Luke heads Gilbert + Tobin’s competition team. 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, for 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.
DESCRIBE YOUR CAREER TO DATE.
My competition law career started with the Australian Government Solicitor’s Office, which has a small dedicated unit located in the ACCC offices and responsible for running all competition law cases. The head of that unit was an outstanding lawyer, who had more than 20 years’ experience running competition law cases – so that was a great introduction. From there, I was fortunate to be offered roles in the ACCC heading its mergers branch, as general counsel and running the enforcement division, before moving into private practice as a partner at Gilbert + Tobin in 2000.
HOW DOES YOUR EXPERIENCE FROM TIME SPENT AS GENERAL COUNSEL OF THE ACCC ASSIST YOU IN YOUR WORK TODAY?
I think my time at the ACCC has given me a good feel for what the agency is trying to achieve and how they approach competition law issues. Many clients can find the process frustrating, but if you start by putting yourself in the ACCC’s shoes, you can work more effectively with them.
ON WHAT TYPE OF MATTERS ARE CLIENTS SEEKING ADVICE MOST FREQUENTLY AT PRESENT?
From year to year a lot of our work is much the same: merger reviews/clearances and cartel investigation/immunity/defence work. The new areas are the criminal cartel investigations and more recently general competition/unilateral conduct investigations.
INVESTIGATIONS ARE BECOMING A MORE COMMON SIGHT IN CONNECTION WITH COMPETITION. HOW IS YOUR PRACTICE PLACED TO ADAPT TO THIS CHANGE?
We have a real focus on having lawyers with the right skills sets and training to cover the range of work we do. This is a very structured programme in our group and we have put a lot of focus on investigation/enforcement skills, including training in specific areas that arise in the new criminal law context (handling criminal investigations). We also draw on experience across the firm in analogous corporate crime areas and it has been a focus in recruitment as well.
WHAT IS YOUR FIRM DOING TO MAINTAIN ITS REPUTATION FOR BEING AT THE CUTTING EDGE OF COMPETITION LAW EXPERTISE?
To some extent, given the breadth and market position of our clients, the challenges our clients face mean that we are always at the leading edge of ACCC issues and increasingly this means anticipating how competition law issues overseas (particularly Europe) might influence thinking in Australia. At the same time, the ACCC is very much at the forefront of competition law development, so it is not just about following overseas trends. We work actively to identify sectors and issues that are likely to be on the horizon. Last year, we carried out a lot of preparation and background research; we ran the workshop on competition law issues under algorithmic and AI decision making, inviting Ariel Ezrachi and Rod Sims. Rod delivered the first paper setting out the ACCC’s thinking in this area. This workshop came out of issues we had identified in the last couple of years, so we could see it would be increasingly important. This year we have focused on data and digital platforms, with Rod Sims again providing the key note paper.
LOOKING FORWARD, HOW DO YOU EXPECT THE FIELD TO CHANGE OVER THE COMING FIVE YEARS?
Hard to say. Hopefully we will have a recommitment to consumer welfare competition law theory, but I do think that this is an open question. In the end, to be effective in this area some things will hold constant: you have to love it; you have to be really engaged in the industries that get the ACCC attention; and you have to be able to understand how the ACCC thinks.
WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE TO SOMEONE LOOKING TO START A CAREER IN THIS AREA?
A career is based on laying down deep knowledge and skills – don’t engage superficially. Try to understand what is really going on commercially with the issues you are looking at. And keep up!
WHAT IS YOUR PROUDEST ACHIEVEMENT TO DATE?
I am immensely proud to be part of our team; the quality, camaraderie and commitment of the people I work with.
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.