Anna Huttenlauch is one of the founding partners of Blomstein, a leading German boutique for antitrust, public procurement and international trade law. Prior to founding BLOMSTEIN in 2016, Anna Huttenlauch was part of the competition group at Freshfields, based in Berlin and London. Together with her partners and a large team of associates, Anna Huttenlauch offers expert advice on all fields of antitrust law. She advises high-profile international clients in a diverse range of sectors with particular expertise in TMT, digital platforms, FMCG and retail. Anna is admitted to the Bars of Berlin and New York.
You were previously at a large international firm and now work at a boutique. What difference does this make in practice?
I love the agility of the smaller entity – our conflict checks usually take less than 30 minutes and we can take almost all decisions quickly without internal bureaucracies. I also love that our firm size allows us to be real entrepreneurs. We encourage new ideas in the partnership and support the initiatives people take. If they turn out not to be worth pursuing, we are also quick in abandoning them again. That’s flexibility! We also want to involve our associates in entrepreneurial thinking and management tasks from the very start of their career. It’s fun to think about concepts to foster their talents, such as our special bonus for developing new client relationships.
How did you come to specialise in competition law?
I became a competition lawyer really almost by accident. I had always been determined to become an art lawyer until I went to New York University for a master’s degree and ended up taking a lot of competition law classes. Back in Germany, I started my professional career in the competition team at Freshfields and was immediately involved in several large leniency proceedings, interviewing witnesses, assisting clients in dawn raids, acting in a big investigation on dominance and rebates, etc – it was really exciting. I loved it from the start! Competition lawyers are also my favourite bunch of lawyers because they usually have quite an interdisciplinary approach with interests beyond purely legal matters.
What do you find stimulating about practising in the competition field?
Competition law is so connected with the market dynamics of the industries we are dealing with. You cannot help but learn a lot about non-legal, business-related issues. All of a sudden you find yourself talking with engineers about the intricacies of a certain sensor technology, or with a media client about measuring metrics for return on investment in advertising, or with a retail client on margin calculations. And hopefully it is not just bluffing. You can sometimes tell that business people, who initially probably thought of you as just another arrogant lawyer, actually start liking you for speaking their language.
How does Blomstein distinguish itself from its competitors in the European market?
Typically, antitrust law is offered by large full-service firms – there are not many independent specialists. Our independence allows us to be quick, agile and efficient. It is part of our business model to cooperate with a number of other independent specialist firms, for example for M&A/corporate work but also for IP, labour law and litigation. This allows us to develop tailor-made solutions for clients and to choose our cooperation partners according to what we consider the best match for the client.
There are also some legal areas we have ventured into as a boutique which are atypical for antitrust practitioners. For example, we are competition law experts in several monitoring trustee teams appointed by the European Commission, namely in the Gazprom case and the E.ON/Innogy case. This is interesting because it gives a whole new angle from the enforcer’s perspective.
With your art-historian background, do you practise art law?
Yes, art law is a passion of mine. I have always published quite extensively on, and practised, in art law. Now, I finally have more flexibility to develop this practice further, and it integrates very well into our international trade practice.
What challenges do you expect to face from the imminent German competition law reforms?
The reform is mainly aimed at adapting to a changed digital environment and new business models. The draft bill foresees certain access rights to “data relevant for competition”, making data a factor in determining market power; refusal to grant access can be abusive. It also contains stricter rules for digital platforms of “paramount significance for competition across the markets” and specific rules for “intermediaries” (multi-sided digital platforms). Finally, a right of intervention against an imminent “tipping” of a market into monopoly may be introduced, as well as broader protection against “relative market power”, that is, protection for all companies dependent on another market player. The FCO has pioneered antitrust enforcement in digital markets over the past years; but it has always promoted a coordinated approach, at least across Europe, given that these markets do not stop at national borders. The question has been raised as to whether the European Commission would not have been the more appropriate legislator instead of the German government to develop a regulatory answer to the ongoing international debate on antitrust regulation of digital markets. An isolated approach cannot suffice to tackle a global issue. Therefore, I think the main challenge will be to avoid a fragmented regulatory environment and instead develop a more or less harmonised way of dealing with competition dynamics in digital markets.
Is Berlin a good location for competition specialists like yourself?
At first sight, Berlin is an unusual choice for competition lawyers because the German competition authority is located in Bonn (the former capital). However, there are actually a number of very good reasons. First, Berlin is a great city to live in. That’s why it’s also good for recruitment – the city is a magnet for young talent! Second, Berlin is a hub for start-ups, and most grown-up companies also have at least a representative office here in the capital, even if they are headquartered elsewhere. Last but not least, the government is in Berlin.