Andrea De Matteis, Partner of Labruna Mazziotti Segni

After 10 years spent working for 2 international law offices in Brussels and twice at DG Competition, Italian antitrust lawyer Andrea De Matteis returned to Italy to become Head of the Competition practice of Labruna Mazziotti Segni.

Brussels Legal spoke with Mr. De Matteis about his professional career in Brussels and Rome. We started by asking about his experience of the so-called 'revolving door' between the Commission and private practice.

BL: Which organisations have you worked for in Brussels?

ADM: I started working for Wilmer Cutler in 1996, was then at DG Competition, went back to Wilmer, then moved to Linklaters, was back at DG Competition, and then returned to Linklaters.

BL: Was the moving between these law firms and the Commission worthwhile?

ADM: Definitely. Wilmer was a good place to start my career: it had quite an academic environment, the partners had a perfectionist mentality and there was a special focus on analysing competition law issues. I also sharpened my English language drafting - very good practice for a non-native speaker at the start of his career.

In 1997 I was a stagiaire in DG Competition (C-1 Telecoms) and then returned to Wilmer. As a Washington DC law firm, Wilmer has always had a 'revolving door' culture of people going in out and of government. Partners like Doug Melamed and William Kolasky have left for periods to head the US antitrust agencies before returning to private practice. I really appreciate that aspect of the US law firm culture.

From October 2001 till September I was a Senior Associate at Linklaters. While I learnt the 'tools of the legal trade' at Wilmer, I developed those professional skills much further at Linklaters, where I worked mostly with Gerwin Van Gerven and Anne Federle. I had more management responsibility in my new role: meeting and advising large clients, dealing with the Commission, managing junior associates. Given my increased seniority, there was a lot more freedom and room for initiative, which is very important for any associate at that stage of their career. The atmosphere at Linklaters was that of a tremendous powerhouse and it made me aware of the commercial side of legal practice.

In 2002-3 I worked again in DG Competition for 15 months. This time as a case handler in Unit F-3 Consumer Goods for 15 months under Luc Gyslen.

BL: How has this Commission/private practice experience helped you?

ADM: I believe antitrust lawyers in private practice gain a lot from this DG Competition experience.

You gain contacts and understand how the Commission's internal antitrust procedures work in practice. The decision-making process is a lot clearer once you have participated in it.

Another very important benefit is understanding how Commission officials think and approach competition law issues. An example is how cases are prioritised. The Commission has limited resources and some more prominent cases are treated differently to others. So assessing the political profile of a case has some importance.

Furthermore spending time at the Commission shows how to communicate better with Commission officials, because you understand their needs and how to anticipate them. For a private practitioner, that knowledge is a great asset. Clients really value it, just as they value the contacts with the Commission.

The Commission benefits too. It is important that the regulator has a better understanding about how businesses operate and engage in the antitrust process. For example, responding to information requests is not always as straightforward as some might think as considerable business resources and time are devoted to it.

BL: So why did you decide to leave Brussels?

ADM: Perhaps a better question is to ask why I stayed in Brussels for so long? (laughs) I hope that does not sound negative towards Brussels. But this issue is indeed a great dilemma for many foreigners who have made Brussels their second home.

The most useful professional experience for any European competition law specialist lies in Brussels. The exchange of ideas and opinions between lawyers, of different cultural and juridical backgrounds, working in the EU institutions, companies, law firms, federations, NGOs, gives the city a unique environment. A competition law practitioner needs to be based here for a period of time as there is no other place like it.

But, like most southern Europeans in Brussels, I appreciate a slightly different climate!

BL: So you never planned to stay in Brussels for so long?

ADM: Indeed I never imagined that I would stay for 10 years.

BL: And what is this opportunity you have taken?

ADM: I am Head of the Competition practice at Labruna Mazziotti Segni in Rome. I am building the firm's Competition practice from scratch.

BL: Why did you go for this position and why in this firm?

ADM: Labruna Mazziotti Segni is a recent spin-off of Gianni Origoni. It was created in February and it has a young and entrepreneurial spirit and an impressive client following. We are already about 50 lawyers and the firm's objective is to be one of the leading Italian law firms. Within that I want to build one of Italy's leading antitrust departments.

The position and firm offers new possibilities in my professional development: the opportunity to advise on some of the largest Italian cases and to develop a whole new practice for the firm. This position requires developing different skills, those of an entrepreneur, to attract and retain work.

There is a real challenge in starting the competition law practice from scratch. For example, we have hired 2 competition associates already, one in Rome and one in Milan. Hiring the best people is of course crucial to the success of the practice.

BL: How do you plan to build the practice?

ADM: In Italy there are some established Anglo-Saxon antitrust practices. Their work is generated internally with not so much work coming from competing firms in other jurisdictions. If a law firm is part of an office network or in a 'best-friends' type relationship then it has its existing work but other referral opportunities are again far more limited.

The potential work at Labruna Mazziotti Segni is huge: it is still one of the few large independent law firms. There are internal referrals from our M&A department, referrals from law firms not in Italy (such as the US, UK, France and Germany) and directly from new antitrust clients (notably the US and France). The key is to transform these opportunities into work.

BL: Having only practised in Brussels so far, what specific features of the Italian legal market are you adjusting to?

ADM: Adjustments have to be made concerning not just moving from Brussels to Rome, but also due to the change in the type of law firm.

A big difference exists between the very personal relationships between the client and many law firms here and the 'institutional' relationships that exist between international law firms, such as Wilmer and Linklaters and their multinational clients.

In Italy it is much more important to nurture the personal relationship such as the relationship between General Counsel and his or her lawyer. Here everything is much more personalised and firms are made by well recognised individuals rather than institutions or brands.

It is more common in Italy for business groups and businesses to be family owned and managed. These types of client are entrepreneurs and it is different to advising managers within a multinational client. There is more contact with non-lawyers, particularly as such clients often have a limited or no legal department. For example, I am dealing directly with the CEO of a large Italian corporation. The responsibility in those cases is far greater than when dealing with an experienced General Counsel. Communicating clearly is crucial with business clients with no or limited legal support or background.

The compliance culture in Italy is also different; it comes as a shock for some companies, and there is still a lot to do, particularly concerning cartels! Criminalisation is not on the agenda yet but the forthcoming Italian leniency program will bring about a constant flow of new cases and there is also a large and unexplored potential - like in most EU Member States - in relation to private antitrust enforcement.

BL: How did Linklaters react to you leaving?

ADM: We parted on very good terms and I am very grateful for what I have learned in these years. I hope I will be able to convince my former colleagues to come to Rome more often!

BL: You have only just moved from Brussels to Rome, but what advice would you give to other associates in Brussels with similar experience to yours?

ADM: In Italian law firms a key factor to develop professionally is personal client turnover. What will your clients add to the turnover of the partnership? You must develop a portable business, which gives you real leverage.

This is still possible in Italy given that the relationships between clients and firms are not as institutionalised and the market is fragmented. Contrary to what happens in large multinational firms where your antitrust clients are often those of the M&A department, in Italy rain-making ability (in addition to just servicing existing clients), is crucial.

There is still a lot to gain if you a have the right technical skills and an open commercial mind!

BL: Good luck and thank you for your time.

Other features dealing with related issues:

Alessandra Fratini and Paolo Vergano, Partners at FratiniVergano

Mario Todino, Resident Brussels Office Partner, Gianni Origoni Grippo