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William Kovacic went to law school for a simple reason: His editor told him to. At age 22, Kovacic was set on becoming a journalist. As an undergraduate at Princeton, he had spent two years working as a stringer for The New York Times. When a Times editor told him that a law degree was just the ticket for a full-time job with the paper, Kovacic in 1974 dutifully enrolled at Columbia School of Law. And then he discovered antitrust. Now Kovacic, 48, is general counsel of the Federal Trade Commission, a job he says he has always wanted. “The responsibilities of the office are so diverse,” he says, adding, “I couldn’t imagine a better law office anywhere.” Kovacic got hooked on antitrust after his first year of law school, landing a job in 1975 as a Democratic staffer on the anti-monopoly subcommittee of the Senate Judiciary Committee. The subcommittee was headed by former Sen. Phil Hart, D-Mich. — as in Hart-Scott-Rodino, the landmark antitrust law that was passed in 1976. Kovacic spent much of his year as a staffer helping shape the law. “It was a wonderful opportunity,” he says. “I knew after that year what I wanted to do.” After a year clerking for U.S. District Judge Roszel Thomsen in Baltimore, Kovacic joined the FTC in 1979 in the Bureau of Competition’s planning office. In 1983, he became an attorney-adviser to then-Commissioner George Douglas. That’s when he got to know Timothy Muris, now chairman of the agency and, in 1983, head of the Bureau of Consumer Protection, then the Bureau of Competition. The two became better acquainted during the 10 years they both taught at George Mason School of Law — Kovacic focusing on antitrust and government contracts, with Muris generally covering the federal budget and regulation. After working at George Mason from 1986 to 1998, Kovacic jumped to George Washington University, where he is currently on a leave of absence. “If there’s a better career on the whole than being a law school academic, I’d like to know about it,” he says. “I don’t think it exists.” Still, he says it wasn’t a tough call to accept Muris’ offer to serve as general counsel. “It’s something I’ve always hoped I’d get a chance to do someday,” he says. Muris has expanded the responsibilities of the 36-lawyer GC’s office in two respects, Kovacic says. First, the general counsel now coordinates the agency’s international activities. The idea, says Kovacic, is “to give the commission one place, agencywide, where we have a good idea what we’re doing overseas, formulating policies for future foreign activities, and providing a more systematic perspective of what the agency has done.” Formerly a consultant on antitrust and consumer protection issues to governments in such countries as Egypt, El Salvador, Indonesia, Nepal, Russia, and Zimbabwe, Kovacic adds, “The international dimensions of the commission’s activities will become ever greater and more important.” Also, the GC’s office has taken on something of a think-tank capability, with the addition of a five-lawyer group headed by Susan de Santi from the Office of Policy Planning. The group will do research, write reports, and put together conferences and workshops. Another responsibility is the FTC’s appellate work and to weigh in with amicus briefs. Kovacic reports that both Muris and Department of Justice antitrust head Charles James “would like to see each agency have a more active role to play” in contributing amicus briefs. Another priority is a sort of administrative housecleaning. The office plans to tackle personnel and employment issues, perhaps conduct seminars and training sessions, and improve the speed and quality of the administrative adjudication process for resolving antitrust and consumer protection disputes. “The agency’s workload in the past two to three years has been mind-boggling, especially with the M&A activity,” Kovacic says. “In order to handle that downpour, we had to defer maintenance in some ways, on what I’d call the administration of the agency. This is an opportunity to devote more time to that, and to help all of our constituencies take care of their people.”

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