Antitrust law might not sound as sexy as space law, but it might be very attractive to many of you. Antitrust law is the law of competition. Essentially, the purpose of antitrust law is to ensure that firms are competing against each other and not colluding in a way that hurts competition and ultimately consumers.
A lot of law students get disappointed by how formalistic legal reasoning can be. For example, in patent law, to figure out if something can be patented you have to decide if it’s, say, a “process” but not an “abstract idea,” but if it is “it adds significantly more to the abstract idea.” This type of reasoning often allows courts to hide the real reasons behind their decisions, and it can be very distant from the purposes the law is trying to achieve. It can lead to seemingly absurd results where you can patent a new way of playing golf, but you might not be able to patent a more effective way of administering a lifesaving drug.
One unique thing about antitrust law is that applying antitrust law, with some exceptions, requires economic analysis. Instead of dealing with abstract categories that are supposed to serve as a proxy for the policy goals the law is trying to accomplish, antitrust law goes directly to the policy goals. In deciding whether a planned merger between two firms passes antitrust muster, regulators and courts will ask what the effects of the merger will be on competition.
If you majored in economics, or even if you’re just interested in economic analysis, you will like antitrust law.
You might also like antitrust law if you enjoy learning about how different industries and businesses function. It can be surprisingly interesting to learn how industrial printer manufacturers run their sales. Or check out this NY Times article on antitrust issues with the professional rodeo circuit.
One drawback of antitrust law is that it involves a lot of factual investigation. At the junior associate level, this could mean you will spend a lot of hours looking at a firm’s documents, instead of doing “legal analysis.” But if you find the underlying facts interesting, this might not be so bad.
Moreover, unlike the more niche areas of law—like entertainment law or space law—students find attractive before coming to law school, if you can talk semi-intelligently about why you want to practice antitrust law during fall recruiting you’ll definitely have a leg up on most other candidates who don’t have any clue about what they want to do or why (I was definitely in the latter camp). This is because antitrust cases make up a large part of what big law firms do.
If you think antitrust law might be for you, a great starting point is the NY Times Antitrust Law and Competition Issues section. If you already have some business or economics background you could try to read something slightly more dense like Judge Posner’s Antitrust Law. Posner is both brilliant and an excellent writer.
So give antitrust a chance.