A top U.S. Justice Department official who departed his post in November is joining Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer in Washington, D.C.
Eric Mahr was a partner at Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale and Dorr for more than 15 years before joining the DOJ’s antitrust division as director of litigation in 2015. He left the government position in November 2017 as the trial over his department’s lawsuit to block AT&T’s purchase of Time Warner fast approached.
Mahr told The National Law Journal he was recused from the AT&T-Time Warner merger matter because of a conflict stemming from his work representing a previous client. The trial in the AT&T-Time Warner merger case is now set for March 2018.
Mahr said it had always been his intention to exit the Justice Department after a couple of years, but he decided to stay on a bit longer to help smooth last year’s transition between administrations.
He said was attracted to Freshfields by the chance to help develop the U.K. firm’s antitrust litigation practice in America.
“What really stood out for me was the firm’s energy and focus,” Mahr said. “They have a clear commitment, and that’s something that’s very invigorating.”
Paul Yde, a partner in Freshfields’ U.S. antitrust group, said adding Mahr was a key move for the firm, especially after hearing from clients that it needed to bolster its U.S. antitrust practice.
Mahr said his two top interests in the law have centered on international antitrust and U.S. litigation, which have always been in tension with one another. Freshfields’ international footprint means he’ll be able to practice right at that intersection, he said.
Last year, Freshfields hired Shawn Cooley as special counsel in its Washington office from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.
Cooley was brought on board for his experience dealing with the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States, which reviews foreign acquisitions of U.S. businesses for possible national security implications.
Other key hires for Freshfields in the U.S. include a trio of restructuring partners from Arnold & Porter Kaye Scholer who joined the firm in New York last year.
The firm made a serious push into the U.S. in 2013 and 2014 with a series of eye-catching hires, including former Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz partner Mitchell Presser and former Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom banking partner James Douglas.
Last year, the partnership voted to scrap its lockstep system, replacing it with a single ladder that will enable top performers to make six times more than those at the bottom.
The move aimed to give the firm a greater ability to reward high-performing partners in key markets, such as London and New York.
As Mahr re-enters private practice, he said he expects the Justice Department’s antitrust division to maintain its approach to assessing mergers. He noted that Justice Department antitrust chief Makan Delrahim has underscored a focus on structural relief in transactions, as opposed to letting mergers proceed subject to specific behavioral commitments from the parties involved—an observation shared by other lawyers with experience in the Justice Department’s antitrust division and Federal Trade Commission.
Mahr said he was pleased to see the merger challenges that Delrahim has already brought since joining the Justice Department last fall.