GCR 100 - 17th Edition

Covington & Burling

10 January 2017

Strengthening the Brussels branch of Covington & Burling’s competition practice was an evident focus in the past year, as two former DG Comp officials both joined that office in April 2016: Kevin Coates, a 16-year veteran of the EU competition authority who most recently headed a cartels unit, and Sophie Bertin, who served as head of unit for state aid in the financial crisis task force. The firm ticked up from 19th to 15th in the Global Elite this year, largely thanks to its top 10 work in both litigation and cartels.

Merger ranking - Litigation ranking 10 Cartel ranking 7
Global heads Thomas Barnett, Deborah Garza, Johan Ysewyn
Number of jurisdictions with a competition team 4
Practice size 68
Partners 29
Counsel 7
Percentage of partners/counsel in Who's Who Legal 25
Associates 31
Lateral partner hires 3
Partner departures 0
Former enforcers 10

Pinning down a typical Covington litigation client is difficult. They range from pharmaceutical companies and auto parts makers to professional bodybuilding and football leagues. The firm even represents plaintiffs, as in Associated British Foods’ now-settled claim against two cartelists in the market for animal feed phosphates. A defendant in multiple lawsuits, JPMorgan Chase, provided some of the the biggest courtroom successes of the past year. In the Zinc antitrust litigation, Robert Wick earned GCR USA Litigator of the Week honours for convincing New York federal Judge Katherine Forrest that the plaintiffs’ claims could be dismissed without creating a legal conflict with a prior decision in the Aluminium Warehousing class action. But after having Judge Forrest’s Aluminium decision overturned on appeal with regard to indirect purchasers, Wick then talked Judge Forrest into reversing herself with regard to the direct purchasers as well.

Reflecting the firm’s limited geographic scope, every cartel representation disclosed by Covington was before the US, EU or Belgian enforcers. Nonetheless, the work involved diverse strategies: immunity and leniency applications to Belgium’s competition authority; litigation to have charges dropped against individuals; and non-immunity declinations for several clients. The US-based team pulled one client out of the DOJ’s resistors probe by arguing that the company did not actually manufacture the specific product, and another client from the air cargo and air passenger fuel surcharge investigation by refusing to plead guilty or affirmatively engage with the Antitrust Division. Covington also reached settlements without finding of wrongdoing for Hapag-Lloyd and United Arab Shipping in the EU liner shipping investigation.

Expedia’s US$1.6 billion purchase of rival online travel agency Orbitz probably drew the most public attention of any deal on which Covington worked in the past year. Media outlets listed all the seemingly different brands actually owned by Expedia and Priceline, and described the merger as a three-to-two deal combining the second- and third-largest online travel agencies in the US, which along with Priceline control 95% of that market. However, after a six-month review the DOJ cleared the deal unconditionally, as it could find little likely effect on prices. Covington’s representation of Verizon in the telecom’s US$4.8 billion acquisition of Yahoo! seems likely to hold a similar place in the next GCR 100 reporting period.

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