Competitive streak

McDermott’s London competition partner Scott Megregian arrived from the US to fill a gap, but as Kathryn Hobbs discovers, he’s more than just a patch-up job


McDermott Will & Emery seems to specialise in large, fast-talking, charismatic lawyers. If it wasn’t for the US accent, I would have thought that McDermott’s senior partner William Charnley had sneaked in for another interview. Both he and the subject of this week’s profile, competition partner Scott Megregian, are able to cram more words into a single breath than is strictly normal. There is an uncanny resemblance between Charnley and Megregian but it might just be the braces.

Sartorial matters have been Megregian’s biggest challenge in adjusting to London life. “In the States everyone’s casual, so people dress better here,” he admits. “The problem with that is that I hadn’t had most of my suits out for three years and I appear not to have the same physique as I had three years ago.” Perhaps Charnley recommended his tailor – those pinstripes look familiar.

Megregian may have conformed to the City stereotype, swapping his Birkenstocks for brogues, but he has yet to find a barber to his liking. Asked how he has settled in, he replies: “So far, so good. I haven’t found a good place to get my hair cut yet. My kids say I look like one of the Beatles, but if I sang like one of the Beatles I wouldn’t be doing this.”

Instead of screaming girls and international stardom, Megregian opted for an alternative career in competition law. He moved to McDermott’s London office in October to set up the firm’s nascent competition practice in Europe. McDermott had been looking to hire a competition lawyer for some time with little success. To get the ball rolling, the firm decided to send Megregian over.

“It was my decision in conjunction with the management of the firm. We’d been looking to develop the competition practice in London for some time and hadn’t yet found the right fit for us. But with the demands of the practice, both from our UK and US clients, we decided that we had to do something sooner rather than continue to wait and find the right person,” he explains.

Megregian started his career with Skadden Arps Slate Meagher & Flom. He then moved to Howrey Simon Arnold & White before joining McDermott in 1997. “I’ve been doing competition basically since I got out of law school, which is somewhat different to the majority of people in Europe. Most people didn’t start out as pure competition lawyers and the practice, frankly, isn’t that old,” he says, adding: “It was very easy for me to make the transition – taking my practice, which in the US was one-third to half European competition law, and just moving it over here.”

Megregian had an immediate head start on his US competition contemporaries in London. In addition to his strong European practice, he also knew what that practice should be called. “To my American colleagues, I’ve been calling it competition law for years and they all sort of scratch their heads and look at me, saying, ‘Do you mean antitrust?’; and I say, ‘No, I mean competition law’. The rest of the world says competition and the US says antitrust, so the majority rules.”

Megregian is ensconced in Hampstead, his children are over here and his wife has already said that he is allowed to stay in this country as long as he likes. He says he will be based in London for at least two or three years, but could be persuaded to stay longer, haircuts permitting.
With the exception of his very American accent, he could be your average, slightly sarcastic City lawyer.

His lack of stereotypical Americanisms could be something to do with McDermott’s London office. Although McDermott hails from the US, its London office has an English law focus and is home to just three US lawyers. Megregian jokes: “They actually have a glass case outside my window. People walk by every once in a while and it’s sort of like a zoo and I’m on display occasionally.

“When you’re here on the ground, it doesn’t feel like you’re part of an American firm. It feels like you’re part of a mid-sized English firm. I’m still something of an odd duck as the token American.”

For Megregian, the move to London was too tempting to pass up. Not only is he able to mastermind the growth of his practice area, but he believes the European competition landscape is undergoing some major changes. “You’re seeing something of a revolution in competition law, beginning now,” he says. “I think people will look back on this period five years from now and say this was the time things really started to change. You’re seeing people begin to use competition law much more as a litigation or an arbitration tool than they’ve ever used it in the past.

“I think we’re getting to a point where it’s becoming something of an evolution/revolution in how you’re going to see competition practice play out, and it’s going to become much more than a merger-related practice.” To this end he sees a number of European jurisdictions as key to the expansion of the competition practitioner’s remit. For him, Brussels is not the be-all and end-all of competition.

This might be defensive, because McDermott has thus far lagged behind its US peers in opening in Brussels. “You get the argument that you have to be in Brussels in order to liaise with commissioners or to meet with staff, but that’s not true,” says Megregian. “As long as you keep an active practice and you’re in front of them frequently enough, then I don’t think you really need to do that. We’ve managed to be successful without that.”

Megregian does not seem the type to be unduly fazed by what other firms are up to. He has thought the matter through and says: “Unlike the US, where competition is primarily federal, here you have the member states, which are increasingly expanding their competition activities. This is a key factor and something that meant we really had to start doing something here now.

“You’ve got the Competition Act of 1998, then you’ve got the Enterprise Bill, which is pending in the UK. You’ve got a lot happening here now and you really can’t just ignore the member states any more. I mean, Brussels is becoming primarily focused on mergers and big-time cartels. A lot of the other interesting substantive work is going to be more focused in the member states, evolving outside Brussels. You can be as competitive without sitting in Brussels.”

This should not be taken as a McDermott decision not to move there. The firm is considering its options in Continental Europe, and Brussels has to tussle with locations in Germany and elsewhere for priority. Megregian is charged with working out whether it is necessary to be in Brussels.

“We didn’t set ourselves a specific time to be in Brussels, or a definite plan to be there. But one of my mandates is to assess that as the market develops and figure out how it can be done in a way that meshes with the firm’s goals, which is not just to have an office for an office’s sake.
Some of what you see some US firms doing is just putting up an office there and throwing bodies at it without really having a plan, just so they can say, ‘Okay, now we’re in Brussels’,” he asserts.

“When I was back in grade school, my father always said I’d end up being a lawyer because I’d argue with him until he’d get so fed up that he’d give up. He used to call me the Philadelphia lawyer. So I was a Philadelphia lawyer as a seven-year-old and I ended up sticking with it.”

Megregian says he has successfully passed these argumentative genes on to his children “absolutely in spades”.
Scott Megregian
Competition partner
McDermott Will & Emery