The Law: Competition

From big-ticket M&A work to investigating cartels, the area of competition provides a varied practice for lawyers

The Law: CompetitionWhats it all about?
Broadly, competition law exists to give consumers of goods and services choice and to ensure that suppliers do not over-charge their customers. Competition lawyers will advise their clients on a number of matters, including compliance with both UK and EU competition law and state aid.

Competition lawyers (or antitrust lawyers) are also called in to advise on large-scale M&A for advice on whether the deal may be referred to the competition authorities. For instance, when Boots merged with pan-European drugs distributor Alliance UniChem, the UK health and beauty chain was required to sell 100 stores to ensure competition in the sector was not reduced. While the number of divestments (100 stores) is modest in proportion to the size of the merged business (13bn), this is the highest number of divestments required by the Office of Fair Trading (OFT) in lieu of a reference to the Competition Commission.

The pros:
Opportunity to work in Brussels
Combines law with economics
Junior lawyers get a reasonable amount of responsibility

The cons:
Quite a specialised area
Less opportunity to draft legal agreements

A European language is helpful
A module in competition law during your law degree may be advantageous, but is not essential.

Lawyers specialising in competition law also handle legal issues arising out of cartel activity. A cartel is a group of suppliers or manufacturers that club together to fix prices so as to limit supplies or competition, which can push prices up for the consumer. Cartel activity is illegal.

The working culture
The pace of life in a competition department is likely to be slower than in a corporate or banking group. However, do not be surprised if your colleagues from the corporate department call you for advice at a moments notice on whether a potential merger is likely to be blocked by the competition authorities.

As a junior competition lawyer you should get a reasonable amount of responsibility. You might spend your day drafting a notification of a potential merger to the OFT. You could also find yourself attending a dawn raid. As a junior competition lawyer you will also have to spend a lot of time carrying out research. This will be a mixture of legal and practical research, such as finding out how much market share a company has in different sectors or countries.

Why is this interesting?
A competition lawyers day is extremely varied, as they advise on a broad mix of work. You may also get the opportunity to work in Brussels the home of the European Commission, the body that regulates EU competition law.

Personal and legal skills required
As a competition lawyer you need to be up-to-speed with the competition regime in both the UK and EU. You should also have some interest in economics as you may have to get involved in the impact of a merger or takeover on a companys market share.

Case Study

In June 2006 top 10 City firm Slaughter and May advised British Airways (BA) on the investigation by UK and US authorities in alleged price-fixing involving fuel surcharges on long-haul flights over the past two years. Virgin Atlantic, American Airlines and United Airlines are also subject to investigation along with BA. All four airlines fly between the US and Londons Heathrow Airport.

Slaughters was also brought in earlier this year to advise BA when is was subject to a dawn raid by the European Commission over suspicions of price-fixing (a form of cartel activity) in its cargo business. At the time of the dawn raid Air France, Lufthansa, KLM, SAS and cargo specialist Cargolux also confirmed that they had been visited by Commission officials.

The investigations will provide rich pickings for competition specialists across the City. Allen & Overy, Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer, Herbert Smith and Lovells have all landed instructions to advise clients involved in the investigation.