Committee work essential to Competition Law Section’s success

  • October 26, 2016
  • Kim Covert

On an early October day in Ottawa the city’s Shaw Centre, with its tulip-shaped glass atrium that overlooks the canal, is awash with sunlight and abuzz with lawyers at the must-attend conference for lawyers in their field.

The CBA Competition Law Section holds two conferences each year – a one-day get-together in the spring in Toronto, and then the premiere two-day conference in Ottawa in the fall, which combines professional development and networking with an opportunity to meet with Competition Bureau officials.

“This conference that we’re at right now, it’s built into peoples’ calendars,” said Section Chair Rod Frank, taking time out from his busy morning – which began, as the previous morning had, with a 7:30 a.m. meeting – to talk about what makes the Section tick. “They know this is the one time of the year you come and you can get competition networking and education and you’ve got it covered. One program under $1,000, it’s good value. … If you ‘re practising competition law and you’re not plugged in to this conference, why? It’s pretty well known, this is it in Canada.”

The conference kicks off with a social event – the Competition Bureau’s annual charity golf tournament – and then members get down to work. Over the two days of the conference there are 13 CLE opportunities, nine networking opportunities, dinner with an address by the Competition Commissioner and a keynote address – this year it was journalist Chantal HĂ©bert, says Frank. On Friday, the Women in Competition Law group sponsored a luncheon which, like the conference itself, was sold out.

Asked what the Section’s secret for member engagement is, Frank had a couple of answers: First of all, he says, the competition bar isn’t large, it’s mostly concentrated in Ottawa and Toronto, and it’s driven by a lot of Type A personalities who, while they’re in competition with each other, remain collegial and professional.

“We have a good relationship with the Competition Bureau, that’s why this conference is held in Ottawa, to make it easier for their people to attend,” adds Frank. “The Commissioner of the Bureau, John Pecman, realizes the value of having  a strong relationship with the private bar, we can provide them feedback, and say “here’s what our clients are saying;” at the same time you get the benefit of knowing what’s on the enforcer’s mind. It’s a bunch of Type A people that want to succeed and realize that collaborating will probably get them further.”

Frank also gives a lot of credit to the Section’s strong committee work. The Section has 12 committees, dealing with areas such as competition policy, corporate compliance, cartels, criminal behaviour, etc., which are given targets – for example, three brown bag PDs a year – and are all required to prepare detailed plans for each year’s work.

“It used to be really aspirational, ‘yeah, we’re going to have a conference and we’d like to meet with the bureau’ … no. We want to know on Oct. 1 what’s in your work plan, when are these brown bags going to be held, what is the subject matter, are you looking at speakers. We’ve driven it down to committee responsibility and then make it fun.”

He also notes the Section’s strong ties with the ABA, which has a huge anti-trust law section with massive resources. TheCBA Section is the only foreign organization that gets invited to their conference, and ABA members come to the Canadian gathering, and the two team up on things like brown-bag PD offerings. “So a young lawyer can get a master’s degree just by going to brown bags almost. You can really educate yourself through these programs and they’re free, essentially – join the CBA and you’re in.”

The Young Lawyers committee, which held a mentoring session at the fall conference and does a half-day symposium in the spring, is particularly helpful for those just starting out in competition law, says Frank, who admits it took him a long time to get into the field and feel he was part of the community.

“The profession is dominated by people that have practised for many, many years, it takes quite a while to get over the learning curve, to develop clients, to have a reputation, and young lawyers I think felt they were somewhat shut out,” he says. “So this was set up as a means for them to have their own panel at a conference. …. It’s a way for them to get into the field, to feel supported. All the other committees work with the young lawyers and it turns out to be just a great opportunity for them to develop their careers.”

For young lawyers, or anyone who wants more detail on complex issues in competition law, check out the Fundamentals of Canadian Competition Law, which is entirely written by volunteers and is available as an online resource for members (the paper version can be purchased by members and non-members from Carswell).

Along with strong committee work, Frank’s tips for other Sections wanting to increase member engagement include encouraging members to publish to increase their professional profile – the Section publishes professional articles in the Canadian Competition Law Review; commenting on legislation and policy; offering academic prizes to law students and young lawyers; and generally finding ways to offer opportunities to members. “At the CBA there’s lots of opportunity to develop yourself professionally and find friends and make your practice a lot more interesting,” says Frank. “Competition law is pretty dry in a lot of cases, it’s sitting in the office and working through problems, but if you can find a community of people with like interests who support you, do it, and the CBA has delivered for us. It’s great value.”