Facebook/WhatsApp was the headline deal for Covington & Burling this year; indeed, the powerhouse international practice frequently undertakes interesting work for key clients from the global antitrust hubs of Washington, DC and Brussels.
|Merger ranking||-||Litigation ranking||-||Cartel ranking||-|
|Global heads||Thomas Barnett, Deborah Garza, Johan Ysewyn|
|Number of jurisdictions with a competition team||5|
|Percentage of partners/counsel in Who's Who Legal||27|
|Lateral partner hires||0|
Things are back on track for Covington’s Brussels office, after a few years marred by partner departures. The only exit this time round was partner Damien Geradin, who left to found a boutique; otherwise, the team has become stable. In the US, meanwhile, the firm has a stellar roster of former enforcement officials it can tap to assist with government investigations and court proceedings. That line-up became even more impressive this year, as the firm hired Eric Holder, formerly the US attorney general. He isn’t an antitrust specialist, but Covington believes that he, and other non-antitrust former top enforcers such as previous DoJ acting criminal head Mythili Raman, are critical to its antitrust service. Covington is the top firm to turn to for serious insider expertise.
The Brussels office also boasts one of the strongest teams in the rapidly developing domestic Belgian competition law field, acting in several matters before the Belgian Competition Authority. Work there includes taking client PSA Antwerp to the Brussels Court of Appeal, persuading the court to rule that Belgium’s competition enforcer cannot base antitrust charges on evidence gathered by raids that lacked court approval. Aside from that, the firm has several confidential US and EU cartel matters on its books. In litigation, Covington is engaged in multiple matters for regular client Samsung. The firm’s work won a GCR Litigation of the Year award in the In re TFT-LCD Antitrust Litigation, after partners Robert Wick, Derek Ludwin and Jeffrey Davidson persuaded a Northern District of Illinois federal judge to dismiss a US$3.5 billion claim by Motorola Mobility on the basis that approval of prices in the US was insufficient to show a requisite domestic US effect. The ruling was upheld by the Seventh Circuit in late 2014.
Covington & Burling has had its share of ups and downs in recent times. The Brussels competition team suffered the departure of several partners to rival firms in fairly short succession. Damien Gerardin left to set up his own consultancy in early 2015. However, the firm has rehired Peter Camesasca, who spent the last two years working primarily for Samsung, and Johan Ysewyn, a Who’s Who Legal: Competition nominee who joined from Clifford Chance with a group of associates. In all, the firm has three dedicated competition specialist partners in Brussels.
Facebook/WhatsApp was a clear highlight for Covington’s Brussels office over the last couple of years, which saw partner Miranda Cole, acting for the buyer, filing a merger notification to DG Comp in a bid to avoid national antitrust battles. The deal cleared in 2014. Otherwise, the firm has increased its presence in the cartel space, with a host of non-disclosable engagements in major probes.
United States: California
The addition of Phillip Warren, the former head of the DoJ antitrust division’s San Francisco field office, was a major get for the West Coast practice at Covington & Burling. While Covington’s California team has remained active, often working alongside the firm’s DC partners on major cases, Warren’s hiring represents a kind of shift in the gravity of the practice, from one firmly centred in DC to a practice capable of leading major antitrust matters from either coast. While Warren is constrained in what he can work on – he can’t advise on matters he once worked on at the DoJ, and he’s restricted from facing the antitrust division for a year after he started at Covington – others in the practice are busy. Jeffrey Davidson in San Francisco helped Samsung duck a major antitrust lawsuit by Motorola in the alleged LCD conspiracy. Emily Henn in Silicon Valley advised core Covington client Expedia in the online hotel booking case, and was on for Disney and its properties in the no-poach cases. Partner Anita Stork is acting for Alps Electric in the auto parts litigation in Detroit, along with a number of other matters.
United States: Washington DC
The only DC-based firm in the Elite category, Covington & Burling brings a strong line-up of former enforcers to its clients’ cartel, mergers and litigation needs. Co-chairs of the antitrust practice Thomas O Barnett and Deborah A Garza have each headed the DoJ’s antitrust division, while other senior attorneys have been a deputy at the division, an acting general counsel at the FTC, assistant US attorney and an adviser in the FTC’s Office of Policy Planning. But Garza emphasises that the antitrust practice is not specific to Washington, DC. The client base is global, she says, with litigations all over the United States and many big cartels conceived overseas.
“We have people who can perfect leniency applications, but we tend to take on clients who don’t want to go for leniency,” Garza says. The firm claims vindications for several companies accused of collusion, as well as wins in follow-on litigation, with creative arguments such as that which obtained dismissal of Libor antitrust claims in New York. Partner Robert Wick was a GCR Litigator of the Week for work for Samsung on Motorola Mobility v AU Optronics, and was recognised again at the 2015 GCR awards for twice convincing the Seventh Circuit to dismiss the lawsuit. Other high-profile litigation includes representing LucasFilm and Pixar in High-Tech Employees, JPMorgan Chase in Aluminum Warehousing and Expedia in Online Travel Company.
Garza says most of the deal work is independent of Covington’s corporate department, with examples including the US$1.6 billion Expedia/Orbitz tie-up. However, the antitrust group has a close relationship with the firm’s Food and Drug Administration regulatory group, and also leverages the intellectual property practice to reach high-tech clients. As privacy becomes a growing concern for mergers, former FTC deputy general counsel John Graubert assists on both competition and consumer protection issues.
Covington's global Antitrust & Competition Law practice is a preeminent advisor to clients around the world. From representing clients before the U.S. Supreme Court and other courts and tribunals around the world, to obtaining government approvals of high-profile transactions, to our successful representation of some of the largest regulated and networked companies in Europe, Asia, and the Americas, we consistently deliver the results that our clients expect and need to achieve their business goals.
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