A Conversation with Craig Conrath

A Conversation with Craig Conrath

Division Update Spring 2015
Craig Conrath photo

Craig Conrath

Craig Conrath, one of the Antitrust Division’s most senior trial attorneys, has spent nearly 40 years working on a wide variety of criminal, civil, regulatory, and policy matters, including stints as a competition advisor in Poland and Mexico. Most recently, he served as lead trial lawyer in the Division’s successful lawsuit against American Express. Mr. Conrath graduated from the University of Minnesota Law School in 1975 and from Macalester College in 1972.

What interested you in antitrust and how did you come to join the Division?

While I was in law school I met Richard Stern, who was chief of the Patents Section at the Division and a visiting professor in Minnesota. I also had a chance to intern in the Minnesota Attorney General’s fledgling antitrust office. Based on those experiences, I thought that there might always be interesting facts or interesting law when working as an antitrust lawyer, which has turned out to be true. I was fortunate to join the Division through the Honors Program straight out of law school.

How have things changed since your career began?

Over my career, economics has become increasingly important. In fact, after I had been at the Division for four years, I realized I needed more background in economics and so I took a graduate school night course. But mainly I have benefited from a lot of people in the Economics Analysis Group teaching me. It has been crucial to understand enough about economics to be able to ask the right questions, and it’s a delight to work with economists who know enough about litigation to help give input that can translate into evidence. Our work with economists is part of what makes this job interesting.

What have you enjoyed about working at the Division?

I have changed assignments pretty regularly, so I’ve done some of almost everything at the Division—civil litigation and mergers; both international and local criminal cases; regulatory proceedings; and policy and regulatory reform. One of the great things about the Division is that while those are all obviously related to antitrust, they are all very different things and I have been lucky enough to get a chance to do a huge variety of them.

You’ve spent time working with competition enforcers in Poland. How did that come about and what did you learn from your experience?

In the early 1990s, the Division began engaging with countries that were just coming out of the communist period and wanting to become market economies. Jim Rill, who was then Assistant Attorney General, realized that there was an opportunity for the Division to help countries that wanted to adopt market institutions, including antitrust laws. The Division established a program with the Agency for International Development, which sent lawyers and economists to be resident advisors with new competition authorities. I served as a resident advisor in the Polish Anti-Monopoly Office from 1991–1993.

I think it is hard now to appreciate how impossible it seemed, even five years before I went to Poland, that there would be a competition law in Eastern Europe. Because everything was new to the Polish agency at that time, many of the questions that arose in the U.S. during the first 50 years of our antitrust experience were crammed into those two years.

My experience in Poland made me a better antitrust lawyer and a better advocate because the job required explaining competition principles to people who did not start with the background that we are accustomed to in our day-to-day experience talking with other U.S. antitrust lawyers or economists.

The judge in the AMEX case was very complimentary to both sides at the end of the trial, saying it was the best-litigated trial that he had seen in his 14 years on the bench. What made that case successful?

We were fortunate to have a case with good facts and good law, and an excellent team of people working to figure out how to present them clearly. We had so many talented people, all bringing different strengths, each doing an important part. And, picking up on what the judge said, we had very capable opponents, and that forced us to up our game.

More generally, what helps teams be successful?

More than anything I think you must always keep in mind the thought, “What if we had to litigate this?” That helps to focus the mind, and it reminds you to ask the hard questions. Sometimes that helps to close an investigation early. And if you do wind up in litigation, you are in a better position for having been thinking about it along the way.

Any other advice you would offer young lawyers?

Look for opportunities; try to use each assignment to learn something new. Antitrust law—and antitrust litigation—require a wide variety of skills, and each one that you pick up helps you become a better lawyer.

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