GCR 100 - 18th Edition

Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer

12 January 2018

Merger ranking 3 Litigation ranking 2 Cartel ranking 3
Global head Thomas Janssens
Number of jurisdictions with a GCR-ranked competition team 13
Practice size 260
Partners 50
Counsel 13
Percentage of partners/counsel in Who's Who Legal 76%
Associates 197
Lateral partner hires 0
Partner departures 2
Former senior enforcers 9

Perennially the gold standard by which any global competition practice must measure itself, Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer offers top-notch counsel in every area of antitrust around the globe, with highly recommended or elite practices in Washington, DC, China, Japan and across Europe.

Another firm that rarely hires laterally, Freshfields instead grew its partnership through three promotions in London and Tokyo, even as former competition practice co-head David Broomhall and partner Andrew Renshaw in Brussels retired. With the addition of Shawn Cooley from the US government as special counsel focusing on foreign investment concerns, the firm emphasises its view that global antitrust is intertwined with trade.

After the extraordinary worldwide marathon of obtaining clearances for Anheuser Busch’s acquisition of SABMiller, the Freshfields merger gang barely had a chance to cool off in the past year. They wrapped up the animal health piece of Boehringer Ingelheim’s asset swap with Sanofi, which required in-depth reviews on five continents and a pioneering fix-it-first approach in the EU, where the firm pulled and refiled its notification to improve the Phase I remedy offer. They also jumped into complex deals in concentrated markets for CK Hutchison, Hapag-Lloyd, Maersk Line, Smiths Group, Wincor Nixdorf and the London Stock Exchange. This last deal with Deutsche Börse was abandoned after the European Commission refused to clear it, but Freshfields advises CK Hutchison on an appeal against the commission’s prohibition of the telecommunications company’s proposed acquisition of Telefónica UK. The conventional wisdom is that the EU courts routinely wave through the commission’s decisions, but the enforcer has reason to fear Freshfields; in March 2017 the General Court agreed with the firm’s argument that the commission had violated United Parcel Service’s defence rights when it blocked its bid to buy TNT.

Private litigation is a real Freshfields strength, to an extent unusual among antitrust practices based outside the US. The explosion of follow-on litigation in Europe has filled the firm’s docket in the UK and Germany, but it defends against cartel damages claims across Europe and even in Israel. It won procedural victories in the UK Competition Appeal Tribunal for both Asahi Glass on glass claims and British Vita on polyurethane foam, and acts for auto parts maker Kiekert, elevator manufacturer ThyssenKrupp and a host of confidential clients throughout the EU. The firm’s most notable success in the UK, however, would have to be the defeat of class certification in the proposed collective damages claim of £14 billion (€15.7 billion) brought by Walter Merricks against Mastercard.

For confidential clients, Freshfields handled the first case brought to Hong Kong’s Competition Tribunal, and a matter in which Japan, the EU and the US investigated an extensive information exchange. The firm also convinced the Dutch enforcer to close an investigation of an association that involved a Freshfield client, even after having issued a statement of objections, and is defending Carlson Wagonlit Travel and Euroports’ successful challenge to the legality of the Belgian competition authority’s dawn raids as the enforcer appeals to the national Supreme Court. Facebook picked Freshfields to advise the social media network as Italy’s Antitrust Authority and other agencies look into big data, and the firm is counselling Borsa Italiana, a subsidiary of the London Stock Exchange, in investigations by the European Commission and Italy’s competition enforcer; the latter closed an abuse of dominance probe without any infringement finding after accepting commitments.

Notwithstanding all its impressive work in aspects of competition that are enforced around the world, where Freshfields stood head and shoulders above the rest of the Global Elite this year was in an area of law peculiar to Europe: state aid. Apple has hired the firm to appeal against the European Commission’s decision to make Ireland recover €13 billion in back taxes from the company. Freshfields advises on state aid investigations in a huge range of sectors for dozens of clients, including Airbus, Alcoa, AB Inbev, Tesla, Brussels Airport Company, and the Greek government on ports privatisation.

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