GCR 100 - 19th Edition

Russell McVeagh

Professional notice

New Zealand

Sarah Keene helms a talented team at Russell McVeagh, which balances a considerable amount of contentious local work with a steady stream of multinational deals. Keene is backed by partner Troy Pilkington, along with two partners in the firm’s regulatory economics practice. The firm’s team dedicated to competition law has expertise across litigation, investigations, commercial advisory, merger filings and law reform and provides an integrated approach to competition, regulatory and public law.

The team is particularly notable for its strong working relationships with the NZCC, acting on more than one-third of all merger clearance applications handled by the NZCC in the past five years. Recent examples include advising Suncorp on the proposed acquisition of Tower NZ and Spark New Zealand, the largest communications company in the country, and its successful opposition to the merger of Vodafone NZ and Sky TV, which has now been abandoned. Pilkington acted for Trade Me, an online classified advertising platform for motor vehicle dealers, in its attempted merger with dealer management software provider Motorcentral. However, the NZCC in March 2018 decided that Trade Me was a potential competitor to Motorcentral and that the merger could entrench Trade Me’s power in the market for online classified advertising to auto dealers.

Keene and Pilkington were counsel on perhaps the highest-profile deal in the region: a tie-up between the country’s two largest newspapers and news websites, NZME and Fairfax. The companies defended the deal as a way to keep traditional newspapers in business while facing competition from digital platforms. But the High Court and Court of Appeal of New Zealand both ruled that NZME and Fairfax failed to show the deal’s benefits would outweigh its harm to competition.

Russell McVeagh is New Zealand's premier law firm. The firm's competition team is led by partner Sarah Keene, who alongside partner Troy Pilkington, are the two core competition partners at the firm. Russell McVeagh's top performing and multidisciplinary competition practice is highly regarded as pre-eminent in the field of competition and consumer law in New Zealand.

Unique in the New Zealand market, the firm has a single team dedicated to competition and consumer law that has expertise across litigation, investigations, commercial advisory, merger filings and law reform, providing an integrated approach to competition, consumer 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 and consumer 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 the NZCC and policy-makers, and its ability to work seamlessly with multinational teams on global transactions. The team has 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 a number more 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.

Key transactions and clients

During the past year, the team has acted on a large number of market-leading deals and litigation. This includes assisting Fairfax and NZME in relation to their proposed merger authorisation and appeal; acting for Spark on the proposed merger of Sky TV and Vodafone New Zealand in relation to the Commission's clearance process; advising Trade Me regarding the proposed acquisition of software business Motorcentral; acting for the four major banks in New Zealand (ASB, ANZ, Westpac, and BNZ) in relation to the proposed sale of the Paymark payment switch operator; and acting for Spark on its attempted takeover of TeamTalk, a communications service and infrastructure company. 

Russell McVeagh’s lawyers are regular competition and consumer law advisers to significant New Zealand and multinational companies such as Spark, Fonterra, Lion, Reckitt Benckiser, major New Zealand banks, Meridian Energy, NBC Universal, Woolworths and Auckland Airport.

Awards and recognition

  • Chambers and Partners Asia-Pacific (2018) – Sarah Keene ranked as the only “star individual” in New Zealand for competition and antitrust; Troy Pilkington recognised as “up and coming”
  • Who's Who Legal: Competition (2018) – Sarah Keene and Troy Pilkington recognised as leading practitioners for competition law in New Zealand
  • International Law Office Client Choice Awards 2018 – Sarah Keene named the exclusive winner in competition and antitrust
  • Best Lawyers – Sarah Keen awarded the 2018 Lawyer of the Year Award for Competition and Consumer Law in New Zealand
  • Acritas Research (2018) – Troy Pilkington listed as a “star lawyer”
  • Asialaw: Sarah Keene awarded the 2018 Award for Leading Lawyer in Competition and Antitrust
  • Chambers and Partners – Asia Pacific (2017) – Sarah Keene ranked as a “leading lawyer” in competition and antitrust; Troy Pilkington ranked “up and coming”
  • Global Competition Review – Sarah Keene selected for inclusion in the 2016 “100 Women in Antitrust” list
  • International Law Office Client Choice Awards (2016) – Sarah Keene named the exclusive winner in competition and antitrust
  • Lawyer Monthly: Sarah Keene named the only New Zealand winner at the 2016 Women in Law Awards, given in recognition for outstanding legal expertise and contribution within competition and regulatory law
  • Winner of M&A Today’s 2016 Global Award for Law Firm of the Year (competition), New Zealand
  • Ranked “Elite” in Global Competition Review’s New Zealand competition bar review (2015);
  • Ranked “Elite” in Global Competition Review’s “Global Top 100” list (2015)
  • Euromoney’s Guide to the World's Leading Women in Business Law – Sarah Keene ranked as a leading practitioner in competition/antitrust

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