Judith Zahid is managing partner of Zelle LLP’s San Francisco office and co-chair of the firm’s antitrust group. Clients trust her to guide them on both individual and class action antitrust matters, based on her years of experience and successful recoveries.
WHAT ATTRACTED YOU TO A CAREER IN COMPETITION LAW?
I instantly liked the problem-solving aspect of the antitrust practice. My early cases were complicated, involving multiple global companies, and we figured things out on collaborative teams. The practice fitted my interests and my personality; and, to this day, I continue to learn new things from economists.
WHAT ARE THE MOST ENJOYABLE AND CHALLENGING ELEMENTS OF WORKING AS A COMPETITION LAWYER?
This practice is intellectually stimulating and engaging, and our greatest challenges are the very things that make it enjoyable. Overnight, we learn about new industries, investigate markets, and trace economic theories. We persist in gathering facts to better understand how our clients’ businesses operate. We try to stay one step ahead of the evolving legal landscape, from within the US and with an eye towards overseas. And we face fierce advocates as opposing counsel (who we often grow to like).
WHAT DISTINGUISHES YOU FROM OTHER PROMINENT PRACTITIONERS IN THE MARKET?
I was recently told by an in-house antitrust head that he had a trusted team of advisers who he realised all tended to think and sound a lot like him. He was looking to gain a perspective outside this echo chamber, as he described it. At a basic level, I provide a unique perspective because I am female and have spent my entire career helping develop and lead large, high-stakes plaintiff matters, both as class actions and individual opt-out cases. Some other things that make me different are less apparent, such as how I wake up at 4am each day and make sure any breaking news affecting my clients or team is at the top of their inboxes as they take their first sips of coffee. I take pride in my ability to mobilise teams and help fracturing groups reach consensus; and I get things done with an obsession for efficiency.
HOW HAVE YOU SHIFTED THE FOCUS OF YOUR OWN PRACTICE IN RECENT YEARS?
I spent my first 15 years litigating mostly indirect purchaser class actions. I experienced the move from state to federal court under the Class Action Fairness Act (CAFA) and evolved alongside the legal challenges to class certification, proving pass-through and showing harm flowing from foreign conduct. Throughout this time, I developed the skills to lead complex cases and made many lasting relationships with counsel on both sides of the v, economists, as well as several federal and state enforcers.
Now, I gravitate towards representing individual corporate clients as plaintiffs. I know that I have a natural tendency towards building relationships, which translates well to serving corporate clients. I put in the time to earn the respect and trust of the legal department and connect with the business people in the least bothersome way possible.
WHAT ARE THE MAIN CHALLENGES PRACTITIONERS CURRENTLY FACE WHEN BRINGING CLASS ACTION CASES IN THE US?
Today’s class certification process can require up to two or three rounds of motions and hearings, multiple 100-page reports of economic and industry expert testimony, a full record of merits discovery, and an out-of-pocket cost of $5 million–$10 million. Even with all of that, the risks are not insignificant. I’ve seen and experienced denials of class certification, including in cases with guilty pleas.
HOW HAS THE LEGAL MARKET RESPONDED TO THESE CHALLENGES?
Over the past several years, to combat the rising costs and risks of a contingency practice, we’ve seen significant consolidation of the plaintiffs’ bar. It used to be that smaller firms and solo practitioners easily ran nationwide cases. Today, we see fewer firms, which have each grown larger over time, stepping forward to lead and fund cases.
HOW DOES ZELLE LLP HELP CLIENTS STAY AHEAD OF CHANGES IN COMPETITION LAW AND PRACTICE?
Zelle LLP is uniquely positioned to represent corporate clients in antitrust matters because of its blend of practices and atypical business model. With nine offices in the US and London, our firm supports primarily two practices: plaintiff antitrust and property insurance on behalf of global insurance carriers. Through heavy technological investments, Zelle brings stability, data protection and cost-savings to all its clients, without the conflicts that often arise in a full-service firm. The firm also values the time and resources its antitrust partners commit to leadership positions in the antitrust section of the ABA and the California State Bar, and the American Antitrust Institute.
WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE TO SOMEONE STARTING OUT IN COMPETITION LAW?
I consistently give the same advice to law students and new attorneys interested in competition law. First, find a part of the practice you like and focus there to get your footing. Second, know that there will always be more to learn and you will do what you need to at the appropriate time to be prepared. Third, maintain your own point of view – staying authentic might be the most valuable thing you can do for your client.