GCR 100 - 18th Edition

Covington & Burling

Professional notice

Merger ranking10Litigation ranking9Cartel ranking-
Global headsThomas Barnett, Deborah Garza and Johan Ysewyn
Number of jurisdictions with a GCR-ranked competition team4
Practice size68
Percentage of partners/counsel in Who's Who Legal24%
Lateral partner hires2
Partner departures0
Former senior enforcers11

With only 68 lawyers, Covington & Burling has one of the smaller competition groups in the Global Elite, particularly at the associate level. Yet it brings a force to its matters that belies its size, particularly in labour-intensive litigation work, and has practices ranked by GCR as outstanding in Washington, DC and highly recommended in Brussels. Factors in this may be the firm’s fondness for hiring from both the US antitrust agencies and the European Commission.

The implosion of King & Wood Malleson in 2016 has been Covington’s gain, as the firm added partners Elaine Whiteford and Louise Freeman from KWM’s London office. Both have further bolstered an already excellent competition litigation practice.

Whiteford worked with partner Peter Camesasca in defending Samsung in the smart card chips follow-on action at the High Court of England and Wales. The firm also acts for Samsung in iiyama’s LCD cartel follow-on litigation. In the US, Covington defends Citigroup against scores of claims that the bank manipulated various benchmarks, and JPMorgan against alleged manipulations of interest rate swaps and Treasury securities and alleged boycotts of alternative trading platforms. The firm helped the National Football League win dismissals of a wage-suppression lawsuit, and of class actions challenging exclusive contracts. In Delaware federal court, Covington acted for Facebook in facing monopolisation and tying claims regarding virtual currency; the social media network settled in June 2017.

The Facebook representation that really drew attention, however, was the European Commission’s €110 million fine on the company for providing misleading information about its plans to integrate user information with WhatsApp after their 2014 merger. In fresher tech deals, Tom Barnett acted for Verizon in the telecoms company’s acquisition of Yahoo, and for Amazon in its purchase of Whole Foods – both cleared unconditionally by the US antitrust agencies.

Covington’s national Belgian competition team represented a pair of third-party complainants, one regarding the bpost/AMP deal and the other fighting a Kinepolis request to remove merger conditions imposed on it in 1997.

As ever, Covington insists that it does not measure its cartel defence success in leniency applications, but rather in persuading the government not to investigate or prosecute its clients in the first place. Some cases don’t go that way, however: the firm acted for Hapag-Lloyd in DG Comp’s liner shipping investigation, which ended with commitments. In a related sector, the firm represents PSA Antwerp in defending the container handler’s Brussels Court of Appeal win on dawn raid rights, as Belgium’s Competition Authority appeals to the country’s Supreme Court. Covington is also working on more than a dozen ongoing cartel and non-cartel matters that are confidential. Publishable cases include carwow’s complaint to the UK Competition and Markets Authority regarding BMW’s restrictions on car dealers’ use online sales channels, which was resolved when BMW amended its policy on price comparison websites in January 2017; and a multi-state investigation into the NFL’s ticketing practices, which settled in late 2016.

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