Thursday, 23 March 2023

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Google stacks legal team with former DOJ employees as it faces antitrust cases

Google stacks legal team with former DOJ employees as it faces antitrust cases

People walk near the Google offices on July 04, 2022 in New York City.

John Smith | View Press | Getty Images

Google’s parent company, Alphabet, has stacked its legal team with former Department of Justice employees as it fights two separate antitrust lawsuits from the agency, public profiles show.

Former DOJ employees make up both its in-house team and members of outside counsel firms it employs. The company has hired three former DOJ officials into regulatory roles since May 2022, and one before that in 2021, according to public information including social media profiles. Google also uses four different outside counsel firms loaded with nearly 20 former DOJ officials, many of whom worked in the antitrust division at various times.

Such hiring for its internal regulatory team is a reflection of the intense scrutiny Google is facing from governments around the world. It can be a signal that a company anticipates dealing with regulatory challenges in years to come, even if it doesn’t know exactly what form it’ll take yet, according to two former government officials.

“When companies find themselves under intense scrutiny from regulatory authorities, antitrust law or otherwise, they make moves like this,” said Bill Kovacic, a former Federal Trade Commission chair who now teaches antitrust law at George Washington University.

Google now faces two antitrust challenges from the DOJ, both to its search and ad tech businesses, and additional challenges from a slew of state attorneys general. Regulators around the world, including in Europe and Australia, have also presented policy and enforcement hurdles.

Google’s hiring is not surprising for a company under such a microscope, according to Doug Melamed, a former acting assistant attorney general at the DOJ antitrust division who’s now a scholar-in-residence at Stanford Law School.

The company had already been fighting one complex antitrust case that would likely require a team of 10 to 15 lawyers alone, according to Melamed, when the department brought its second antitrust challenge against the company earlier this year.

“They don’t have the capacity to handle a case like that just sitting idle,” Melamed said. “They’ve got to now think about well, what outside lawyers are available that have to have the time and expertise to handle this case? And then, do I have the in-house capability to support it and supervise it?”

The added threat of new legislation targeting Google’s business, and that of other tech firms, looms….

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