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2024 DIVERSITY DATABASE PREMIUM SPONSOR Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton LLP

The following is an excerpt from Practice Perspectives: Vault's Guide to Legal Practice Areas.

Brian is a partner based in the Bay Area offices of Cleary Gottlieb. His practice focuses on the antitrust review of mergers and acquisitions, criminal antitrust investigations and other enforcement matters, and civil antitrust litigation. 

Resident in the firm’s Washington, DC office for most of his career, in the firm’s Brussels office from 2008 to 2011, and in its Bay Area office since 2021, Brian offers clients seamless counsel on cross-border, global antitrust matters. 

Brian has been recognized for his work by Chambers USA, The Legal 500, and Benchmark Litigation. The National Law Journal has named him a “Trailblazer in Antitrust” and BTI Consulting Group Survey of Fortune 1000 General Counsels has named him a “client service all-star.” 

Brian earned his J.D. from the University of Michigan School of Law in 1995 and a B.A., with high distinction, from Brown University in 1992.

Describe your practice area and what it entails.

Cleary Gottlieb’s practice covers all aspects of antitrust law, including advising on M&A transactions (e.g., advocacy to obtain agency clearance), litigation (e.g., price-fixing, monopolization, and merger challenge cases), and criminal and civil government investigations. It is essentially three practice areas rolled into one. Unlike many firms, at Cleary Gottlieb, antitrust lawyers typically work in all three of these areas.  

In addition, my work is often international. Having spent three years practicing in our Brussels office, I regularly advise on cross-border transactions and investigations, including global cartel investigations. These matters typically involve the U.S., the European Commission, the U.K., as well as other jurisdictions such as Brazil, China, Korea, Canada, Japan, Chile, and Mexico.  

What types of clients do you represent?

My practice touches nearly every industry, and I have been privileged to represent some of the world’s leading companies in their respective industries. One of the most interesting parts of my job is learning about each sector, going beyond legal issues to really understand my clients’ business, competition, and business objectives. Based in the California Bay Area, I frequently represent software companies such as Figma, and semiconductor industry companies such as Applied Materials. Other current and recent clients include venture capital (Sequoia Capital), food and beverage (Molson Coors, General Mills, and Sysco), industrial and defense (Raytheon and Johnson Controls), consumer products (Whirlpool), retail (Family Dollar and Lowe’s), energy (Phillips 66), transportation (Korean Air), and chemical and similar industries (Dow Chemical and Air Liquide), among others.  

What types of cases/deals do you work on?

My caseload is a balanced mix of merger, enforcement, and litigation matters. At any point in time, I’m usually working on a couple of matters in each area, so I’ll give one current example of each. I am currently advising Figma, Raytheon, and Korean Air in connection with various large transactions under review by government authorities. In the enforcement area, I recently represented a software company (whose name I have to keep confidential) in a DOJ criminal antitrust grand jury investigation that was shut down without our client being charged.  And recently, I successfully defended Swedish Match, a Swedish multinational, in litigation in the Central District of California. 

How did you choose this practice area?

I started by taking advantage of the opportunity Cleary Gottlieb provides to try several different practice areas. I found antitrust matters to be particularly fascinating and challenging, so over time I focused more and more on antitrust. I didn’t plan to be an antitrust lawyer, but fortunately, I’m at a firm that prizes versatile lawyers and allows young lawyers to explore different practice areas.

What is a typical day like and/or what are some common tasks you perform?

I interact daily with clients, regulators, co-counsel at other firms, and expert economists. I spend a lot of time in physical or virtual meetings, and also do quite a bit of writing. Many of the clients, colleagues, and co-counsel I speak with are in California, elsewhere in the U.S., or outside of the U.S., and the key regulators are in Washington, DC, Brussels, and London.  So I travel a fair amount, typically at least a couple of times per month, with a number of international trips every year. A typical day or week involves advice and counseling, as well as advocacy and negotiation at the antitrust agencies and/or in litigation.  

What training, classes, experience, or skills development would you recommend to someone who wishes to enter your practice area?

All of the skills and experiences that are generally useful to corporate lawyers and litigators are equally essential in antitrust, including writing, oral advocacy, and client service.

In addition, an economics background and an enthusiasm for learning about the business world are very helpful for antitrust lawyers. We regularly work with our clients’ business teams, as well as economic consultants and experts. Indeed, economics principles underlie antitrust policy, so understanding economics is critical in the tough cases. Those who have an economics background find the practice area to be a natural fit. That said, many of our associates come to the firm with only a limited background in economics. These associates can thrive with a commitment to getting up to speed through extra training, classes, or reading. 

More broadly, a quantitative or business background, such as in math, finance, or consulting, can be very useful. However, this is not essential, as Cleary Gottlieb offers a 2-week immersion “mini-MBA” training program to all new associates.

What is the most challenging aspect of practicing in this area?

Two issues make antitrust practice uniquely challenging.

First, antitrust merger reviews and merger litigations are condensed into a matter of months, while most other investigations and litigations of this complexity and importance last years. Merging parties can’t wait around for years to find out whether their mergers can proceed. So we need to do it all very quickly. The good news is that cases actually end, and you move on to new matters. The challenge is figuring out how to cut to the chase and quickly persuade the agency on the key issues.

Second, the DOJ’s criminal cartel investigations frequently target foreign clients who have little experience with U.S. antitrust law. Thus, antitrust investigations and advice often involve communications (across language and cultural barriers) on high-stakes matters with client representatives who are unfamiliar with the relevant law, policy, and process.

What misconceptions exist about your practice area?

Many law students don’t realize how large of a field antitrust is, and thus, how many career opportunities are available. There is a common misconception that antitrust is one of many niche “support” or “administrative” practices. In Washington, DC, the reality is that there is a very large antitrust bar, and the work includes agency merger reviews, civil litigation, and criminal cartel investigations. At Cleary Gottlieb, antitrust isn’t a support function for the firm’s M&A practice. Rather, it is a “destination” practice that is strategically critical to the firm. It is a vibrant, stand-alone, global practice that often works closely with the M&A team. Companies appreciate the value in providing resources to an antitrust defense, as many of these matters are bet-the-company cases, since the issues often boil down to whether the company is becoming too powerful in the marketplace.    

What is unique about your practice area at your firm?

The greatest change in antitrust work since I have been practicing is how international it has become. In addition to the U.S. and Europe, we are regularly involved in antitrust investigations by Latin American, Asian, and other authorities. Moreover, with nearly half of the firm’s lawyers based outside of the U.S., our clients skew strongly in the international direction. Cleary Gottlieb has been consistently recognized as the only firm with a top-tier practice in both the U.S. and Europe, so we have a tremendous roster of non-U.S. clients who turn to us for U.S. and global antitrust projects.

What are some typical tasks that a junior lawyer would perform in this practice area?

A junior lawyer’s job starts with learning all about the client’s business, and the competition it faces. Given the exposure to multiple industries over time, the junior gains invaluable insights on a broad cross-section of the global business world. Armed with the facts and details about a client’s industry, the junior lawyer’s tasks involve factual and legal research, risk assessment advice, negotiation of key provisions in M&A contracts, advocacy to global antitrust agencies, client communications, and all of the steps in litigation and investigations.