Resign but not exit: Hausfeld talks focus on climate change and big tech

After having chaired the Hausfeld law firm for 13 years, starting next year, Michael D. Hausfeld will resume his new role as chairman emeritus. This does not mean that he is withdrawing, he emphasizes. As previously reported by Law.com International’s sister publication, The National Law Journal, the global litigation law firm with five offices in the United States and seven in Europe, is in the process of changing directions. Hausfeld’s career has included important cases relating to human rights, discrimination as well as antitrust and environmental law. I sat down with him to reflect on his legacy and discuss the advice he would give to the next generation of lawyers.

The length of the interview has been changed.

Christine Schiffner: With your return to the post of President Emeritus next year, what do you think are some of the key cases that have shaped your career as a lawyer?

Michael Hausfeld: One was clearly the Exxon Valdez oil spill and the second most significant was the claims against Germany and German industry regarding forced labor and slavery during WWII.

With regard to Exxon, it was about the rights of indigenous peoples, which are mostly ignored by the law. There are clear guidelines, for example, for measuring the loss suffered by a commercial fisherman, but no measure in law for the loss of a way of life – a measure that foreshadowed issues that are being debated today about. of a threat to the right to life. in terms of deprivation of a sustainable environment, which is the backbone of indigenous existence.

When it came to forced and slave labor, it was literally every known wrong that one could perceive and conceive of being practiced against a huge population, all welded together in a form of mass misconduct that violated all of them. the fundamental precepts of human dignity.

CS: In addition to representing Alaskan natives whose lives were affected by the Exxon Valdez oil spill in 1989, you also recently represented young climate activists, including Greta Thunberg, with their petition to the Human Rights Committee. of the United Nations Child. How important to you is the issue of global climate change?

MH: For me, climate change affects two main areas, one is truly the right to life and the ability to be safe in what the Constitution calls an inalienable right. The US Constitution in its preamble declared that among the inalienable rights is the right to life and that the founders of our republic wanted to preserve this inalienable right not only for themselves, but for their posterity. So there has always been a concept behind every society that it must have an existence beyond the present. And what global warming is clearly jeopardizing is the ability to be a future.

CS: Why did you choose to become a lawyer?

MH: It was a deep feeling of the difficult pursuit of justice. Measuring a balance in life that would produce a fairer and better world for all, where everyone would have, once again, certain fundamental guarantees that could not be violated by any person or government.

I had the honor of being the opening speaker at the George Washington University Law School Graduation and in doing so, I looked back on my career and tried to bring together what I believe to be my guiding principles:

Do not accept what is without exploring what you think you should or could be.

Speak up for those whose voices are not heard.

Show the faces of those who are not seen.

Pursue by law these inalienable rights evident to all, everywhere and at all times, to achieve this dream of a more just world.

CS: You and your firm have focused on antitrust law for years, both in court and with you as a member of the Obama administration’s antitrust task force. What do you think of the renewed effort by the Biden administration for more effective antitrust enforcement?

MH: There must be more because there are new challenges. Any economist will agree that economies control general welfare. Antitrust controls savings by ensuring that certain lines are not crossed and inappropriate behavior.

The object of antitrust law is to maintain a certain balance as in the constitutional principle. You cannot enter a market and set the price, you cannot enter a market and literally, with the agreement of others, trick your consumers into pretending that you are there to serve.

And there have always been drifts in companies, they went from agriculture to steel to coal to rail to banking, then to general industry and today it is Big Tech.

There are a number of brilliant great academics who focus on the fact that the degree of control exercised by these companies involved in social media and big tech threatened not only the fundamentals, our foundations of democracy, but also the general well-being because they’re upsetting and creating an imbalance within societies.

CS: Some would call too much anti-trust law enforcement political activism – what do you think of that?

MH: I don’t see it. It depends on the definition of political activism. If you have politicians who pursue what is understood, at least in general market terms, as excessive behavior, then I would be in favor of political activism as it is up to governments to regulate corporate behavior if they have to. there be any regulation of this behavior at all.

On the other hand, there are those who believe in a total laissez-faire society, which means that there should be no political interference in the functioning of markets. I think I’m taking the middle path and between non-regulation and over-regulation there has to be proper centrality of regulation in order to limit the excesses for the benefit of what the government is supposed to do and which is to protect. the general well-being of its citizens.

CS: Law and Politics Are Closely Interwoven in Washington, DC Looking at the state of power politics today, what do you think?

MH: In any society, centrality is essential. I think that we have clearly moved away from any compromise of the center-right or the center-left and we have entered into extremes which make it more difficult for the governance of society and which increase the challenges for the law to maintain this balance and this centrality.

CS: With your return to the company, won’t you miss it?

MH: I take a step back, not outside. And so I’m just going to take on other roles that are going to keep me involved in politics, philosophy and engagement.

There are two main [points of focus], one is global warming and what they call intergenerational fairness, youth rights, and the second will be Big Tech and whether or not that interferes with well-being instead of promoting it – and , if so, how can he be held accountable so that this behavior can be changed.

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