Rainer Wessely, Senior Associate at Hogan Lovells

BL: What range of issues does your practice cover?

RW: Lovells was one of the first international law firms to set up in Brussels, having opened its office dedicated to competition and EU law in 1972 and advising a wide range of clients on a diverse range of issues.

Within these areas, many of our partners are recognised as leading practitioners in focused practice areas in addition to the mainstream competition and EU law area. For instance, Jacques Derenne, the managing partner of the Brussels office, is listed by Chambers Europe 2009 as a leading individual in State aid matters, Matthew Levitt is a leading practitioner in competition matters with respect to shipping and ports, Christopher Thomas is a prominent practitioner in competition issues associated with IP/ICT issues (representing a number of third parties in the Microsoft cases) and Ciara Kennedy-Loest is a leading practitioner in public procurement.
 
Our Brussels team forms part of a global competition and EU law practice with a broad geographic spread. Worldwide, we have 12 partners and more than 40 lawyers specialized in Competition, EU and Public law.  The competition team covers the Czech Republic, France, Germany, Hungary, Italy, the Netherlands, Poland, Russia, Spain, the UK as well as Asia and the US.
 
Merging with Hogan & Hartson as from 1 May 2010  will in particular increase our US Competition Law capacities and will enrich our Brussels expertise with other competition lawyers as well as lawyers focused on international trade law advisory and litigations.
 
Hogan & Lovells will be one of the very few firms with a transatlantic antitrust capability putting us in a position to offer complete solutions for transatlantic M&As and to act fast and efficiently in antitrust investigations concerning both jurisdictions.

BL: What differentiates Lovells' competition practice from the others in Brussels?
 
RW: As one of the first international law firms set up in Brussels, we have established excellent contacts with the people involved in the EU decision-making processes.
 
These contacts often help us find quicker and easier solutions for our clients. Most of our clients appreciate our very straight forward and hands-on approach, saving time and costs.  
 
Over the years we have developed detailed knowledge of key sectors under the competition spotlight, such as financial services, postal and telecommunications services, life sciences, automotive, aviation, media, maritime transport and IT.
 
BL: How creative do you perceive your work to be?
 
RW: The work demands us to provide tailor made answers and solutions for a whole range of competition law issues.
 
It is a challenge to give the correct legal advice to the in-house legal department, already specialized in competition law, for a very particular legal question on the one hand and, on the other, to give competition compliance training to engineers and sales personal of other companies that have never heard about competition law before.
 
It is very rare that you come across problems that are not, at least in some respect, unique in their nature and that require a unique solution, taking into account all kind of factors such as risks to the business, economic interests, reactions by clients, competitors and authorities and so on.  

BL: What are the positive and negative aspects of your job?
 
RW: The aforementioned creativity is certainly a big asset – the result matters, and you have to create the legal means to achieve the result.
 
It is a big challenge to understand completely new economic sectors quickly and to establish parallels to sectors and problems that you are familiar with.
 
It is great to work in an international environment – giving compliance training to employees from many different countries gives you the capacity to adopt and to understand local particularities.  

A downside for me is that you have to accept that in private practice, time equals money, which means the time you can spent on certain questions is sometimes limited.

BL: How do you compare working in private practice with working for the European Commission?

RW: Working in private practice is certainly more demanding than working in the EU administration. There is no strict and detailed program or manual to follow, and the range of questions and problems is more widespread.
 
Similar to Lovells, the hierarchy in the Commission is quite flat and people involved in decision-making are normally uncomplicated and have a lot of common sense. However decisions taken in the Commission are subject to a very formalized and time-consuming process and good initiatives can end up being blocked for political reasons.
 
Working outside the Commission gives you more intellectual flexibility – a good initiative is often taken up and followed up upon in very short time.  
 
It is particularly interesting to learn about the decision-making processes taking place in big companies now. Working for the Commission was somehow more black and white: carrying out a dawn raid in search of evidence for cartel infringements you either found incriminating evidence, which meant that the company under investigation was "bad" and should be fined for its infringement of the law, or you did not, which meant the company was considered as "good" (or at any rate "smart", as it had been able to destroy efficiently all incriminating evidence in time).
 
Seeing the situation from the other side today, the decisions taken in companies and the reasons why companies come into conflict with competition rules are often more subtle. Knowing the economic or personal background of those involved in such decisions makes it easier to understand why commercial decisions are taken the way they are taken.

It is definitely a new experience to enter the front door of a big company and not to be seen as the unwanted competition law enforcer (although I do miss this role and the great team spirit that dawn raids create).

BL: Good luck.  Thank you for your time.

Other features dealing with related issues: 

Robert Klotz, Partner at Hunton & Williams

David Ortega, Organización de Consumidores y Usuarios (OCU)

Dr. Jörg Hladjk, Associate at Hunton & Williams