Back to overview

Solicitors' practice areas

Competition & EU law

Danica Barley

Ashurst LLP

Location: London
University: London School of Economics
Undergraduate degree: Economics

Typically, competition and regulatory work includes merger control under the Enterprise Act 2002 and the EU Merger Regulation, regulatory and court proceedings under the Competition Act 1998 and EU legislation, issues arising from sector-specific regulation, state aid, and public sector and utility procurement issues. There has been significant reform of both UK and EU competition law and practice in recent years, and further proposals are being considered. An interesting recent development in the area is the reform of the cartel offence giving rise to criminal liability for individuals. Private competition law actions are also a particular area to watch, with both the UK and EU authorities keen to encourage such suits.

When choosing her legal career path, Danica Barley was mainly attracted to the teamwork and client contact involved in being a solicitor. She is now an associate at Ashurst and previously trained at the firm. “I really enjoyed my training contract – it’s a great way of getting to experience different areas of law and working out which is best suited to you,” she explains. “The six-month rotational aspect of it is really valuable.” While her current work involves more substantial drafting and direct client contact than it did as a trainee, she was brought in on cases from an early stage: “The team here is great at making sure that trainees are involved on a day-to-day basis, so I got a good flavour of the work that was involved in different types of matters.”

Having studied economics at university, Danica chose a practice area which overlaps with her degree subject. While she has certainly found this beneficial, she is keen to emphasise that such a background is not a prerequisite to a career in competition law. However, an enthusiasm for keeping on top of legal developments and understanding business sectors is key. “I am sure all practice areas would say this, but I think a genuine interest in the specialism is crucial,” she explains. “It can be a technical, and very interesting, area in terms of research, underlying principles and analysing case law. It involves in-depth analysis of markets and businesses, gaining a detailed understanding of specific products and services, and how it all works in an economic context – so it helps to find that interesting if you want to go into this area.”

Tumultuous times

Danica describes what are currently interesting times for competition law, citing technological advances and the uncertain political climate as particular catalysts for change. “The Competition and Markets Authority – CMA – and other regulators are considering a number of different issues, including digital technological advances and innovation, which are posing interesting issues from a competition law perspective,” she observes. “And of course, depending on the economic situation going forward, Brexit may result in more merger control filings if companies are required to notify both the European Commission and the CMA – and it may also lead to parallel abuse of dominance and cartel investigations by the European and UK authorities.”

Day to day, her work mainly involves advising on matters such as merger control: “I often work with clients in relation to a potential merger, including assessing whether the transaction may require notification under the different merger control regimes around the world, considering whether substantive issues are likely to arise, and assisting clients throughout the filing process,” she continues. “We are also involved in competition law investigations, where the regulator is investigating potential anti-competitive agreements and abuse of dominance, as well as advising on general competition law compliance – helping businesses to ensure that they’re meeting their competition law obligations.”

“It can be a technical, and very interesting, area in terms of research, underlying principles and analysing case law"

Danica feels fortunate to have been involved in a wide range of work so far at Ashurst and identifies this variety as one of the most enjoyable aspects of the job. She has also had the opportunity to go on secondment: “I spent six months with Lloyds Banking Group, which I really enjoyed – it was great to work with the in-house team there. I’ve also worked with lots of different clients and on a range of matters during my time at Ashurst. For example, the merger last year between Arla Foods and the Yeo Valley dairy business (cleared by the CMA at phase one of its review process); being involved in advising a leading bank in relation to the CMA’s retail banking market investigation; advising Liberty House Group in relation to its proposed acquisition of assets (required to be divested by the European Commission) by ArcelorMittal; and some innovative compliance work for a global manufacturing client.”

Finding the right fit

To others considering a career in law, she stresses the value of work experience in discovering what practice area ­– and firm – is right for you. “Vacation schemes are very useful – they are a really good way of working out whether law is for you, because it can be tricky to know exactly what’s involved on a day-to-day basis until you have experienced it,” she advises. “These schemes not only give you a flavour of the different departments, but also help you to decide if a firm’s culture is suitable for you.”

When asked what one thing aspiring solicitors should know, Danica emphasises that “you don’t have to have studied law at university!” Even if someone is unsure whether law is for them at the outset of their studies, she would encourage them not to rule it out. “I think often people don’t consider it as a possible career for them, whereas actually, many lawyers have studied other subjects previously and then subsequently decided to qualify as solicitors.” Far from being an obstacle, a non-law degree can prove a real asset to prospective lawyers – as Danica knows from experience. “It can be really beneficial to have studied another subject, including, for example, economics, languages or maths, which may not appear to be traditional law-related subjects, but which can provide valuable transferable skills.”