The first known competition laws were written 2,000 years ago in Rome, and were designed to stop ancient traders from hoarding grain – or sinking each other’s ships – to inflate prices.
Modern competition law has come a very long way since then.
It has developed around the idea that all people and companies benefit from competition in price and quality, and that regulation should prevent practices that restrict competition. It forbids cartels and monopolies, and attempts to prevent mergers or acquisitions that would substantially lessen competition.
Lawyers working in this field are exposed to transactional and litigation work, and they must understand the legal regime, the economic principles upon which it is built, and the industry and market of their clients.
“Competition Law is an attempt to give expression to an underlying economic policy,” says Richard Whish, professor at King's College London, and lawyers who have had little or no exposure to economics may find that postgraduate study is a good way to get the tools they need to work in this field.
What tools will lawyers need? According to University College London (UCL) Professor Ioannis Lianos, there is an increasing reliance – across all jurisdictions – upon economic analysis in interpreting and applying the law.
For this reason, Lianos says “it’s crucial that Competition Law courses arm lawyers with an understanding of the economic underpinnings of the law, and with skills of economic analysis.”
So while Competition Law LL.M. programs won’t set out to turn lawyers into economists, those planning to practice in the field for the long-term will need the skills to adapt to evolving economic theory.
“Economic analysis is not as linear as it was in the 1960's,” says Lianos. “There are now many different schools of thought, and a range of views have passed in and out of the mainstream.”
Practice and prospects
The work of a competition lawyer may involve advising on whether a proposed merger or acquisition would be in breach of regulations, clarifying the legal implications of participating in an illegal cartel or price-fixing agreement, or seeking approvals from competition authorities.
Aaron Edlin, law professor at University of California, Berkeley, says that globalization has increased the demand for anti-trust lawyers. In the last 20 years, over 100 countries have taken up Competition Law frameworks, including Korea, Russia, and most recently China, where, according to Edlin, “there are an awful lot of jobs advising international companies on compliance with the wide variety of anti-trust regimes.”
UCL's Lianos agrees, saying that “in order to become effective practitioners in a globalized economy, competition lawyers need an international and comparative perspective.”
While all modern Competition Law regimes share the same fundamental principles, there are substantial differences from country to country. According to Aaron Edlin, lawyers exposed to the competition regime of one country will find that “the way close cases come down can be significantly different” in another.
Edlin points out, however, that international students enrolled in an LL.M. program will benefit from exposure to a well-developed body of Competition Law, and that the theoretical study of these systems will provide lawyers with a useful point of departure or a point of contrast.
An LL.M. will also allow lawyers access to cutting-edge discourses in the field, an invaluable network of contacts, and the opportunity to distinguish themselves via prizes and academic performance.
There are a number of law schools offering LL.M. programs specializing in Competition Law, including NYU, University of Chicago, Harvard, UC Berkeley, Kings College London, UCL, Oxford, City University London, LSE, University of East Anglia, Nottingham Trent, University of Glasgow, Liège, and the Brussels School of Competition.
Competition Law is perhaps even more dynamic than other legal subjects, relying as it does upon evolving economic theory and changing market realities, not to mention the development of the law. So taking a year to focus on the development of Competition Law will also help brace lawyers for future twists and turns in the field.
“All of us, no matter how long we’ve been in the subject, are learning all the time,” says Richard Whish. “One thing we have learned is that there’s no right and wrong answer. There’s simply a continuous striving to improve or understand things better – to come up with better outcomes.”