Antitrust & Trade Law: Francesco Carloni, Howrey

F CarloniBL: What range of issues does your practice cover?

FC: The focus of my practice is predominantly on antitrust (EU and national), although there is a steady demand for trade-related issues. With regard to trade, I principally advise on unfair trade practices. As a result of globalization, corporations are eager to know more about the implementation of trade policies and the interaction between such policies and antitrust. We often receive requests from our clients with regard to either the general framework or specific cases of implementation for certain industry sectors (e.g. in the air transport sector, EU Regulation 868/2004 protects against subsidies and unfair pricing practices). These requests represent a preliminary step that in turn can trigger an instruction to start proceedings. From a practitioner’s perspective, an assessment on trade law may pose significant challenges as it requires a deep understanding of both the EU and the multilateral trade framework, coupled with the need to obtain the relevant information which tends to be difficult to access (generally, the requested information is not publicly available or based on limited sources such as press releases on draft legislation, national assembly debates, etc.). Obtaining such information can be a real challenge, as we are often after legislation emanating from legal systems that we are unfamiliar with. I can tell you that understanding how the procedure followed by the South Korean parliament in passing new regulations is by no means a straightforward task!

BL: How did you end up working in these areas of the law?

FC: Following graduation from law school in Italy, I decided to specialize in two areas: antitrust and trade law, which I considered to a certain degree to be complementary. When selecting the post-graduate programs, I mostly looked into the quality of the courses and tried to ensure that the topics covered by these programs were in line with my academic objectives. Both the College of Europe (2004) and Georgetown (2007) provided me with the necessary legal background in antitrust and trade law to achieve my career goals. Specifically, following the grant of the Fulbright scholarship, I decided to specialize at Georgetown since I wanted to learn more about the transatlantic perspective. I was also able to deepen my knowledge of corporate law, which is very helpful in transactional work. Also, I wanted to qualify in the US as an NY attorney and, in that respect, an LLM degree in the US enables LLM graduates to sit for the NY State Bar Exam. I was very impressed with the academic facilities in the United States. The resources that universities have there are infinitely greater when compared to European universities. There was also a very sophisticated law firm hiring process integrated in the academic cycle.  As a European, I found this very peculiar, as the whole process was highly regulated and also had a much stronger social aspect, with many informal events organized by prospective employers. That said, I found my year in Bruges to be much tougher, both in terms of quantity and intensity. At Georgetown, I also studied a lot, but managed to have a lot of fun in the process. DC is a great place, quite similar to Brussels actually as it is very international.

Given my focus on antitrust and trade law, however, Brussels became my “natural” destination since it is the most prominent center in Europe for these sorts of practices.
BL: How creative do you perceive your work to be?

FC: Depending on the seniority, the day-by-day work of lawyers varies significantly. Generally, junior lawyers will tend to perform (less attractive) tasks such as document review and data gathering, though they will immediately be required to focus on drafting as well. Drafting is a key skill and, when dealing with specific legal issues, any creative and/or original propositions that serve the purpose of the argument will be considered, whether based on facts or intuition. To this extent, by knowing the “facts” of a case, junior lawyers are able to play an active role and interact easily with senior colleagues. The more a lawyer progresses, the more other attributes such as management skills become critical. Indeed, senior lawyers are expected to handle multiple cases at the same time and therefore need to rely on the work of those beneath them. Also, global law firms frequently work on international transactions and lawyers routinely interact with their colleagues in other offices, often in other countries. Such transactions not only facilitate contacts among colleagues but also stimulate brainstorming and very often-creative solutions are necessary for the successful outcome of the transaction in question.

BL: Could you tell us what you learned from your time working at the WTO and in the Italian Ministry of Foreign affairs?

FC: I joined the WTO and the Italian Ministry of Foreign affairs as a trainee in 2004 and 2003 respectively. At the WTO, I had to follow the activities of the Dispute Settlement Body and the negotiations of the Doha Round, and report to my supervisors. In the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, I was involved in the preparation of the Italian Presidency of the European Union. Both experiences were very instructive. For instance, while at the WTO, I had to update the summary and description of case law (rulings by the Panel and the Appellate Body). Still today, when I need to look into restrictions to market access in India for example, I look into these summaries as a starting point in my search for favorable interpretations of the scope of the exceptions provided by GATS. Additionally, I found that these experiences provided me a better understanding of the functioning of the public sector.

BL: If there were one thing you could change about private practice, what would it be?
FC: There is nothing in particular that I would change, though there is certainly room for improvement! The profession is becoming more competitive with increased costs associated with post-graduate studies. As such, law firms face the challenge of attracting and retaining talent given that highly educated workers can decide to explore other avenues. In my view, strict meritocracy is the key incentive on which any successful private practice must rely. In this respect, I really value the Anglo-Saxon model. In the US, for example, strict anti-discrimination legislation has instilled a culture of objective assessment. Lawyers who prove their worth and develop their skills best progress. Quite Darwinian but there you go!

Other features dealing with related issues:

Juno O'Keeffe, Head of EU & WTO Affairs of the Law Societies' Joint Brussels Office

Luca Prete, Legal Service of the European Commission

Trevor Soames, Managing Partner of Howrey LLP in Brussels

Götz Drauz, Partner at Howrey LLP in Brussels