Robert Klotz, Partner at Hunton & Williams

After twelve years as an European Commission official, Robert Klotz, a German-qualified lawyer, joined Hunton & Williams as a competition law partner a few years ago. 

Brussels Legal spoke with Mr. Klotz about why he decided to leave the Commission and his reasons for becoming a partner in private practice.

BL: What is your professional background?

RK: In 1994 I qualified as a German lawyer and, after working in the Strasbourg office of a German law firm, joined the Commission in early 1996. After an initial period dealing with enterprise policy, I spent nearly ten years in DG Competition - first in the unit responsible for Telecommunications and Post and then in the Energy and Water unit.

I had very interesting times in both of these units: in Telecoms (between 1998-2003) I dealt with issues such as full liberalisation, sector-specific regulation and competition enforcement; and the same happened again in Energy (from the end of 2003 to summer 2007) with the sector enquiry and high profile antitrust cases. I guess I was fortunate in terms of where I worked, as in both jobs it felt like I was in the right place at the right time.

BL: So why did you decide to leave the Commission?

RK: I really enjoyed working in DG Competition; as it brings together a lot of very talented people in an intellectually and culturally stimulating international environment. Certainly the Commission was a great place to start my career.

But as time progressed my "learning curve" became less steep and the nature of the Commission as a huge, complex bureaucracy became a bigger burden for me. Often diverging political interests play themselves out and sometimes this results in decision-making being determined by a variety of external considerations, which can be quite discouraging. In addition, the possibilities for promotion are more and more limited, due to the number of posts reserved for the twelve "new" Member states.

Therefore many officials with some level of experience start to feel some frustration about their role in the decision-making process and their personal impact within the hierarchy. In such a situation, there is an important choice to be made about what comes next. Many officials looking for more autonomy or influence within the Commission try to get into management positions, to work for one of the Commissioners' cabinets or to find a co-ordinating role in the DG hierarchy. These options allow an official to stay inside "the house" with all the security that comes with that.

But others are attracted by a more radical career change, seeking to apply all their experience and know-how gained within the Commission in a job in a more business-oriented environment such as private practice. That is the option I chose and it was driven by my search for more directly rewarding work, offering a greater variety of issues and more independence.

BL: Looking at options outside the Commission, was switching to private practice the obvious choice?

RK: For me yes private practice was the obvious choice. During my legal studies I was always focused on working as a practising attorney rather than working in-house or for a national regulator. That is how I started, but then the opportunity to work for the Commission arose and I was glad to take it.

However, during my time at the Commission I kept in contact with the "outside world" and notably with private practice. I have many friends working in law firms, all becoming partners in the meantime, and have closely followed-up on all the developments of the profession over the last decade. I also have remained in touch with the "outside world" through conferences, publications and teaching students on Masters courses. It has always been very important for me to get feedback on those extra activities and they were often very positive. I think my profile was seen as somewhat exceptional when compared to other Commission officials, as I was never scared of going out to discuss issues of competition policy, which can often get quite controversial.

A particular attraction with being a partner in private practice is that this role offers me a sufficient degree of involvement in the decision-making process and an impact in the development of business. When compared to the position of counsel, partners clearly bear a greater responsibility about how the business is steered and grown.

BL: Do you foresee having to make a big adjustment in terms how you worked before at the Commission and now in private practice?

RK: Of course there is an important adjustment to make with a move like this one but I feel well-prepared for it. I have got some prior experience in private practice and I am confident of being able to meet clients' expectations. Becoming a partner now at the age of forty-four, I think I have the right combination of youth and experience; and I very much looking forward to the new perspectives and challenges in the years ahead!

BL: And why join Hunton & Williams?

RK: Hunton & Williams is the ideal place for me. Internationally it is a very well-respected, highly professional top fifty US law firm with a good client base. There are many very able and talented lawyers working throughout the firm's offices.

For me the decisive factor was that in Brussels, and in Europe for that matter, there is still a lot of growth to come. The European antitrust practice of the firm is being enhanced considerably right now and it is a particular challenge for me to be part of this process. Also being very familiar with the network industries, such as energy, telecoms and IT, I see good opportunities to build strong links with our existing US and London industry practices.

While our European antitrust practice is still quite young, it is not to be seen as a start-up. Our Global antitrust head, Hew Pate, established the US side of the antitrust practice in June 2005, and recruited Michael Rosenthal to develop the European part of the practice in spring last year. Michael has already handled some high-profile antitrust cases and also kicked-off necessary changes, laying the foundation for future growth. For example, the Brussels office is relocating to more prestigious offices later this month and that is a strong statement to both clients and attorneys.

What's more, the firm is also committed to further growth in Europe. I was particularly attracted by the plans of Hunton & Williams to expand into Germany. Michael and I are the only German-qualified partners in the firm so far and we look forward to steering the firm in that expansion.

BL: Good luck and thank you for your time.

Related feature:

Michael Rosenthal and John ('Jack') Martin, Partners at Hunton & Williams

Other features dealing with related issues:

Götz Drauz, Partner at Howrey LLP in Brussels

Mario Todino, Resident Brussels Office Partner, Gianni Origoni Grippo

Andrea De Matteis, Partner of Labruna Mazziotti Segni