is always about how cool (or stressful) it is to work for this or that law firm.

Here are a few cardinal principles to keep in mind:

  1. Wanna keep a social life? => Avoid merger factories;
  2. Life at European law firms is not necessarily better than in anglo-saxon law firms. This is because there is often a stronger pyramidal hierarchy in traditional (especially south european) law firms. In turn, junior associates are typically less involved in high level issues (meetings with clients, etc.) and must show a lot of deference to senior colleagues. In US law firms, partners – but this is again a generality – would tend to be  more approachable;
  3. US firms pay better than UK firms, which pay better than continental firms. The same equation however applies to billable hours;
  4. What law firms seek to purchase with a strong paycheck is full availability, including at very short notice. Upon client/partner call, young associates must be ready to sacrifice family, holiday, wedding plans…;
  5. Minimum entry wage for a 1y associate in a Brussels competition pratice : 50K€/year;
  6. Like team work? Go for big law. Hate ghost writing? Go for academia;
  7. The above is of course contingent on the people. Several well-known merger factories are really cool places to work for, simply because the partners there are great professionals and very pleasant persons;

The bottom-line? The talk of the town is that there’s two places where it’s really good to work as a junior associate in Brussels, Sidley Austin and Hogan Lovells (and Garrigues, of course).

Written by Nicolas Petit

31 August 2012 at 11:19 am

Negotiations (and other non-legal abilities) in Antitrust Practice

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Two days ago I read the obituary of Roger Fisher -Emeritus Professor  at Harvard Law School and director of the Harvard Negotiation Project.  Fisher was a co-author of one of the best-selling books in the art of negotiating: “Getting to Yes, negotiating agrement without giving in“.  Reading this book was one of the requirements of the Harvard negotiation program to which I devoted 3 intense weeks of my LLM’s winter term.

Skimming again through its pages last night I remembered the paper that I wrote also as part of the requirements for the negotiation program; I chose to do it about the specific features of the negotiations that take place in the field of antitrust (as is the case with other competition lawyers my mindset is programmed to think mainly about one subject…). I would post it here, but my only digital copy of that paper was lost under very peculiar circumstances that would merit an ad hoc post.

Anyway, let’s cut to the chase:

Antitrust practice nowadays requires inmense negotiation skills. In many cases, and after the law plays its role, the final outcome is determined pursuant to a negotiation. Moreover, quite often practitioners and authorities don’t limit themselves to the application or establishment of liability principles, but rather negotiate in the shadow of the principles that regulators and courts may be expected to apply (for some material about negotiating” in the shadow of the law”, click here or here). In other words, very often a negotiation is what determines the success or failure of the project or case at issue.

In spite of the increasing prominence of negotiated solutions in antitrust enforcement (think of cartel settlements, settlements in actions for damages, commitment decisions in abuse of dominance cases, or the design of remedies, among others), awarenesss about the importance of negotiation skills in our profession is still scarce. To be sure, this attention deficit is not exclusive to negotiation abilities; the same happens with other non-legal abilities that in practice are as important -or much more- than a thorough knowledge of the law (notably writing).

Law firms often attempt to resolve the issue through one day talks and other brief  and not-so-serious means, but I’m not sure of whether that’s enough. Universities and postgraduate centers would be providing a great service should they focus on these extra-legal abilities.

Don’t get me wrong. I don’t think that doing a course/seminar on negotiation or on many other skills is going to radically change anyone’s life. Negotiation skills (like salsa dancing, basketball playing, maths, and almost anything) are to some extent natural abilities. In fact, the best negotiators I’ve ever seen in action act by instinct or experience and would probably laugh at the idea of “studying” about it. Moreover, in a field of repeated interactions like ours, building the necessary trust from your counterparts (authorities or competitors) takes time. In spite of it all, it is a fact that most skills are perfected upon reflection and training.

In order to contribute to filling this void,  Nicolas  is devising (and trying to sell) an executive training program for lawyers in order to deal precisely with all these non strictly legal skills.

Any suggestions you may have about it would be most welcome!

Written by Alfonso Lamadrid

29 August 2012 at 4:15 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

On patent suits, lawyers’ suits and Suits

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As I was reading a few online pieces on Apple’s victory over Samsung in one of the multiple patent battles confronting them (btw, you can check out this interesting interview with Richard Posner, as well as this piece on how jury deliberations took place) I came accross an article that blames not the proliferation of trivial patents but “suit-and-tie lawyers” for stiffling creativity and innovation.

Leaving aside the easy attack on lawyers, the “suit-and-tie” expression has always intrigued me: I’ve heard it many times, but I seldom hear it applied to other “suit-and-tie” professionals. I did a quick search on it and quickly came up with some material for a post on lawyers and suits; it later expanded to more suit related stuff. Here it goes:

Patent suits

Before continuing with the suit talk, a quick remark on the proliferation of patent suits and on the accusation about lawyers’ destructing creativity. I agree that some degree of oddness may be inevitable when competition and the battle for innovation moves from the markets to the courts. And even though in some (many) cases such a move may also be inevitable (which not only is natural, but also convenient because otherwise most of us would be unemployed), the level of litigation that is taking place in relation to the smartphone industry is simply nuts. Posner has a point (there’s definately something wrong with the system that feeds “trolls” or that forces a company is forced to buy another just to acquire its patents to avoid future suits). Given the enormous cash reserves that these companies have ($110 billion in the case of Apple), legal fees and expenses derived from multiple and expensive parallell lawsuts are not a major concern, much less when these suits often pay-off (it’s hard to speak of sham litigation in this setting) and even have the potential to significantly alter the market. Patent lawyers are benefitting from this, but is it their fault? Nope, what happens is that companies are rationally exploiting the opportunities that an arguably ill-designed legal regime offers them. And speaking about system design, I admit that I also have issues with the fact that the outcome of cases like this one depends on the decision that 9 jurors take over highly technical matters.

[I said above that patent lawyers are doing well. Want to know the estimated legal fees of Morrison&Foerster, Wilmer (both representing Apple) and Quinn Emanuel (Samsung)  for this case? You do, uh? 😉  Check here then (for the lazy ones: the range goes from $10 million to several hundred million dollars per party…).

Lawyers’ suits

Now back to the other suits (I bet Apple and Samsung’s lawyers will be buying some pretty expensive ones in preparation for the appeal). My saturday-morning Google search on “suit-and-tie lawyers” [btw, Google is searching for an in-house competition lawyer] made me realize how candent this issue is. The suit has traditionally been lawyers’ uniform (I’m sure you’ve heard about “power suits”; see here) but it is a fact that lawyers are “dressing down” these days (although some say the contrary). I, for one, typically feel like a living old-school reminiscence when I meet friends working for US firms and I’m the sole one wearing a tie (at my firm we’ve so far only managed to make inroads into casual Fridays and casual August…).

There are many pieces that pose the question of whether we should start dressing differently (see, e.g. here). The proliferation of such questions have spurred vehement reactions from those who claim that “Enough is enough, lawyers should look like lawyers!” . Does this look like a trivial issue to you? In some places it apparently isn’t. Just a few days ago, a lawyer from Pakistan wrote a piece in the Herald Tribune advocating for the abandonment of western-suits with the argument that “if we are able to achieve that (at least with our lawyers’ uniform) then we can be at the threshold of reconstructing a new, more culturally connected and logically sound society. This change can lead to a domino effect that results in the recapturing of other areas of society and public discourse that are being dominated by the colonial mindset“.  No less!

Btw, if you want to know which is the world’s smartest law firm, click here.

I’m generally in favor of wearing suits for meetings, but I’m not so sure about the usefulness of doing it during those many days that we spend isolated in our offices (I sometimes have the feeling that I dress only for my next-door neighbor Napoleon; I think he likes my fashionable style, though…). I admit suit wearing is sometimes convenient, but other times it’s a pain (I was already an intern at Garrigues during my two last years of law school, and every day after class I had to run to my student’s residence to suit up for work -how many hours did I lose doing that??-; a more recent example, I came back from holidays last week and I had to spend x hours  quite some time in an attemp to iron a suit for a meeting the following day (that really took time!)

Suits

In our post about legal movies and TV series we forgot to mention the much acclaimed Suits. I watched the pilot last night (what better to disconnet from a working weekend than to watch a series about a law firm, right?) and I can confirm that it’s pretty good.

P.S. This post was brought to you by Suit Supply.

Written by Alfonso Lamadrid

27 August 2012 at 1:23 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

The Saturday Morning Slot?

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Woke up all too early this Saturday morning, cannot understand why.

As the summer quietness was interrupted yesterday by a raft  of breaking news (Breivik’s 21y sentencing, the NY shooting, Armstrong’s decision to throw in the towel, and the death of JL Delarue), several pieces of information of AT interest reached my mailbox/ears last night:

  • Ben Van Rompuy’s book is finally out. Ioannis Liannos (UCL) will give a speech on 28 September at the book launch reception.
  • I will be finally flying to Hong Kong in October for this conference. Cannot wait.
  • Edward Elgar has penetrated the blogosphere. Their blog has a section entitled “law” with good posts on antitrust (by Mark Furse) and intellectual property.
  • Covington’s associates are better compensated than Cleary’s (I find this one hard to believe though).

To all, a very good WE.

On my side, I’ll be busy completing the move to my new place.  And I’ll be eating pasta prepping for the 25K next week in Liege.

Written by Nicolas Petit

25 August 2012 at 7:45 am

Posted in Uncategorized

Facts of Life

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Yesterday at Ashurst, the receptionist: “You must be the student taking the exam with Professor Waelbroeck right?” => I enjoyed this one.

Heard through the grapevine, two days ago, : “Nico still needs a breakthrough article” => liked this one a little less, but there must be some truth to it.

Last but not least. Despite my young age, I almost had a heart attack when I realized that the publisher of the latest issue of the Journal de Droit International had been published, and that virtually all the corrections that my assistant and I had made on the proofs or our paper had been ignored.

Written by Nicolas Petit

24 August 2012 at 7:30 am

Posted in Uncategorized

Competition Plagiarism?

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A few weeks ago we posted a story about the “competition pills” that the Spanish Competition Authority (CNC) is distributing (see here). We remarked the “originality” of this promotional campaign.  Yesterday, one of our readers (thanks, Luca!) posted a comment in which he questions such originality; the comment reads as follows:

“This is scandalous!! Plagiarism!!

They’ve copied the idea, the packaging, the leaflet, the design – literally, everything except the color, red instead of deep blue – from a record by Spiritualized of 1997 – “Ladies and Gentlemen, we’re floating in space”.

Am I the only one old enough to remember this masterpiece?

Here is the cover

Still I’d be curious to know who’s the psychedelic case handler at the CNC who came up with the idea”.

Since our readers’ wishes are our commands, we are launching a quest to find the musically literate CNC official/s who came up with this idea, and we want to interview her/him/them here (about music, copyright and the promotion of competition).

The customary beer tasting reward applies to whoever gives us any information that may help us in our quest.

Written by Alfonso Lamadrid

23 August 2012 at 3:53 pm

Beach reads 2012

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In order to stand up to our reputation of “competition geeks”, and following our own advice on the usefulness of “reading, not just consulting, competition law books“, both Nicolas and myself included some “professional readings” within our beach-reading-material [I also took some non-competition readings with me (American Pastoral and Soldiers of Salamis) and they were simply excellent, and perhaps a bit more fun…].

I chose to read several network-effects related pieces (which are useful both for my halted PhD research and for my current work). Some of what I read was crap perhaps not so useful (what’s going on with peer reviews these days?), but other pieces were very good. I’ll share some views on them (assuming that you don’t give a damn about what we read, but in the hope that we can help anyone interested on these matters to “sepparate the wheat from the chaff)”.

For instance, I re-read Pierre Larouche’s article “The European Microsoft Case at the Crossroads of Competition Policy and Innovation” and -regardless of whether one agrees with everything that is in it or not- I thought that it is a model of what a serious, balanced, well-though and well-written comment of a Judgment should be like. I also re-read (or read seriously for the first time) a somehow more difficult (given its economic nature and its lenght) but brilliant piece by J. Farrell and P. Klemperer “Competition and Lock-In: Competition with Switching Costs and Network Effects“.  And I read for the first time a paper entitled “Monopolization via Voluntary Network Effects“, by Adi Ayal, that is both original and quite sensible.

Finally, I finished reading Competition Law and Regulation of Technology Markets, by Kevin Coates. In a previous post I said I would write a short review on it here, so here it goes. It may, however, come a bit late, since it’s most likely that you are already familiar with the existence of this work. Anyway….  Kevin Coates has produced a truly excellent book, and one that focuses on what is possibly the most timely subject in worldwide antitrust these days. The book deals with the application of  competition law, intellectual property law, telecoms regulation, and data protectition law “accross the different layers of the value chain, from the underlying technology, through the networks and into services and applications in light of the disciplines“.

The book does a great job in presenting the reader with the particular features of technology industries (e.g. its rapidly evolving and innovation-driven nature, the existence of network effects, the multiplicity and complexity of market relationships or the crucial role of technical compatibility), and, most notably, in addressing the particular challenges that these features pose to antitrust enforcement.

The book’s analysis is lucid, its scope is comprehensive, its language is fresh and lively; it expresses some personal views, but objectively presents all possible sides to every debate. In no other book will you find a comparable coverage of the breadth of technology-related issues covered in this one. In sum, it’s a book that I would’ve loved to write myself, and that I would’ve been proud to write in the way it is written.

P.S. We have asked Kevin to develop in a guest post in Chillin’Competition some of the ideas that we found more interesting. We’ll let him rest for a few days, but we hope to have him here soon.

Written by Alfonso Lamadrid

22 August 2012 at 11:59 pm

Posted in Book Reviews