Employees and antitrustThat’s right, the antitrust laws care so much about competition that they even prohibit agreements among competitors to not steal. In a society that morally condemns stealing, this is counter-intuitive (and a good reason to learn a little bit about antitrust).

You might wonder now whether I will engage in some philosophy gymnastics to convince you that stealing is okay. No, but I will provide a concrete example, then offer some advice. Not as fun, but perhaps more useful.

So California is abuzz with recently released documents in an antitrust class action by employees against giant Silicon Valley employers like Google, Inc., Apple Inc., Intel Corp and Adobe Systems Inc. The case is scheduled for trial soon and news reports suggest a settlement is likely.

What happened? The class-action employees accused major Silicon Valley employers of agreeing not to steal each other’s employees. If true, that’s kind of a big deal under the antitrust laws.

It doesn’t sound so bad, right? How can anyone get any work done if everyone is trying to steal everyone’s employees? And it just seems impolite. Competitors are so tough on each other—can’t we have just a little bit of dignity and not try to hire away your competitor’s employees? The sort of war that can ensue among competing employers for a scarce resource—quality technology employees—can make a truce very tempting.

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Cable MergerAntitrust attorneys do everything that a lawyer can do: They litigate in both courts and agencies; they counsel clients; and they participate in mergers & acquisitions. If you are a young lawyer or law student that can’t decide what type of legal activity you like best, try antitrust and competition law—you can do it all.

In the mergers & acquisitions category, antitrust’s most recent obsession is the deal between Comcast Corp. and Time Warner Cable., Inc.

Competition Policy International (CPI) was kind enough to ask me to write a few words expressing my thoughts, and you can read them here. You can view the other Comcast-TWC articles from the CPI Antitrust Chronicle here.

I won’t go into a lot of detail because you can read the actual article (which is less than five pages), but I thought I’d provide a little introduction into my thinking.

Usually in these circumstances, you will see commentary on one side stating that, of course, the merger should be approved, maybe even “as is.” On the other side, you will read analyses that the world will fall apart if the merger is not blocked forever.

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Engineers and BridgeAs an antitrust attorney, over time you see the same major cases cited again and again. It is only natural that you develop favorites. Here at The Antitrust Attorney Blog, we will, from time-to-time, highlight some of the “Classic Antitrust Cases” that we love, that we hate, or that we merely find interesting.

The Supreme Court decided National Society of Professional Engineers in the late 1970s—when I was two-years old—and before the Reagan Revolution. But the views that the author, Justice John Paul Stevens, expressed on behalf of the Supreme Court perhaps ushered in the faith in competition often associated with the 1980s.

The National Society of Professional Engineers thought that its members were above price competition. Indeed, it strictly forbid them from competing on price.

The reason was simple: “it would be cheaper and easier for an engineer ‘to design and specify inefficient and unnecessarily expensive structures and methods of construction.’ Accordingly, competitive pressure to offer engineering services at the lowest possible price would adversely affect the quality of engineering. Moreover, the practice of awarding engineering contracts to the lowest bidder, regardless of quality, would be dangerous to the public health, safety, and welfare.” (684-85).

So price competition will cause bridges to collapse? I suppose the same argument could be made for any market where greater expense can improve the health or safety of a product or service. We better not let the car manufacturers compete to provide us with cars because they will skimp on the brakes.

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I recently reported on my client’s antitrust case against the Virginia Board of Medicine. I also mentioned that I argued at the motion-to-dismiss hearing on March 28. I am excited to announce that we received the Court’s decision today rejecting the Board’s Motion to Dismiss.

If you are interested in the case, you can download the complaint and motion to dismiss documents below.

1. Amended Complaint

2. Defendants’ Motion to Dismiss.

3. Plaintiff’s Opposition to Motion to Dismiss.

4. Defendants’ Reply Brief

5. The Court’s Order Rejecting Defendants’ Motion to Dismiss.

 

Disclaimer: Unfortunately, some state-bar associations take the position that people that read materials created by attorneys are fools that assume that if an attorney mentions any sort of success, then success in all aspects of every case is guaranteed. That sort of position actually makes the writings of lawyers less accessible to the public because they are filled with unnecessary disclaimers like this. But it is exactly the sort of position that you would expect an organization of lawyers to take, I suppose. Anyway, I doubt that my audience contains too many fools, but for the sake of “protecting the public,” please keep in mind that this initial decision on an early motion in no way means that success is guaranteed or more likely in any other case, as facts, laws, and results can and do vary. And if you thought otherwise before reading this disclaimer, then I highly recommend that you ask for assistance if you ever need to hire an attorney, or a doctor, or an accountant, or a limo driver, or anyone else.

 

Illinois BrickWhile waiting for my flight to leave San Diego on my way to Washington, DC for the ABA Antitrust Spring Meeting, I saw on Twitter—the best source for immediate Supreme Court news—that the Supreme Court had decided Lexmark International, Inc. v. Static Control Components, Inc. 

The Supreme Court in that case clarified standing requirements for Lanham Act claims, which create liability for false association and false advertising. The Lanham Act often comes up in legal battles between competitors, as competition often devolves into allegedly false statements about each other’s products or services.

The case is significant for standing in general, but I wonder if it may have some antitrust implications down the road as the lower courts grapple with its broader implications.

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PillsLast week was a big antitrust week for the new law firm of Bona Law PC. First, it was the ABA Antitrust Spring Meeting, where antitrust lawyers from all over the world descend upon Washington, DC to obsess over antitrust and competition for several days. Second, I was writing an antitrust brief in a significant antitrust case.

Finally, I argued at a motion-to-dismiss hearing in the case Dr. Yvoune Kara Petrie, DC v. Virginia Board of Medicine, et al. I represent Yvoune Petrie, a doctor of chiropractic, in an antitrust lawsuit (Sherman Act, Section 1) against the Virginia Board of Medicine and several of its board members. Update: We survived the motion to dismiss.

With my client’s permission, I thought I’d tell you a little more about it.

As you might recall, I have experience and expertise in antitrust lawsuits against state and local entities, and believe that some of the most pernicious harm to competition comes from government conduct.

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You may have heard that last week I left DLA Piper to start my own law firm. I am humbled and appreciative of all the support that I have received from many of you. Thank you.

As an antitrust attorney, I analyze markets every day. Even when I’m not working, I do it. I can’t help myself. When I go to the grocery store and stare at a shelf of products, my three-and-a-half-year-old son—who is my grocery-shopping buddy—might think I am carefully determining the best product to buy. (Well, he actually is probably wondering when we are going to come across more food items with cartoons on them).

Instead, I find myself looking at the difference in prices and the placement of companies’ products on the shelf, and thinking about, for example, whether loyalty discounts or category management played a role.

The same compulsion to analyze markets is now occurring in my own market—the market for legal services—now that I am participating in it as an owner rather than an employee. Thus, I thought it would be fun to periodically blog about my experiences moving from biglaw to my own law firm.

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In the most recent issue of The Antitrust Law Journal, attorney Sean P. Gates describes several possible approaches to these discounts, analyzing the good and the bad for each. His article, Antitrust by Analogy: Developing Rules for Loyalty Rebates and Bundled Discounts, is really quite good.

I identified this article as a must-read in a previous blog post, and finally had the opportunity to review it over the weekend (Note: I had been busy starting a new law firm, so fell behind on my reading). I am glad that I did. Since most of the country is having winter this year, I won’t point out that I read it on my San Diego outdoor patio while enjoying the whiff of freshly-cut lawn, the sight of palm trees, and the distraction of whether to eat a delicious orange right off the tree. I won’t mention it even though after many years in Minnesota—I put in my cold time—I would feel justified in doing so.

Anyway, I recommend the article generally, but more specifically for the following people: (1) antitrust attorneys that are into exclusionary conduct; (2) non-antitrust attorneys with clients that sell in a distribution network (including to retailers); (3) business people involved in pricing and marketing decisions for their company; and (4) antitrust law students that are looking for a good review of various types of exclusionary conduct.

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Supreme CourtI am excited to announce that after a dozen years of big-law practice, I am leaving DLA Piper to start my own law firm—Bona Law PC. I believe that through Bona Law I can offer clients the legal services of the best law firms, but in a much more efficient way. I am headquartered in the San Diego, California area, but expect to continue to practice nationally.

My family, friends, and former co-workers have commented lately that I seem very happy—maybe even giddy. It is true. I am as enthusiastic about the practice of law—and life—as I have ever been. I have a wonderful supportive family and am about to embark on a journey that marries my entrepreneurial spirit with a profession that I love. I feel like I am living the dream.

After years of analyzing other markets for antitrust matters, I finally sat down and analyzed my own. My conclusion is the legal market has structurally changed such that the largest law firms are concentrating more and more on their biggest clients and developing such diseconomies of scale that they are no longer competitive for most businesses. Unless a company can provide these law firms with a minimum volume of work, the firms are unlikely to offer a competitive price for their services.

First, matters with less volume could create conflict issues, which are a significant and costly issue for large law firms. Without sufficient volume, it just isn’t worth it for firms to discount their already high prices.

Second, large law firms have huge fixed overhead—leases, management, marketing departments, etc. Moreover, many (probably most) of them have excess capacity, which means that they are paying a lot of attorneys that aren’t billing as many hours as the firm would like. So volume is a big deal.

This is where I come in.

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Supreme Court BuildingOn March 5, the Supreme Court will hear arguments on whether the fraud-on-the-market presumption in securities class actions should survive. The case is Halliburton v. Erica P. John Fund and it could be groundbreaking. If the Supreme Court jettisons the presumption, it will close a major avenue for securities class-action lawsuits.

But what does this mean for antitrust lawsuits? We’ll get to that in a moment.

First, some background: In 1988, the Supreme Court held in Basic v. Levinson that when a shareholder class sues a company under Rule 10b-5 (for misrepresentation, etc.), it need not show that the individual class members relied on the misrepresentations because the stock market is “efficient” and such statements are quickly incorporated into the stock price.

So if you purchased a share of stock after a management official said that the company increased revenue twenty-percent year-over-year even though the manager knew that the revenue numbers were not accurate, you purchased stock that was already inflated from the statements because the market incorporated those statements immediately into the stock price.

Remember the classic book, A Random Walk Down Wall Street? It is all about efficient-market theory. Great book, by the way.

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