Sarah Keene leads a talented team at Russell McVeagh, which balances a considerable amount of contentious local work with a steady stream of multinational deals that require clearance in New Zealand. Keene is the only pure competition partner, but she’s backed by a group of associates and consultants, along with two partners in the firm’s regulatory economics practice.
Though competition litigation is rare in New Zealand, Keene and her team attract it, and it keeps her and partners from the firm’s litigation group busy. Over the past year, the firm has acted for Trade Me, the popular listing site that alleged it was targeted by a conspiracy among real estate agents to stop listing properties on the site in response to a price hike. Keene and her team also took the lead for Kiwibank in the High Court when rival E-Trans accused the bank of closing its currency exchange account in order to unfairly force E-Trans from the currency exchange market. The court in May ruled that Kiwibank’s decision to exclude money remitters as customers, despite competing with them downstream, did not violate competition law.
The team is equally busy handling major deals before the Commerce Commission. The firm is guiding both Fairfax Media and APN through their recently announced tie-up that would create one of the largest media companies in New Zealand. The team also advised Spark New Zealand – formerly Telecom, the largest communications company in the country – on the purchase of radio spectrum, a contentious purchase that won ComCom approval in March. Keene is also counselling a host of international deals, including Dow/DuPont, FedEx/TNT Express and Pfizer/Allergan.
Russell McVeagh is New Zealand's premier law firm. The firm's competition practice, led by partner Sarah Keene, is highly regarded as pre-eminent in the field of competition and regulatory law in the country as a top performing, multidisciplinary practice.
Unique in the New Zealand market, the firm has a single team dedicated to competition law that has expertise across litigation, investigations, commercial advisory, merger filings and law reform, providing an integrated approach to competition, regulatory and public law which is noted by clients for its seamless, forward-thinking, expert and strategic advice on these issues.
The team advises on all aspects of competition law in New Zealand including:
- advice on structuring joint venture and exclusive supply arrangements;
- obtaining clearances and authorisations for mergers;
- responding to investigations and prosecutions by New Zealand's Commerce Commission (NZCC);
- working with economic advisers; and
- acting on appeals of NZCC decisions.
The team is particularly regarded for its strong working relationships with regulators including the NZCC, and its ability to work seamlessly with multinational teams on global transactions. The team acted on over one-third of all merger clearance applications handled by the NZCC in the last two years, and received NZCC informal approval in respect of double that amount in the same period.
Russell McVeagh is also seen as a leader in considering, and consulting on, law reform by the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment and the NZCC – with the quality of its analysis on reform issues regarded as market-leading.
The team is notable for the depth of its senior associates’ expertise. They have 20 years' experience between them, and operate at a level exceeding that of many competition law partners in New Zealand.
Key transactions and clients
During the past year, the team has acted on a large number of market-leading deals and litigation. This includes acting for Fairfax and APN on the merger of their print, radio and other publishing businesses with a view to establishing the only media company in the NZX Top 50; defending Kiwibank against allegations of anti-competitive behaviour in terminating the account of a money remittance provider for due to AML risk; advising the two major New Zealand TV companies and the two major print companies on the creation of a programmatic digital advertising exchange; acting for Reckitt Benkiser in relation to its Nurofen advertising; acting on the largest global tech deal (Dell/EMC); and acting on Pfizer/Allergan (the largest pharma deal in New Zealand last year). Russell McVeagh’s lawyers are regular antitrust advisers to significant New Zealand and multinational companies such as Spark, Fonterra, Fairfax, Meridian Energy, NBC Universal, Westpac, Progressive Enterprises and Auckland Airport.
- Best Lawyers’ 2017 Lawyer of the Year Award in Competition and Consumer Law for New Zealand (Sarah Keene);
- International Law Office Client Choice Awards 2016 – exclusive winner in competition and antitrust (Sarah Keene);
- Lawyer Monthly’s 2016 Women in Law Award, given in recognition for outstanding legal expertise and contribution within competition and regulatory law (Sarah Keene – the only New Zealand winner);
- Asialaw Profile’s 2016 Award for Leading lawyer in Competition and Antitrust (Sarah Keene);
- NZ Law 2015 Award for Employer of Choice;
- M&A Today’s 2016 Global Award for Law firm of the Year (Competition) – New Zealand;
- Ranked “Elite” in Global Competition Review’s 2015 New Zealand competition bar review;
- Ranked “Elite” in Global Competition Review’s 2015 “Global Top 100”;
- International Law Office’s 2014 Client Choice Awards for New Zealand Law Firm of the Year and Competition Lawyer of the Year (Sarah Keene); and
- Sarah Keene ranked as a leading practitioner in competition/antitrust in Euromoney’s Guide to World's Leading Women in Business Law.