GE lines up new set of firms for fresh competition battle

GE (General Electric) has lined up a new legal battalion, including a tiny Paris-based competition firm and Cherie Booth QC, to fight Mario Monti’s decision to block its merger with Honeywell.
French niche competition firm Vogel & Vogel is expected to provide fresh perspective and a Continen-tal flavour to the appeal. Although small, the two-partner outfit run by the Vogel brothers is highly regarded. Joseph Vogel will take on the Honeywell challenge.
Clifford Chance, which represented GE in the commission’s initial investigation, will remain on the case. Brussels partner Simon Baxter will head the team assisted by Marleen Van Kerckhove and UK-based Michael Smyth, who will deal with the human rights aspects of the appeal.
US firm Shearman & Sterling, which worked on the investigation, will not be acting for GE on the appeal, although this was generally expected. The firm was previously involved through London-based competition partner Chris Bright, who started work on the Honeywell deal when he was at Clifford Chance and carried the case to Shearman & Sterling when he moved.
Honeywell is also working its way through its fair share of Europe’s competition lawyers during the merger battles – it axed Skadden Arps Slate Meag-her & Flom earlier this year and switched allegiances to Chicago firm Kirkland & Ellis in July. The new firm was instructed to consider a possible case against GE on the grounds that GE did not use all possible efforts to secure regulatory approval for the deal.
While GE’s decision on solicitors may be slightly unorthodox, it has gone straight for the big guns with its line-up of barristers. Leading counsel will be competition expert Nick Green QC of Brick Court Chambers, who was also involved in the Interbrew case earlier this year. He will be supported by Kelyn Bacon.
The glamour name in the pack is Cherie Booth QC, although the human rights aspects of the appeal are likely to be fairly restricted.
Some Brussels lawyers have said that GE is making the same mistake as before by trying to turn the commission’s head with big names, a reference to the high-profile political lobbying that went on at the investigative stage.
However, Booth’s junior at Matrix, Jessica Simor, who has an excellent reputation on competition cases, is rumoured to have been the real attraction for GE, with Booth added as something of an afterthought.