The following is an excerpt from Practice Perspectives: Vault's Guide to Legal Practice Areas.
Belinda Lee, a partner in the Bay Area office of Latham & Watkins, is global vice chair of Latham’s Antitrust & Competition practice. She represents global companies in high-stakes litigation and investigations, with particular experience defending private damages actions and navigating clients through international jurisdictions. She represents global companies in antitrust and complex litigation matters pending in courts throughout the United States and before government regulators in the Americas, Europe, and Asia. Ms. Lee has extensive experience defending and advising companies in the technology, consumer products, transportation, and manufacturing industries. She has represented these companies in consumer class actions, price-fixing, monopolization, unfair competition, and licensing disputes. She has defeated class certification several times and has regularly guided clients through criminal investigations that close without enforcement action.
Aaron Chiu, a litigation associate in the Bay Area office of Latham & Watkins, represents public and private companies in complex antitrust disputes and government enforcement actions across a range of industries, including technology, sports and entertainment, advertising, transportation, and retail/consumer products. Mr. Chiu has substantial experience representing clients through trial and appeal as well as in international arbitration. He has directed case strategy and led the briefing of numerous appellate briefs and dispositive motions.
Describe your practice area and what it entails.
Belinda: I am an antitrust litigator and focus on class actions and cross-border antitrust disputes.
Aaron: I am an antitrust litigator, and I represent clients
facing government antitrust investigations and enterprise-threatening antitrust challenges to their business practices.
What types of clients do you represent?
Belinda: My clients come from a full spectrum of industries—from high-tech electronics companies and online platforms to more traditional brick-and-mortar retailers and automobile manufacturers. A few specific names I have advised include Toshiba Corporation, BMW AG, and StarKist Co.
Aaron: I have advised various kinds of public and private companies. To give you a flavor, I have advised DoorDash; Ferrellgas, a brick-and-mortar propane tank distributor; Fédération Internationale de Natation (FINA), the international federation for Olympic and world swimming; and the U.S. Soccer Federation.
What types of cases/deals do you work on?
Belinda: My cases generally involve defending a multinational corporation (or their executives) in government investigations and any follow-on civil litigation. I have represented Toshiba Corporation in the many different Electronic Components antitrust investigations and civil cases, StarKist Co. in the Packaged Seafood matters, and BMW AG in the German Automobile Manufacturer matter. I have descriptions of quite a few more cases I have worked on in my bio on Latham’s website.
How did you choose this practice area?
Belinda: I didn’t choose antitrust so much as it chose me. When I was a mid-level associate, I worked in several different areas (e.g., soft IP, toxic torts, insurance litigation), and none of them appealed to me. I met and got to know the then-chair of our Antitrust practice when we served together on Latham’s Associates Committee. He recruited me to the Antitrust group, and the rest was history.
Aaron: As a young associate, I knew I wanted to do litigation. I did some antitrust work as a summer associate at another firm. Then I ended up at Latham in San Francisco, which is a hotbed for antitrust litigation. Latham’s Antitrust group started here, and by the time I arrived, it was already one of the top antitrust practices globally, handling lots of interesting cases. I also gravitated towards the people in the group because they are a great collection of individuals. Landing in this practice was, therefore, a combination of interest in the subject matter and bonds formed with a group of people that I enjoy working with every day.
What is a typical day like and/or what are some common tasks you perform?
Belinda: I don’t know if there is such a thing as a “typical day” in the wake of COVID-19! Pre-pandemic, my days usually involved a lot of traveling to visit clients, taking or defending depositions, and making court appearances. In an average year, I would travel to a half dozen key global cities. Since the pandemic started, it’s virtually impossible to travel. We’re still working with clients outside the U.S., but meeting by videoconference.
Aaron: There is no typical day for me, which is what I enjoy about the work. Each day is largely determined by where in the litigation lifecycle my matters currently are. Some days it’s a lot of brief writing, what I call the “hard brain work”—thinking about arguments, the law, and case strategy. Other days involve case management—meetings and conference calls, team and project management, and communication with clients. Other days are going to battle—handling court hearings, taking and defending depositions, and going to trial. No two days are the same.
What training, classes, experience, or skills development would you recommend to someone who wishes to enter your practice area?
Belinda: Hone your writing skills—your legal brief is the first thing that a court will consider on any given issue, so your written advocacy skills need to be strong. Get comfortable with public speaking—as a litigator, you need to be able to stand up and persuade people that you are right and opposing counsel is wrong. And, for antitrust specifically, an understanding of economics is always helpful.
Aaron: Take a class in antitrust law. Antitrust is interesting because there are only a handful of statutes upon which the body of law is built. Understanding how these statutes are applied and the substantive antitrust common law around them will provide you with a good framework. Also, as Belinda suggests, pursue coursework or experience that allows you to gain considerable writing practice. The premier antitrust litigators write about very complex issues in a simple, comprehensible way and are masters at synthesizing complex business practices and concepts into intuitive bite-sized chunks for judges and juries.
What is the most challenging aspect of practicing in this area?
Belinda: The time zones! Working with multinational clients on cross-border disputes means there is always someone awake and hosting conference calls at odd hours of the night. But in all seriousness, the cross-time zone global nature of my practice is what makes it so interesting. I really appreciate the opportunity to work with lawyers and business people in different countries and learn their different approaches to antitrust and competition law.
Aaron: I love the challenge of understanding concepts that are very complex and simplifying them for your audience—whether that is a judge or a jury. It’s about learning your client’s business and then telling their story. That’s the fun part. When you are on the defense, the plaintiff often spins a seemingly compelling narrative. We’re tasked with defending our client’s business practices by pulling focus to tell the complete story and provide greater perspective. This often reveals that a certain scrutinized practice is actually pro-competitive or the result of innovation. Learning about the various industries that our clients are involved in is a vital process to building an effective defense. Frequently, the business practices being challenged are not about trying to fix prices or to exclude a competitor; instead, they are about a desire to innovate, to enhance the customer experience, and to provide better service and quality.
What misconceptions exist about your practice area?
Belinda: People often think that you have to have a degree in economics and studied antitrust law in law school. Those are extremely helpful, but they are not prerequisites to becoming an antitrust lawyer. If you are willing to put in the work to learn on the job, you will do just fine without those.
Aaron: I believe it’s much more accessible than some people think. Antitrust is something that you can learn by doing. Latham does a great job of providing such opportunities. There are so many entry points for lawyers to learn by doing on our antitrust cases and then to become experts.
How do you see this practice area evolving in the future?
Belinda: Antitrust enforcement by government regulators and private plaintiffs—in the U.S. and around the world—will only continue to increase. In the U.S., antitrust reform has been a hot topic in Congress with no signs of cooling. This will mean more government investigations, more antitrust lawsuits, and increased scrutiny of merging companies.
Aaron: We are seeing renewed vigor in antitrust enforcement, both by government enforcers and also through private litigation. The technology space will continue to face increased scrutiny. We’ll also see questions about whether the traditional tools of antitrust should be used to police the practices of technology companies, many of which may have originated as one kind of technology company (i.e., social media, online search, online delivery), but with the aggregation of users and data have expanded into many other related services and products. I think there are credible voices that antitrust is perhaps not the right tool to address the new and evolving issues in the technology space. Conversely, the concerns underlying the call for renewed antitrust scrutiny in this area are real, as technology companies and platforms have an immense amount of information and influence over many people.
Another area of evolution is the increasingly interconnected nature of antitrust enforcement globally. Now, events in one jurisdiction tend to exhibit direct impacts on antitrust issues that arise in other jurisdictions. For example, the European Commission (EC) has become a leading enforcer in advancing novel antitrust cases, but the impacts of those enforcement actions are no longer limited to Europe. Numerous U.S. lawsuits are premised on antitrust theories advanced by the EC or cases in Europe. Therefore, antitrust enforcement and defense is becoming more interconnected globally. Clients need to continue to become more sophisticated about antitrust compliance globally, as their decisions in one jurisdiction will undoubtedly have effects for their business in another jurisdiction.
What are some typical career paths for lawyers in this practice area?
Belinda: I don’t think there is a “typical” career path in the antitrust world. Some lawyers (myself included) have worked at the same law firm for their entire careers. Others have started at firms and then left to go work at the Antitrust Division of the Department of Justice or the Federal Trade Commission. Still others have left to work on antitrust and competition issues while in-house at a client.
Aaron: When people think about antitrust, they think about career paths in private practice or government. Several Latham colleagues have gone to or come from the Antitrust Division at the U.S. Department of Justice or the Federal Trade Commission. But consistent with the global nature of antitrust, we’re seeing a lot more in-house antitrust counsel positions. Although many litigators assume there are more in-house positions for corporate lawyers, companies are finding increased utility in having in-house litigation counsel positions, including antitrust litigators.