The following is an excerpt from Practice Perspectives: Vault's Guide to Legal Practice Areas.
D. Bruce Hoffman, Partner—Antitrust (2023)
Bruce is a partner based in the Washington, DC, office of Cleary Gottlieb. His practice focuses on antitrust enforcement, including merger clearance and conduct investigations, antitrust litigation, counseling, and FTC consumer protection work. Bruce joined the firm as a partner after serving as Director of the Federal Trade Commission’s Bureau of Competition from August 2017 until December 2019. As Director, he was the head of the FTC’s antitrust enforcement and was responsible for developing Bureau policy, supervising all of the Bureau’s investigations and litigation, and conducting high-level relations with other leading antitrust enforcers, as well as communications with Congress. Bruce previously served at the FTC as Associate and then Deputy Director of the Bureau of Competition from 2001 through 2004 and has had a long career in private practice.
Bruce has been recognized for his antitrust work by Chambers USA, The Legal 500 and Benchmark Litigation. While with the FTC, he received the Award for Distinguished Service. Bruce is on the Board of Trustees for the University of Florida Levin College of Law.
Bruce earned his J.D., with high honors, from the University of Florida Levin College of Law in 1992 and a B.A., with high distinction, from Pennsylvania State University in 1989.
Describe your practice area and what it entails.
Cleary Gottlieb’s antitrust practice handles high-stakes antitrust litigation, major transactions, and closely watched cartel and monopolization investigations. We serve clients in all areas of competition law, including merger notification and related advocacy efforts before the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), the Department of Justice (DOJ), and other global agencies; every type and stage of government antitrust investigation; and a wide range of civil and criminal antitrust litigation. We also handle related FTC issues, such as advertising and marketing practices investigations.
Our antitrust practice is among the most highly acclaimed practices in both the U.S. and Europe. In the 2023 edition of GCR100 by Global Competition Review (GCR), Cleary was ranked #1 in the Global Elite, and we are the only law firm ranked in GCR’s “Elite” category for antitrust in Washington, DC. In addition, we are consistently ranked as the only top-tier firm for antitrust in both the United States and Europe (Chambers Global, 2011-2022).
What types of clients do you represent?
One thing I enjoy about having an antitrust practice is the varied client base. I work with clients in various industries, including among many others technology (Google, Sony), consumer goods and retail (Keurig, Dr. Pepper, Casey’s Convenience Stores), and financial services.
What types of cases/deals do you work on?
Unlike many other firms, Cleary’s Antitrust group does not assign attorneys to a particular specialty area. Our attorneys can handle transactions, litigation, and investigations across a variety of industries, and my practice is no different. Last year, for example, I worked with Coca-Cola in acquiring the appropriate antitrust approvals to complete their acquisition of a sports drink, while also working with Leroy Seafood Group in antitrust class action litigation.
How did you choose this practice area?
The short story is by accident and an interest in economics. I was essentially a first-generation lawyer (I had a great-uncle who was a lawyer, but I had no idea what he did until after I graduated) and I was not aware that “antitrust law” was an option. As a very junior associate, I found myself working on an antitrust litigation case that piqued my interest. I then sought additional opportunities to work on antitrust cases and became involved with the ABA Antitrust Section. Antitrust was for me by far the most interesting area of law, and I decided to really dig in.
What is a typical day like and/or what are some common tasks you perform?
There is no typical day, which is another reason why I enjoy the practice so much. There are days where I’m working on a strategy for a merger to see how we can make it work (or how we can help the agencies block someone else’s merger). Another day might find me in court or depositions as part of a litigation matter. Other times, I’m talking with clients about their business issues and how to stay on the right side of the law. Or I might spend time responding to a government antitrust investigation. Each day is something different—merger lawyer, litigator, business counselor, and government investigations lawyer—sometimes all in one day.
What training, classes, experience, or skills development would you recommend to someone who wishes to enter your practice area?
If you can take an Antitrust class, you should. Microeconomics, game theory, and statistics are all useful but not prerequisites. Civil Procedure and Administrative Law are also especially good if you’re looking to have a global practice. Once in practice, I recommend joining the ABA Antitrust Law Section to continue learning and build a network. I also suggest strongly considering working for the government at some point in your career, whether at the FTC, at the DOJ, or in a state attorney general’s antitrust office.
What is the most challenging aspect of practicing in this area?
An antitrust practice is very intellectually demanding as it’s a highly conceptual area of law. You’re taking complex concepts and making judgment calls on a regular basis. The economics in antitrust are also demanding to learn and keep up with. It’s very challenging and that’s why I enjoy it so much. It’s going to keep you engaged and interested.
What misconceptions exist about your practice area?
Some commentators try to create a narrative that there is a questionable “revolving door” exchange between the government and private law firms, in the way that some people criticize officials leaving government procurement offices and joining contractors selling to their former office. But it’s a false analogy based on unfamiliarity with antitrust law and practice. Unlike some areas of law, such as labor, there’s no plaintiff/defense split in the antitrust bar; antitrust practitioners are just as likely to represent plaintiffs or complainants as defendants or respondents. And attorneys leaving the government provide the most value in private practice, and are most highly sought after, when they were aggressive but principled enforcers. Further, the exchange between the government and the private sector allows the government to tap talent that would otherwise be unavailable and facilitates understanding between the government and the private sector that benefits enforcement. For example, I’m more able to persuade clients to avoid doing things that might violate the antitrust laws because my government service tells clients that I know what I’m talking about.
What is unique about your practice area at your firm?
We’re unique at Cleary because antitrust is a flagship practice here. At many firms, antitrust is an ancillary or complementary practice to corporate and litigation work. We’re very closely integrated with those practices, of course. But Cleary views antitrust as a hallmark of the firm and a destination practice that does much more than serve the needs of the firm’s other practice groups.
What are some typical career paths for lawyers in this practice area?
There are four typical career paths for lawyers seeking an antitrust practice: 1) government, 2) private practice, 3) in-house, and 4) academic. In this area, more than others, you’ll see lawyers spend time in some combination and potentially in all four. Most typically, an attorney will spend three to eight years in private practice before going to the government for a period and then maybe returning to private practice or going in-house, but there’s tremendous variation. Given the heavy academic element of antitrust, you will also see a fair bit of flow back and forth between academia. For example, I’ll be teaching this spring at my alma mater.