28 May 2021

Geradin Partners hires former Competition and Markets Authority director to lead new UK office

Former CMA director Tom Smith joins Geradin Partners

Tom Smith joins the Brussels-based firm as a partner in London - its first office outside of Belgium

Brussels-based competition law boutique Geradin Partners has hired the former legal director of the UK’s Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) Tom Smith to lead the firm’s first overseas office in London.

Smith joins as a partner, bringing with him a wide range of competition law-related experience having led the legal team responsible for supporting the CMA’s digital markets taskforce – an area that Geradin specialises in. 

Damien Geradin, the firm’s founding partner, said: “Expanding our London capability is the logical next step in our firm’s development, considering that the CMA has taken on a leading role in digital enforcement having set up the Digital Markets Unit and taken on more cases post-Brexit.”

Smith spent seven years at the CMA, where he worked on significant merger control cases such as the blocked merger between Sainsbury’s and Asda and BT’s approved acquisition of mobile operator EE, among other matters. He previously spent more than a decade at Hogan Lovells, during which time he had secondments at ITV and the CMA’s predecessor agency, the Office of Fair Trading.

His practice focuses on the antitrust aspects of digital regulation, including codes of conduct on digital marketing.

Smith said he was looking forward to “helping businesses navigate their most complex competition law issues”, especially in the digital markets sector.

Geradin set up his firm in January 2020, having previously been a partner at Euclid Law, a boutique set up by Clifford Chance’s former antitrust head Oliver Bretz. Geradin also had an earlier spell as a partner at Covington & Burling.

Geradin’s insight was forged in Brussels over a decade in which successive national antitrust authorities, and EU and US commissioners, grappled with the regulation of those operating digital platforms and the interests of businesses and consumers who use them.

Setting up a boutique firm has enabled Geradin to focus on conflict-free representation, but also to advocate at the intersection of policy and law.

“I've always been a lawyer interested in public policy,” he said, adding that in a larger firm you can often be constrained around freedom of speech matters for fear of being contradicted or undermining a position taken by colleagues in San Francisco.

Having deliberately chosen not to act for major platforms like Facebook, Google and Amazon, Geradin and Smith will focus on work for news publishers, app developers and companies dependent on such platforms, giving them access to equivalent levels of advice provided by larger firms.

Freed from such conflicts, his new firm allows him to co-counsel with established law firms and support challenger brands.

Such work, Geradin said, might include expansion into France or Germany, but it would have to be “the right answer at the right time,” and proportionate to delivering the best quality work. 

That work will continue as the UK develops a new regulatory regime for online businesses, while EU competition commissioner Margrethe Vestager is also scrutinising digital markets. 

Geradin said: “The boutique model is very well accepted in specialist practices, starting with arbitration, litigation, IP and even M&A work,” adding that “we really see ourselves, not as competitors, but complementary to the work large law firms do.”

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