Friedman said that it helps foster a more collaborative environment, one of the ideas behind the design of the new office.
"The practice of law in Washington is a hierarchical business and yet one of the things I think that makes it fun and alive and interesting is the exchange of ideas," Friedman said. "We work together and we collaborate."
Friedman focuses his antitrust practice on mergers and non-mergers investigations and litigation. Legal Times sat down with Friedman to discuss the Whole Foods / Wild Oats merger, practices in the D.C. office and federal enforcement.
Legal Times: How did the firm come to be involved with the Whole Foods / Wild Oats merger?
Friedman: One of the signature moments for our antitrust practice in Washington was the Whole Foods merger. When Whole Foods and Wild Oats were working their way through the FTC, we weren't representing anybody. We were on the outside looking in and thinking to ourselves, we want to be in that case. We really know food industries. We have Jim Fishkin who spent more than a dozen years at the FTC and he really was a mainstay of the FTC's supermarket merger enforcement program. He wrote the book. Paul Denis who is here was one of the principal draft persons of the horizontal merger guidelines. He understood the rules that the agency would apply. When the FTC sued, the complaint at first was filed under seal. There was a public version, but paragraph one was redacted almost in its entirety.
There were four or five of us who got together in a conference room and started brainstorming about how we would win this case if we had a role to play in it. We're dealing with a document that is heavily redacted. In the back and forth, we developed a theme. It was on one piece of paper—How do we win?—five points.
Through a lot of effort, we found a connection to senior management at Whole Foods who put us in touch with somebody who arranged for us to speak with the general counsel. We had literally five minutes on the phone with her as she was racing through National airport. We made a pitch. Here is how you're going to win the case. We hadn't seen the un-redacted complaint, but here is how you win the case. And she said, can you guys talk later this week when I'm back in Austin. And we said, 'How about if we meet you in Austin?'
By ourselves we have individual strengths. But if you bring us together we're an incredibly powerful team. That is true for our antitrust group, true for all of our practices here in the firm.
What is the plan for growth in the Washington office?
There are a number of areas that we think make sense for us and we are actively looking and talking to people. But we are also very selective and we clearly want to build on our strengths and existing practices.
The leading practice here—and it has been the leading practice here for more than 30 years—is our financial services practice, which began as an investment company practice. Allan Mostoff, who joined the firm coming from the SEC's investment management division, built a really terrific group from nothing. I think we are the leading firm in that space around the world. That has evolved into other financial products including hedge funds and derivatives. They really do practice on a global basis.
We've also been working with them to really make sure that our securities litigators and our SEC enforcement lawyers know those clients and those clients know those people. We have some strong SEC enforcement people here and strong commercial litigation people. Both of those are practices where we would like to expand and grow. We're always talking to people in those areas.
One of the things we don't have here—but are strong in New York, Philadelphia and the west coast—is white collar. That is an area of keen interest to us for expansion.
What changes, if any, have you seen to regulatory enforcement during your time in Washington?
I came to D.C. in '79. I joined Dechert in 2000. Except for the early days of the Reagan administration, I think that the changes in enforcement attitudes are more incremental than revolutionary. I think there was a dramatic curtailment of enforcement during the Reagan years. The Bush II administration has received a lot of criticism for lax enforcement, and I think that criticism is largely overstated. There are a couple of specific examples where people point to a questionable decision.
Most of the time there aren't seismic shifts in policy when there are changes in administration. One of the strengths of the federal government is that there is a career workforce in the agencies who are good, committed civil servants. They know what the laws are and are there to enforce their laws. The political appointees can make fine tuning adjustments. That said, this administration has come in with a much more progressive agenda and I think there has been the perception of more activity across the regulatory agencies.
Lawyers do a lot of traveling. Do you have a favorite destination?
One of the things that I loved as our kids were growing up is every summer we would plan a vacation that would include a visit to one of the national parks. Those are amazing trips for anybody and they are amazing places to visit and to recharge and connect with your soul. It's an important thing for all of us to do.
Do you have a favorite national park?
They're all amazing. We loved Glacier. Yellowstone was amazing. Two years we joined the national park trip with a stay at Dude Ranch. I am somebody who has lived on the east coast my entire adult life in a city and taking my kids someplace where they are given a shotgun and taught how to shoot it is ok. It's pretty cool. They taught them how to throw knives and how to rope a cow. That was good stuff.
This is part of a series of Q&A sessions Legal Times is conducting with D.C.-based law firm managing partners. Photo by The National Law Journal's Diego M. Radzinschi.