Luke Woodward is head of Gilbert + Tobin’s competition and regulation group and has been a partner for nearly 20 years. Luke has extensive experience as a legal adviser to leading Australian businesses on competition and economic regulatory matters and in public policy and administration at the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC), where he held various senior positions as general counsel, head of the compliance division (responsible for ACCC enforcement) and head of the mergers branch.
What qualities make for an effective competition lawyer?
There are many qualities necessary to be an effective competition lawyer. Deep knowledge of the law and practice is just a baseline entry requirement. It is hard to prioritise one of the following qualities over another – I think they are all essential. You need deep insight into what is going on commercially and economically; that gets easier with experience, but at its heart you need an enquiring mind that can engage in the detail and then piece it together to see and present a bigger picture. You must understand your client’s business and commercial objectives deeply, and be thoughtful about how you can best present their position. At times this will require strong persuasive skills to shift the way the regulator is thinking and at other times you will be in a defence mode. And of course, you need to be able to switch between those modes – you can’t really be effective being one thing or the other. This means the regulator is a big part of the equation, so you should understand what is important to it, what its objectives are and how it thinks. You need to be able to maintain a strong working relationship with them over time, whether you are taking a strong adversarial defence position or are seeking to persuade them to your position. Courage is essential and the ability, at times, to maintain a sense of humour can help a lot.
What do you enjoy most about being a partner of Gilbert + Tobin’s competition and regulation group?
The people I work with in our group and the overall culture of the firm. We are a challenging firm, with a strong merit principle. The team are very bright, hardworking and committed; but at the end of the day what probably matters more is that we enjoy working with each other and value what each can contribute.
Are there any industries which are particularly active in your practice at the moment?
There are always the usual “concentrated” industries that have a lot of work, but in terms of new areas, I would say life sciences and health, and the digital economy are the areas generating a lot of activity.
What are the biggest challenges currently facing competition lawyers in Australia?
The fast pace of policy and regulatory change is a big challenge specifically for competition lawyers. Beyond that is the challenge faced by all top-level lawyers of delivering value efficiently and effectively for our clients.
How is Gilbert + Tobin’s competition practice equipped to take on these challenges?
To some extent we would think that is a trade secret! The areas we focus on are team strength and skills, collaborative working culture and high performance culture (including a strong focus on high-end legal project delivery skills).
How would you like your practice to develop over the next five years?
We see growth and opportunities so long as we build on those attributes that have made us successful to date. There will continue to be an ongoing need to innovate in legal service delivery, and we will need to be at the forefront of that.
What is the best piece of career advice you have received?
I think I got it from a “desk calendar” (if anyone remembers those things) when I was a one-year lawyer and finding the going tough. It said: “Good judgment – that comes from experience; and where does experience come from? Well, that comes from bad judgment!” It helped me to see my career as a journey, in which I couldn’t expect to deliver the brilliant and best way forward simply because I thought I was smart and had a good law degree.
Luke Woodward is recognised as “smart, experienced and a strong strategic thinker” by market respondents.
Luke is the head of Gilbert + Tobin’s competition and regulation practice.
In a career spanning 30 years, Luke has consistently been at the forefront of the profession: as a lead prosecution lawyer; as head of mergers, head of enforcement and general counsel at the ACCC; and 18 years as a partner at Gilbert + Tobin. He has an outstanding track record in gaining clearances in complex merger and joint venture cases, while also successfully conducting many high-profile merger, market power and collusion cases. Most recently, Luke was recognised as the leading thought leader in the Asia-Pacific region for Competition (The International Who’s Who of Competition Lawyers, 2018).
Luke is regularly sought out for strategic advice in complex industry-changing matters. He is known for achieving outstanding commercial results, through innovative solutions and perseverance. Luke’s expertise spans general competition law/antitrust and regulation of utilities (aviation, ports, electricity and water), which in Australia is based on competition law and/or undertaken by the ACCC or state regulators within a common framework.
Luke has led a number of significant transactions including two significant matters in Australia over the past 12 months, advising Qube (jointly with Simon Muys) on Pacific National’s proposed acquisition of Aurizon Intermodal, and Viva Energy (Shell) on the competition aspects of their alliance agreement with Coles Express until 2029. Luke’s handling of the competition and regulatory issues was central to the structuring of both deals and the successful outcomes.
Luke has unrivalled expertise in enforcement matters, which have become increasingly critical and risky in Australia with the criminalisation of cartel behaviour. Luke leads the defence team (with Elizabeth Avery) in landmark criminal cartel prosecution of K-Line (a major global shipping line), which is part of the first prosecutions since introduction of criminal cartel laws in 2009.
He currently has a critical role advising Expedia on the ACCC’s investigation for the use of narrow price most-favoured nation clauses in agreements with accommodation providers. This is an important investigation, being part of a global move by competition regulators (in Europe and other parts of the world).
Luke is the senior relationship partner for Virgin Australia, Ausgrid and Qube. He is also the relationship partner for Jemena (gas and electricity network operator) and a leading strategic energy regulatory adviser to APA (an ASX top 30 company), SA Power Networks, and AusNet (ASX listed electricity distribution and transmission network operator).
Luke remains as a lead competition adviser to the Business Council of Australia on competition law and policy reform, including proposals to amend the misuse of market power provision (section 46).
Luke is consistently ranked as one of Australia’s leading competition and regulation lawyers in major legal directories. He is currently ranked as a leading competition practitioner in Australia (Who’s Who Legal 2018).
He was named Competition and Trade Partner of the Year at the 2016 Lawyers Weekly Partner of the Year Awards and was a finalist for the same award in 2017.