Covington & Burling LLP (Europe)

The Scoop

With more than 800 lawyers in eight offices, Covington & Burling's reach covers three continents. This law firm is known for quietly (and smartly) going about its business-that business being antitrust, litigation, corporate, intellectual property and regulatory work, with particular strengths in the life sciences/pharma, media and technology, sports and financial services industries.

Counsel of steel

Judge J Harry Covington and Edward B Burling founded their firm in Washington DC in 1919. One of the lawyers' first cases, and one that would build the fledgling firm's reputation, was an international arbitration in The Hague between Norwegian shipholders and the United States government. World War I legislation had led to the creation of the US Shipping Board Emergency Fleet Corporation, a government agency that had the power to acquire vessels by requisition and seizure. Norwegian shipholders protested these requisitions, and Covington litigators helped them recover the then-massive sum of $12 million. In the 1930s, New Deal legislation led the firm to a strong regulatory practice, and by the close of World War II, antitrust litigation had also become key. During the Korean War, Covington successfully represented steel companies protesting President Truman's commandeering of all national steel mills and assembly plants deemed necessary to the war effort.

Some of the firm's current clients include AstraZeneca, Fujitsu, JPMorgan Chase, Microsoft, Mubadala Development Company and Samsung.

Growth spurt

Despite its early work at The Hague, Covington had historically eschewed typical BigLaw expansionist tendencies, maintaining just three domestic locations and two offices abroad. Covington, in fact, didn't venture abroad until 1988, when it opened shop in London-a strategic move followed two years later by the establishment of a Brussels office to focus on EU competition, regulatory and international trade work. New York and San Francisco followed in 1999. In 2008, Covington planted its flag in Beijing, San Diego and Silicon Valley. The firm also established a strategic alliance with the Qatar-based legal consulting group, the Institution Quraysh for Law & Policy, a move that expands the services available to Covington clients in the Middle East.

Such is life

The firm's London practice has expanded over the past two decades and focuses on the life sciences and technology and media sectors, as well as the branded and consumer goods, financial services, manufacturing and sports industries. The UK office is perhaps best known for its top-rated life science practice. Covington has been ranked the No. 1 life sciences regulatory firm worldwide by the Practical Law Company, and has been recognised by Chambers and the Legal 500 as one of the world's top firms in the life sciences industry.

Sporting and sparring

Highly respected in the US, the firm's sports practice also keeps busy in the UK, where clients have included Fédération Internationale de l'Automobile and the British Horseracing Authority. The firm also advises UK Anti-Doping (UKAD), a publicly funded body established in 2009 to fight doping in sport. Covington provides advice on data protection issues involving the sharing of results of athletes' blood tests among other anti-doping and sports' governing bodies.

Dispute resolution generates more than half of the firm's total revenue. In the US, Covington's litigation practice is recognised as one of the nation's best, and in Europe, the firm boasts a top-level reputation in international arbitration and dispute resolution. Covington is also very busy in the data privacy, IP and technology space, representing everyone from major pharmaceutical companies to airlines, and from the biggest publishing companies to sports associations.

Recent News

Skype's the limit

Covington landed a headline role as counsel to Microsoft in its record-setting purchase of Skype for $8.5 billion in May 2011. The all-cash acquisition represents the largest purchase ever for the software giant. The goal is to integrate Skype with Microsoft's communications devices like Xbox and services such as Outlook. A team of Covington lawyers drawn from offices in San Francisco, Brussels, London and Washington provided advice on an array of issues, from intellectual property and data privacy to telecommunications and antitrust. Covington serves as a preferred legal provider for Microsoft, which has called on the firm in the past for work such as its appeal against a €280.5 million fine imposed by the European Commission for failure to comply with an antitrust ruling.

Aerial combat

Covington acts as co-counsel to Irish budget airline Ryanair in connection with an investigation by the Office of Fair Trading (OFT) into Ryanair's near 30 per cent stake in Aer Lingus. In 2010, the OFT opened an inquiry into Ryanair's minority non-controlling stake in Aer Lingus, three years after the European Commission blocked Ryanair's attempt to take over its Irish rival. Ryanair argued that it was too late for the OFT to investigate its minority holding, but in July 2011 the Competition Appeal Tribunal (CAT) upheld the OFT's claim, opening the way for the agency to continue its review. Ryanair was subsequently granted permission to appeal the CAT ruling to the Court of Appeal. A combined Brussels/London Covington team devised a strategy to avoid a decision by the OFT on a reference to the Competition Commission while the appeal from the CAT ruling remained pending. On 24 November 2011, the Court of Appeal granted a novel order staying the OFT's investigation until resolution of the appeal from the CAT ruling.

Pain pills and skin soothers

Covington has been providing advice to Merck & Co, Inc. and Schering-Plough in relation to post-merger integration of those businesses. The two pharmaceutical giants combined forces in 2009, creating one of the biggest drug companies in the world, with an estimated value of $41 billion. In other pharmaceutical news, Pfizer, the world's largest drugmaker, purchased Covington client King Pharmaceuticals for $3.6 billion in October 2010. The buyout expands Pfizer's "pain portfolio" and its share of the $22 billion market for painkillers.

Energy boost

In the first half of 2011, Covington made a number of high-profile hires to boost key practices in London, including its life sciences group. In May, the firm brought in four corporate life sciences partners from Morrison & Foerster. At the start of the year, Robert Amaee, former head of the Anti-Corruption and Proceeds of Crime Units at the Serious Fraud Office, joined the firm's white-collar defence and investigations practice group. A few months earlier, the firm brought in one of its former lawyers, Christopher Walter, to head up its European employment group. Walter rejoined the firm as a partner and was joined by two of his colleagues from Paul Hastings Janofsky & Walker.

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Covington & Burling LLP (Europe)

265 Strand
London WC2 1BH
Phone: +44 (0)20 7067 2000


  • Employer Type: Private
  • London Managing Partner: Roger Enock
  • Total No. Attorneys 2011: 800

Major Office Locations

  • Brussels, Belgium
  • Beijing, China
  • San Diego, CA
  • San Francisco, CA
  • Silicon Valley, CA
  • Washington, DC
  • New York, NY
  • London, United Kingdom
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