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They’ve Got Next: Antitrust Fresh Face Brian Schnapp

Dec. 3, 2021, 10:01 AM

Brian Schnapp’s love of 1960s and 1970s rock music came in handy a few years ago while the Vinson & Elkins counsel was involved in one of the Department of Justice’s largest antitrust cases.

Late-night karaoke sessions in Tokyo with executives from client Hitachi Automotive Systems helped establish a rapport as they huddled to deal with the DOJ’s investigation of the Japanese auto-parts maker during 2013 to 2016, Schnapp said.

Schnapp, an associate at the time, was a “superstar” in the firm’s representation of Hitachi, recalled Craig Seebald, a partner at the firm. The firm negotiated plea agreements in two criminal cases brought by the Justice Department related to allocating markets and price fixing—one in the Eastern District of Michigan in 2013, and a 2016 case in the Southern District of Ohio.

The karaoke episode blended Schnapp’s love of music and long pursuit of working on global business affairs.

“All of my cases have some international dimension to them,” said Schnapp, a Grateful Dead fan who keeps a life-size poster of the band’s lead singer, Jerry Garcia, in his house. “I like that I’ve been able to combine that area of my interests. "

The 37-year-old Westport, Conn. native stumbled onto antitrust law while working for the Justice Department after getting his undergraduate degree in international affairs at George Washington University. He continued to work at DOJ for a period while he pursued his law degree, also at GWU.

The internationally far-reaching scope of antitrust dovetailed with his academic interest, Schnapp said.

He now specializes in representing companies in a range of criminal and civil investigations and global enforcement actions, including defending multinational companies in cartel and price-fixing probes.

Counseling foreign clients, who are often unfamiliar with American jurisprudence, and coaching them to be witnesses in U.S. courts have been particularly enjoyable, Schnapp said.

These skills came in handy during the Hitachi case. Schnapp’s team negotiated several criminal guilty pleas and litigated civil lawsuits worth hundreds of millions of dollars, Seebald said. The Justice Department collected about $4 billion, and 60 companies pleaded guilty in the DOJ investigation, he said.

Practicing antitrust requires attorneys to adapt quickly to unique market dynamics depending on the client’s industry, something Schnapp has come to appreciate.

He largely focuses on the tech industry, but has worked in cases in automotive and chemicals industries.

Other big wins for Schnapp and his team included representing China-based Wanhua Chemical Group Co., Ltd. and Wanhua Chemical (America) Co., Ltd. in U.S. proceedings. In 2018 the Justice Department closed its investigation against the American unit without any action. The firm now represents the companies in multi-district civil litigation that commenced in 2018 in the Western District of Pennsylvania.

“Another thing I really have liked is the fact that there’s such a wide range of subject areas,” Schnapp said. “It’s really helpful to be able to dig into numbers and to work with economic experts, which is something I do in a lot of my cases.”

V&E, like a lot of its competitors, is facing demand from clients vested in legal, legislative and regulatory battles around the world over Big Tech’s market dominance.

“It’s kind of an exciting time to be doing this,” Schnapp said.

V&E’s antitrust team has come to see Schnapp as an expert on Big Tech and in particular the business of one of its notable clients, Alphabet Inc.'s Google, said V&E partner Darren Tucker, who chairs the firm’s antitrust practice.

Schnapp often spots news or innovations that impact the firm’s advocacy, Tucker said. “One of the things that really stands out about him is that he just knows that client’s business left and right,” Tucker said.

One of the firm’s recent big wins with Schnapp’s aid occurred in May, when Taiwan’s Fair Trade Commission closed its in-depth investigation of Google’s Android operating system and related distribution agreements. The agency found no violation of Taiwanese competition law, Schnapp said.

As the antitrust spotlight on Big Tech grows, Schnapp hopes to keep expanding his practice in growth tech areas, especially in antitrust implications in “Big Data” and artificial intelligence use in business.

“The intersection of AI and antitrust is an evolving area with a lot of scrutiny,” he said. “A lot of interest.”

Schnapp’s organizational and information processing skills also have stood out, his colleagues say.

“He is one of the most organized people I know,” said Seebald, adding that Schnapp can quickly compile piles of dense information in easy-to-understand formats.

“To actually do something crisp, that really gets to the point in a way that people can understand is really very hard,” Tucker said. “He’s really become a core part of our people.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Daniel Gill in Washington at dgill@bloomberglaw.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Roger Yu at ryu@bloomberglaw.com; Lisa Helem at lhelem@bloombergindustry.com

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