Porter Elliott is a partner at Van Bael & Bellis in Brussels. He specialises in all aspects of competition law, with particular expertise in merger control proceedings. He has successfully represented clients in numerous complex cases before the European Commission as well as national competition authorities in Europe and elsewhere. He has significant experience coordinating merger filings and approvals globally and is frequently called on to provide strategic input in challenging cases.
MERGER CONTROL IS A LARGE PART OF YOUR PRACTICE – WHAT DO YOU ENJOY MOST ABOUT WORKING IN THIS AREA OF COMPETITION LAW?
Merger control is a very practical and results-driven area of competition law. In some ways, it is less “legal” than other areas, but this is actually part of why I enjoy it. To be a good merger control lawyer, one must know the law, of course, but it is also important to really understand the client’s business and what they are trying to achieve, and to be able to provide clear, pragmatic guidance on how to accomplish these objectives.
Practising merger control also provides the opportunity to learn a new industry with every new case. Whether it’s rockets, gas masks, Alzheimer’s drugs or even bananas, every market has its own unique and interesting aspects. I enjoy the challenges of learning how industrial gases are transported or how different grades of paper are produced, even if being well versed on such topics does not necessarily make me more popular at parties!
WHAT IMPACT HAVE THE INCREASING LEVELS OF SCRUTINY AND DEMANDS FOR DOCUMENTATION FROM REGULATORY AUTHORITIES HAD ON YOUR PRACTICE AND APPROACH WHEN ADVISING CLIENTS?
Demands for information are definitely increasing. Getting the deal through is far more onerous and time-consuming today than it was when I started over 20 years ago.
This heightened level of scrutiny places a premium on managing client expectations. It’s useful for clients to recognise early on that obtaining merger control approval is very likely to be the “long pole in the tent”, and that even in cases that are ultimately determined not to raise serious competition concerns, closing may well be delayed for months, if not longer.
YOUR PRACTICE SPANS A RANGE OF SECTORS – TO WHAT EXTENT IS SECTOR-SPECIFIC KNOWLEDGE IMPORTANT ON THE PART OF THE LAWYER?
I think it depends on the sector. There are a few sectors, such as financial services, that are so technical that a lawyer without significant industry experience will find it difficult to advise clients.
However, in most cases, I think an adept competition lawyer can learn what he or she needs to know about the industry. I have advised clients in dozens of industries of which I knew next to nothing when I started. I began representing Motorola before I owned my first mobile phone. I did not yet have a Skype account when I did the Microsoft/Skype deal. The industries we work in as competition lawyers may be very different from one another, but the key skills and strategic thinking are transferable.
HOW HAVE YOU SEEN CLIENT DEMANDS CHANGE SINCE YOU BEGAN YOUR CAREER?
Without a doubt, client demands are much higher now than when I began practising. Technology has a lot to do with this. When I started most business was done by fax. The advent of email and smartphones seems to have led to greater expectations of round-the-clock availability and requests for a response “by return”.
Moreover, clients have become far more knowledgeable about competition law than they used to be. These days, it is not unusual for clients to have in-house lawyers who specialise in competition law. That was very rare when I started. This keeps outside competition counsel on their toes as the knowledge gap between outside and in-house counsel is clearly narrowing.
HOW HAS THE LEGAL COMPETITION IN BRUSSELS EVOLVED SINCE YOU FIRST BEGAN PRACTISING?
The market is far more competitive than it was when I started. These days, most major US or UK firms with a sizeable antitrust practice have a Brussels office. In fact, my firm is the only independent competition law boutique left. This requires lawyers to be on their game, as clients have plenty of alternatives.
At the same time, the Brussels competition bar remains quite cordial. I think most competition lawyers in Brussels appreciate that while they may be on opposite sides of a case today, they could well find themselves on the same side of another case tomorrow.
WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE TO YOUNGER PRACTITIONERS LOOKING TO SPECIALISE IN COMPETITION LAW?
Listen to your client. Understand their business and what their objectives are, not just the specific questions they are asking but what they aim to achieve. Think creatively and look for innovative solutions. I would also say that one should never be too proud to recognise when others have good ideas – if it serves the client, incorporate those ideas into the strategy. Finally, be prompt in responding and flexible with your availability. Remember that, ultimately, law is a service industry.
Porter Elliot is well thought of among peers who laud his “excellent understanding of the EU Commission” and its processes.
Porter Elliott is a partner in Van Bael & Bellis’ Brussels office. He specialises in all aspects of competition law, with particular expertise in merger control proceedings. He has successfully represented clients in numerous complex cases before the European Commission as well as national competition authorities in Europe and elsewhere.
Porter’s experience in EU merger control includes leading the successful opposition to the 2010 joint venture between BHP Billiton and Rio Tinto, which was named Global Competition Review’s Matter of the Year in 2010. He also acted as lead counsel to Skype in the unconditional EU approval of its acquisition by Microsoft, which received the Global Competition Review Matter of the Year award for Europe in 2011. Recently, Porter acted as co-counsel to Halliburton in the context of its proposed $34.6 billion acquisition of Baker Hughes and advised Johnson Controls/Tyco on the EU aspects of the $2 billion sale of its Scott Safety business to 3M.
His practice covers a range of industries, including aerospace, mobile telephony, pharmaceuticals, steel and telecommunications.
Porter is the co-editor of The European Lawyers' Reference Guide on Merger Control, now in its third edition, and the forthcoming edition of the Chambers Legal Practice Guide on Merger Control (Chambers and Partners). He is also a key contributor to Van Bael & Bellis’ leading treatise Competition Law of the European Community, now in its fifth edition and a standard work of reference in the field of EU competition law. In addition to speaking at major conferences, he lectures annually at the Vrije Universiteit Brussel's programme on international legal co-operation and frequently teaches on the Erasmus programme.
He is recognised as a leading expert in his field by all major legal directories, including Chambers Global, Chambers Europe, The Legal 500, IFLR1000 and Best Lawyers.
Porter completed his LLM at the Vrije Universiteit Brussel. He completed his JD at the University of Georgia School of Law (US) and also holds a BS from the University of Maryland. He is a member of the State Bar of Georgia (US).