(Updated: 12:29 p.m.)
Covington & Burling has added James O'Connell as a partner in the firm's antitrust and competition practice. O’Connell, who joined the firm yesterday, most recently served as deputy assistant attorney general in charge of international, policy and appellate matters in the Justice Department's Antitrust Division.
Covington has been beefing up its antitrust practice in recent months. In January, former antitrust chief Thomas Barnett returned to Covington, where he worked from 1990 until 2004. In March, his replacement as antitrust chief, Deborah Garza, signed on to the firm.
O'Connell says that his decision to join Covington was driven in part by the firm's hire of Barnett and Garza, both of whom he worked under at the DOJ.
"Covington has been known for its antitrust practice for years, so I was very interested in the firm to begin with. But my interest was really piqued when both Barnett and Garza joined the firm. Those are two people whose opinions I respect a lot," O'Connell said.
In his role as deputy assistant attorney general, O’Connell was responsible for the Antitrust Division’s international enforcement, appellate, and policy development programs. O’Connell was the point person the division’s relations with competition law enforcement agencies around the world, including the European Commission. He was also heavily involved in the U.S. government’s consultations with the leadership of the then-emerging Anti-Monopoly Law regime in China. That law, which took effect in August, included the input of both the United States and the European Commission on how it should be crafted and what issues may arise when implementing the first competition protection the country has ever had, O'Connell says.
O’Connell joined the Justice Department in 2003 and has also served as chief of staff, deputy chief of staff, and counsel to the assistant attorney general.
O'Connell, like several other Antitrust Division veterans, says antitrust regulations are an especially hot topic under President Barack Obama's administration.
"There has been a lot of commentary from both the bar and the Antitrust Division and the Federal Trade Commission about reexamining the role of antitrust in the 21st Century," O'Connell says. "On one side, you're hearing people question whether competition protections are really that important in a poor economy. But on the other side, and in my opinion, competition is more important now than it ever has been because it leads to better consumer choice. The administration appears to agree because you're seeing in speeches and other indicators that this administration is committed to antitrust enforcement."
O'Connell says that at Covington his practice is likely to focus on merger-related issues facing companies, given his background in that area.
"Companies are realizing that competition laws are a priority for policy makers, and that they're going to need counseling on those issues," he says.