Stefan Perván Lindeborg is a partner in Mannheimer Swartling’s EU and competition group. He works on all types of EU and competition matters including, in particular, merger control and competition law-related litigation. He has extensive experience in complex merger investigations before the European Commission and national competition authorities and has been involved in many of the most important competition cases before the Swedish courts. He splits his time between Stockholm and Brussels.
What inspired you to pursue a legal career?
Towards the end of high school, looking at what to study at university, I was hesitating between law and medicine (very different things!). I consulted friends and family around me on what they thought would suit me, and everyone without exception said law. They said that it would allow me to spend time doing my favourite activity – argumentation. I haven’t regretted this choice, and I think they were right that I am a better lawyer than I would be a doctor!
How has the market changed since you first started practising?
The market for competition law advice has gone through a dramatic development over the past two decades. When I started at the firm in the late 1990s, the awareness and understanding of the competition rules in Swedish companies was generally still at a rather early stage. Sweden got its first modern “EU-style” legislation in this area in the mid-1990s in connection with Sweden’s entry into the EU, and before that only some of the largest Swedish companies had real exposure to the EU competition rules due to their activities outside Sweden. This meant that competition law expertise was quite uncommon and a bit “exclusive”.
Now the situation is different. Today, most business lawyers – both in-house and in private practice – have a basic understanding of competition law, and the awareness of its importance has reached a rather mature level in most companies. This means that there is a lot of demand for competition law advice, but it also means that specialist advice needs to be more sophisticated to be competitive. Today, clients recognise real expertise in this area when they see it. You need to be able to apply competition rules to the business reality of the client in order to give meaningful advice.
What impact has covid-19 had on your work and the Swedish competition market so far?
Covid-19 has changed everything and nothing. Never have I done more video calls, and forecasting is upended, but projects are pushing forward, and so are we. In terms of deal activity, merger notifications were down almost 50 per cent in Sweden in Q2 2020 compared to the same period the year before, but up by more than 20 per cent looking at 2020 in the round (to Q3). Unsurprisingly, there has been a big upsurge in state aid work, and related applications and complaints.
What impact has the increased level of cooperation between companies as a result of covid-19 had on the market?
The Swedish Competition Authority was clearly positive to the European Commission’s initiatives to support necessary covid-19 collaboration projects. That said, we have not yet seen any longer-term impact from any kind of increased latitude, perhaps in part because Sweden did not experience quite the same levels of supply and demand squeeze navigated collectively elsewhere.
To what extent does competition law need to evolve to meet modern developments in the digital economy?
Evolution is necessary both in terms of how we work (the tools we use) and how we think (the substantive rules). The latter is, of course, much debated just now. The difficulty is how to maintain an agile framework, balancing various interests, and still offer legal certainty. A challenge, to say the least.
How has your firm adapted to address the challenges caused by covid-19?
Working practices have altered. New task forces have sprung up. In the spring and summer, we worked largely remotely. More recently it is a cautious hybrid, poised to change to reflect risk. Luckily, the firm was in good shape to make that kind of transition.
Early on we had daily online relaxation sessions run by a psychologist. After a few deep breaths, though, we settled fairly quickly into a new normal!
What advice would you give to younger practitioners hoping to one day be in your position?
In my view, a key factor in being a good competition law adviser is to have an open mind and think creatively. Competition law is unique in its mix of law, economics and business reality, and for me this is what makes it so incredibly interesting and fun to work in.
Therefore, my advice is to really try to understand the client’s business and how the markets work. It sounds like something obvious, but after two decades of practice I cannot emphasise it enough. The more you go in-depth and really create an understanding of these things, the more successful you will be both in advisory/compliance work and in contentious cases.