Peter Citron, Head of Practice Development and Knowhow at Hogan Lovells

Peter Citron, a Brussels-based UK-qualified competition lawyer, has worked for a number of years in private practice and in-house. Mr. Citron returned to private practice a few years ago to take up a newly created position as the now HoganLovells' Competition and EU Head of Practice Development and Knowhow.

Brussels Legal spoke with Mr. Citron about his professional experience in private practice and in-house and the challenges and opportunities of his new role.

BL: What is your professional background?

PC: I qualified at Linklaters and then spent six years working as an antitrust lawyer in the firm's London and Brussels offices. That period included an eight month in-house secondment to Vodafone. I then joined Euroclear's legal team as an in-house competition lawyer. I have worked at Lovells since September 2005.

BL: So why did you decide to leave private practice to move in-house?

PC: I had gained a taste of in-house work through my secondment at Vodafone, and had very much enjoyed it. The opportunity presented by in-house work to acquire a detailed understanding of a specific industry, to practice competition law from less of "an ivory tower" and more "on the ground level", and to see through the practical implications of competition law advice all appealed to me.

BL: Tell us about Euroclear and why you choose to move there?

PC: Euroclear is the world's foremost settlement system for domestic and international securities transactions (dealing with bonds, equities and investment funds). The organisation provides securities services to major financial institutions located around the world.

The Euroclear opportunity came at exactly the period when I was looking to move in-house and was one of the rare positions to come up in Brussels, where I wanted to continue living. It also offered the opportunity to work in a very complex industry sector, namely clearance and settlement.

I felt it important to move to a complex industry, as I could see that the in-house competition law function offered particular added value in complex industries where regular exposure to the day-to-day business is essential to the provision of competition law advice.

BL: Sometimes for associates in private practice there is a "grass is greener on the other side" perspective regarding working as an in-house lawyer. What advice would you give to any private practitioner considering making such a move?

PC: You should consider carefully the sector you are moving into. Unlike in private practice, you will be dealing with the same sector day in and day out. This offers you the opportunity to acquire unrivalled in-depth knowledge of the sector, but you should make sure that it is a sector that you are interested in, and which will keep you interested for a number of years.

As an in-house competition lawyer your main clients are likely to be a relatively small group of internal people. You are unlikely to be switching the clients you deal with as much as in private practice, and therefore it is crucial that you get on well with these people. You should also be prepared that for certain issues there will still always be a draw for top management to use external counsel, for example on grounds of legal privilege or because of the sheer importance of the issue.

You should also bear in mind that an in-house legal function is typically a fairly flat structure. If you have fire in your belly, in the long-term you are likely to need to step away from competition law and become more of a generalist, or step out of law altogether. Oh yes, and be prepared that you may need to work in an open plan office!

BL: And why did you move from Euroclear to Lovells?

PC: When I first heard about the new position of Head of Practice Development and Knowhow that Lovells was offering I was immediately interested in it. I felt that my previous experience could have a real impact in the position. I had worked as a private practice anti-trust practitioner for some time, and felt that this could help me fully appreciate and provide the support role that fee earners required. But I also had experience on the other side in-house which I felt put me in a good position to provide a role in business development.

I liked the idea of entering a new field - support lawyer and business development - but on the foundation of an area I was familiar with, namely competition law. I also liked the fact that this was a new and rather unique role which had been developed by Lovells.

BL: And so what does your position entail?

PC: I have responsibilities in three principal areas: knowhow, training, and business development for the Competition and EU practice area of Lovells. Although I am based in Brussels, I hold these responsibilities for all the European offices of Lovells.

My role drives at ensuring quality of advice by delivering a first class knowledge management and training programme. It is also involved in the identification and delivery of business development opportunities.

The role involves mixing academic skills with strategic thinking, business understanding, and communication skills.

BL: How does this role add value for your law firm?

PC: Aside from the obvious added value of developing tools and resources which support fee earners, the role is designed to ensure that the firm fully utilises and develops its unique expertise, and creates cutting edge thinking that can be shared with clients. In developing new product lines that result from legal developments, as well as client relationships through the provision of tailored knowledge products, the role also has a significant contribution to make in the area of business development.

BL: How does this position in private practice compare to working as an associate?

PC: You deal with a wide range of internal clients from trainee to senior partner, but you also face externally, supporting and being part of client-focused teams. There is a wide range of potential activity, and you have to be strategic in ensuring that you prioritise the work that is going to deliver the maximum business benefit.

BL: What is the future of this function?

PC: The role of professional support lawyer is a relatively young one, starting only in the mid nineties in some firms. At its inception in some quarters I believe it had quite a bad image - a back-office function disconnected from fee earners and a career entered into for "lifestyle reasons" rather than out of real interest.

I believe that this is very much changing today. With the emergence of external information providers offering a variety of current awareness services, the role has become more high level focusing on the delivery of cutting edge knowledge, and the harnessing of the firm's unique expertise which provides real competitive advantage.

Law firms are also beginning to recognise the overlap with business development. I see more and more firms recognising the importance of the role, like Lovells. And with this greater recognition I expect more and more people to join the throngs of Professional Support Lawyers out of passion as well as through lifestyle choice.

BL: Good luck and thank you for your time.

Other features dealing with related issues:

David Ortega, Organización de Consumidores y Usuarios (OCU)