Each month we focus on the work and interests of either a regulator or an in-house counsel. This month we interviewed Christine Jorns, EMEA Channels & Competition Counsel, Hewlett Packard Enterprise.
Tell us your career story – how did you become an In-House Counsel?
I studied law with German law at Kings College London, which included EU and competition law options. I continued with a doctorate on the abuse of dominance and IP rights at Heidelberg University, and was fortunate to able to complete a long-term internship with DG Competition before joining private practice. I had worked as a competition lawyer at Herbert Smith Freehills in London and Paris for about eight years when I decided to enlarge my scope by moving in-house – a choice I have not regretted since.
At HPE, I am lead counsel for competition law as well as for HPE’s indirect go-to-market model comprising our distribution partner network in Europe, the Middle East and Africa. 70% of HPE’s revenue flows through partners, which is why the distribution network is critical to HPE’s success and the role strategic. I am very fortunate to be working closely with senior business clients to structure new initiatives and sales models to adapt to new styles of business in the IT industry, in addition to supporting competition law compliance more generally. Compared to private practice, I particularly enjoy being able to participate closely in shaping our commercial strategy through everyday interaction with my business clients. If you show interest, clients take the time to teach you about business issues, and the IT industry is certainly a fascinating environment for a competition lawyer to be in. As an added benefit, HPE is a truly international company: I get to work with people from across the globe, and it is fun to be able to use each one of my three working languages (English, German and French) almost every day!
Is navigating the digital space a particular problem in competition law at the moment? Do you think that tech companies might have a better handle on this than some other sectors?
At present, there is a long list of “hot topics” in the digital field where developments are in flux: big data, competition law and data protection, online intermediaries and platforms, vertical restrictions in e-commerce, the Commission’s investigation into Google to name but a few. All of these topics are very relevant and necessary in the competition law debate, considering the profound changes in consumer purchasing behaviours over the past two decades, and new styles of business across all industries with online services, cloud computing and the Internet of Things. What creates unfortunate complexity from a legal advisor’s perspective is that approaches are sometimes disparate and contradictory between different national regulators, in particular in the e-commerce field. In addition, in areas such as big data, authorities are only beginning to investigate the right answers to potential competition law concerns: see for example the recent joint report on Competition Law and Data of the Bundeskartellamt and the Autorité de la Concurrence. My wish is clearly that the regulators not let various non-competition law concerns which figure prominently in the European public debate (such as data protection, tax, copyright, consumer protection, etc.) influence their reasoning when deciding future competition law cases in the digital economy.
What do you think will be the next big challenge in the competition law sphere? Is there a particular issue that interests you at the moment?
As mentioned, I believe the role of data in the analysis of market power, barriers to entry and competitive advantages will certainly remain high on the agenda for a while given that we are likely to see data become more relevant not only in relation to services offerings but also in relation to products with the advent of the Internet of Things (physical devices communicating with each other). Tech research firm Gartner predicts, for example, that the number of wirelessly connected products in existence (not including smartphones or computers) will increase from perhaps 5 billion today to 21 billion by 2020. This large scale connectivity might create new competition issues not only relating to the access to data, but also concerning interoperability and standard setting, open source vs. closed systems and for example network effects.
What does a normal working day look like for you?
I usually start my day by reviewing and addressing emails that have come in overnight from our headquarters in Palo Alto, California or from Asia before heading to the office. Once at the office, I will typically have virtual meetings with different business clients to discuss structuring a new partner program or incentive, questions relating to compliance or treatment of our partners. As the resource on competition and indirect sales matters in EMEA with the legal department, I also provide regular support to country counsel, the litigation team and worldwide colleagues on specific queries, or competition law matters such as information requests from local competition authorities, litigation or merger control requirements and coordination of EMEA merger filings. In addition, I attend business meetings to keep up to date with new business developments and provide ad hoc advice. Finally, every member of HPE’s legal department engages in legal pro bono work: currently, I advise on setting up a HPE charitable organization sponsoring certain projects in the child education sector in Uganda, in addition to providing competition law advice to a NGO in Geneva.