The following is an excerpt from Practice Perspectives: Vault's Guide to Legal Practice Areas.
Jamillia Ferris, Partner—Regulatory & Compliance
Jamillia Ferris is a partner in the Washington, DC, office of Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati, where she is a member of the antitrust and competition practice. She started her career after a federal clerkship in a large, multinational law firm, working on antitrust and consumer protection investigations at the Antitrust Division of the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). She chose that area of the law because it involved the intersection of government, public policy, and business. After six years of practice, she joined the Obama Administration, serving in leadership positions and overseeing merger review at both DOJ and the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). In those roles, she obtained a firsthand and behind-the-scenes perspective on how government regulators analyze mergers and their effects on competition and consumers.
Describe your practice area and what it entails.
I help companies that are facing bet-the-company antitrust investigations by the FTC or the DOJ, with merger investigations taking up the majority of my time.
The FTC and DOJ review mergers to determine whether they will lessen competition. My job is to help the government lawyers understand the marketplace dynamics in which my clients operate and ultimately to explain why the transaction will not, in fact, harm competition. I also advise my clients on antitrust risk before they do a deal so they can protect against antitrust risk. That involves talking to the company about how its business operates, as well as working with economic experts to help understand all of the dimensions of competition in the industry and then explaining all of that to regulators.
I also represent companies that are being harmed by other industry players or that are concerned about industry consolidation. In these matters, my role is to investigate whether those actions would violate the antitrust laws, and, if so, I work with regulators to give them the information they need to bring a case against that behavior.
What types of clients do you represent?
In the past couple of years, I have worked on deals involving a wide range of companies, including software, semiconductor, online platform, financial services, defense, and retail companies. Examples include T-Mobile, WeddingWire, Cvent, SKHynix, and Brocade.
What types of cases/deals do you work on?
Right now, I am working on two merger investigations—one involving the online advertising industry and another non-public investigation into a potential retail grocery company transaction. I am also advising a wide range of companies that are considering whether to enter into a transaction.
How did you choose this practice area?
A lot of my colleagues knew early on that they were interested in antitrust—either because they took the class in law school or they were exposed to antitrust issues. That was not my experience. I really enjoyed law school, but I did not know exactly in which area of law I wanted to practice. I had worked in government and on public policy issues before law school, so I thought I would like a career that involved some kind of government interface. I was initially drawn to consumer protection and privacy matters involving tech companies and was mentored by a group of women partners whose practice also included antitrust. They eventually brought me to DOJ, and since that time, I have been exclusively focused on antitrust work.
But what has kept me here is the variation in workload, cases, and clients. Mergers are fast paced and resolved in a relatively short time period. This means that every year brings a new mix of clients, industries, and issues, which keeps things interesting.
What is a typical day like and/or what are some common tasks you perform?
On a daily basis, I am on the phone with government regulators, reviewing my client’s transactions; corporate lawyers at Wilson Sonsini or other law firms who are negotiating deals and want to understand the antitrust risk; and businesspeople running the day to day of my clients’ business operations.
What training, classes, experience, or skills development would you recommend to someone who wishes to enter your practice area?
For those who know they are interested in antitrust, obviously antitrust and economics classes are very good foundations. But, if not, the same skills that are useful in all areas of law are useful for antitrust, and younger lawyers should find ways to get strong training in legal research, writing, and oral advocacy—all of which are aspects of an antitrust practice.
What is unique about your practice area at your firm?
The client base. While my practice spans a range of industries, including traditional defense and retail clients, the bread and butter of our practice is the tech sector. This means that our lawyers really get to know the tech industry, and because of the dynamism in tech, we are involved in cutting-edge legal issues for clients that are changing our entire economy. As merger lawyers, it also means that we have a robust pipeline of work, as it is a space that experiences a high volume of deal activity. Another way our practice is unique is that in addition to merger work, we have a very strong platform for antitrust litigation as well as criminal and civil conduct investigations. We also staff across offices, which means our lawyers work closely with other antitrust lawyers and colleagues in California, New York, and Europe.
What are some typical tasks that a junior lawyer would perform in this practice area?
Another way our practice is different is the responsibilities given to junior lawyers. It is not at all unusual for our junior associates to be working across the table from more-senior lawyers at other firms, including partners. We have a very flat structure and give associates as much work and as much responsibility as they seek out. This includes having direct client interaction on a daily basis, taking the lead on government presentations, and running all aspects of an investigation.
How do you see this practice area evolving in the future?
Antitrust is definitely an active area of law and will continue to be for the foreseeable future. Antitrust enforcement across the board has increased, and all of the presidential candidates and leaders across the political spectrum have stressed its importance.
What kinds of experience can summer associates gain in this practice area at your firm?
Hands-on experience. Our summer associates are key members of our team and are staffed on matters as if they were already at our firm working as associates.