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 three 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.
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 deeply 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 how business people, who initially probably thought of you as just another arrogant lawyer, actually start liking you for speaking their language and “talking their talk”.
To what extent does your academic career enhance your work in private practice?
I sometimes teach at the University of Zurich and and have also taught classses at German universities. I publish on a regular basis in law journals and contribute to some legal commentaries. This is the best way to stay on track with recent developments. But I have to say that I could never be a full-time academic; I think I am far too impatient!
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 one hour 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 someone takes. If they turn out not to be worth pursuing, we are also quick in abandoning them again. That’s flexibility. It’s very different from a big machine that takes time to get moving and, once started, is often complicated to stop. 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.
There are also some new legal areas we have ventured into as a boutique, which were never part of our practice at Freshfields. 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 very interesting because it gives a whole new angle from the enforcer’s perspective.
To what degree are competition authorities becoming more sophisticated and increasingly digital?
Generally, competition authorities have always had to adjust to changing market dynamics in order to take the right enforcement decisions. The digital economy has brought to life new business models, which can be challenging to grasp. This has sparked the debate over whether we need a new “Hipster Antitrust” regime with new enforcement tools or whether the classic instruments suffice. This debate has only just started.
Competition authorities have definitely become more sophisticated and more digitalised over the years – think about the forensic tools that the European Commission is using for IT searches, for example! The German Federal Cartel Office has actually hired a large team of dedicated IT specialists to support the case handlers and to build up an electronic register to enable contracting authorities to check in one single nationwide electronic search whether a certain company should be blacklisted from public tenders for breaching the law.
In what ways is AI transforming investigations in the competition space?
In antitrust investigations we work quite a bit with forensic review tools in order to search through huge amounts of emails and other potential evidence. Smart software helps to make these searches more efficient with self-improving review technology. We also offer compliance trainings to many clients and use innovative technologies in that context, such as polling tools and other ways to interact with the participants virtually.
What do you anticipate will be the implications of big data on competition law?
The Facebook case in Germany and other ongoing investigations against platform players with data-driven business models are the first indications that big data definitely holds new challenges. The German legislature is currently trying to reflect these by introducing special obligations for big data companies, eg, to grant access to data under certain circumstances and special enforcement grounds against tech giants to prevent the “tipping” of certain markets.
You are not only a lawyer but also an art historian by training. Do you practise art law?
Yes, art law is a passion of mine. I have always published quite extensively on and also practised in art law. Now, I finally have more flexibility to develop this practice further, and it actually integrates very well into our international trade practice.