Throughout the annals of history, the trial lawyer has cut a figure that stretches across all strata of modern society. From "Perry Mason" to To Kill a Mockingbird to "A Few Good Men" to all of John Grisham’s novels, pop culture has long mythologized the iconic image of the trial lawyer. Indeed, for those unfamiliar with the broad and nebulous spectrum of law practices, a trial lawyer may be the only type of lawyer they are even aware of at all. Benchmark Litigation has, since 2007, celebrated these trial lawyers in the pages of its directory as well as events associated with it. However, with trial work become increasingly rare, the pool of lawyers equipped to attend to this work has been steadily shrinking. The opportunities for lawyers to gain experience and become seasoned by actual courtroom work have been decimated by the rise of alternative dispute resolution and out-of-court settlements. As a result, the divide between “litigators” and “trial lawyers” has widened considerably, with the latter group commanding ever-increasing levels of reverence as masters of a seemingly endangered craft.
To that end, Benchmark has assembled a list identifying the Top 100 Trial Lawyers in America, as discovered throughout the course of the past several years of research. Competition was very stiff in certain cases, with some very difficult decisions having to be made. The list is accompanied by an editorial piece extrapolating on most of the lawyers listed, colored by candid quotes and peer and client review to offer context and provide support for the decisions. (Unfortunately we were not able to editorialize every trial lawyer, due to either lack of details on recent matters and/or lack of quote-worthy feedback.)
As New York is the nerve center of US, and it could be argued, global, litigation, perhaps it is not surprising that this venue hosts the vast majority of the country’s most oft-referenced trial lawyers. In this market, perhaps no one is more unanimously mentioned than Ted Wells of Paul Weiss Rifkind Wharton & Garrison. “Ted Wells is the consummate trial lawyer,” voices a peer, echoing the near-unanimous consensus. “He has the complete package. He is flamboyant and just commands the attention of the whole room, often with humor and a touch of theater. Even on cases he doesn’t win, he delivers nothing short of a knockout performance, often charged with some amazing ‘zingers’ and one-liners.” Another New York peer quips, “Paul Weiss has many great litigators, but when it comes to trial lawyers, Ted Wells is the man. He’s the one you want to have on your side if you’re in a spot of bother.” The frequency and the tenor of feedback for Wells is rivaled perhaps only by one other lawyer in New York: Armonk-based David Boies of Boies Schiller & Flexner, who is a senior statesman while remaining an active hand in trial matters of make-or-break magnitude. Few would argue that the lion’s share of the firm’s gravitas rests on the shoulders of this celebrity litigator, who has been at the forefront of some of the most high-visibility and high-stakes cases for decades, in both the plaintiff and defense positions as well as in both the trial and appellate capacities. “David Boies really needs no introduction, he is ‘Trial Law 101,’” quips a peer, summing up the general consensus. “He is still a force to be reckoned with, even into his seventies.” Boies Schiller has also made a notable investment in its grooming its bench for succession. Most notably Karen Dunn, a Washington, DC-based commercial and “crisis” litigator who, in tandem with Robbie Kaplan of New York’s Kaplan Hecker & Fink, is representing 11 people who were injured during a tumultuous, and ultimately violent, white supremacist and neo-Nazi demonstration in Charlottesville, Virginia in August 2017. The team scored a big first-round win in July 2018 when a federal judge in Virginia refused to dismiss their suit against 24 of 25 defendants. “I’ve been against Karen Dunn,” testifies a peer and former opponent, “and I can tell you that she is tough as nails, but with a level of civility about her that makes you want to witness her in action, even you are in an adverse position to her.” Dunn scored big twice in 2019; once in March for Apple in a patent-related case against Qualcomm, for which Dunn secured summary judgment for her client, and again in August when she logged a bench trial victory on behalf of Uber in Massachusetts federal court in a case brought by Boston’s largest taxi conglomerate demanding more than $750 million in damages, alleging that Uber had competed unfairly in the Boston market when it operated without licenses, violating long-standing taxi rules. “Karen Dunn has just had one hell of a ride for the past couple of years,” ventures a peer, “but she deserves it because she really hustles.”
The aforementioned Kaplan Hecker & Fink makes an impressive showing this year, with two partners making their appearance here: founder and all-purpose trial lawyer Kaplan, who initially launched the firm as Kaplan & Company and earned her stripes at Paul Weiss, enjoys her second year’s nomination, and Sean Hecker, who joined the firm from his previous post at Debevoise & Plimpton, makes his debut showing on this year’s list. “Robbie Kaplan is our adversary most of the time,” testifies one peer, conceding, “and it’s tough to be on the other side of her.” Hecker, a securities enforcement and white-collar star, has a particularly vocal fan base as well. “When Sean went to this firm, that was a big deal. He’s got a great reputation,” insists one competitor. “I have great respect for him, he was my favorite at Debevoise.” Still another confirms, “Sean had a really nice win out in California, a white-collar case that actually went to trial!” This alluded-to victory was on behalf of a former trader at Barclays, who was charged with manipulating the price of foreign currency options to defraud the bank’s customer, Hewlett-Packard. Hecker secured an acquittal for his client from a federal judge in San Francisco in March 2019.
Cravath Swaine & Moore enjoys a level of prestige in the legal community as one of the country’s most elite white-shoe firms, while at the same time coming equipped with a stable of talent that still can go flat to the mat at trial when warranted. Evan Chesler, a senior-level Cravath mainstay who has earned a considerable reputation on the strength of his decades-long career as a dyed-in-the-wool trial lawyer, continues his reign. Chesler led American Express to a landmark victory in early 2018 in the Second Circuit against the DoJ and 17 state attorneys general in a six-year-old lawsuit alleging that “nondiscrimination” provisions in card agreements prohibiting merchants from steering customers to use other cards restrained competition in violation of the Sherman Act. The DoJ, which led the investigation, trial and appeal for plaintiffs, decided not to petition for certiorari—a decision joined by six of the 17 states in this matter. After decades of attracting universal acclaim for his keen trial skills, Chesler’s acumen still dazzles. “Evan is still the Energizer bunny,” marvels one peer. “I keep waiting for the day he dials it back and it just never seems to come. His flame remains undiminished!” At the other end of the generational spectrum, Darin McAtee is another Cravath star lauded for his trial prowess. “Darin is just a beast!” exclaims a peer hailing from the Midwest. “When you are not from New York, you have a tendency to size up the competition there with a stance of ‘Are they really all they’re cracked up to be?’ Well, Darin is everything you would imagine a New York trial lawyer should be. He was unbelievable, just a whole different level! And he is fairly young, too! I witnessed him on a big breach-of-contract case, and, while of course he had help from the Cravath machine, he was the lead and it was spectacular to watch him work. He’s definitely a ‘wow!’”
Over the past several years, the New York office of California-based Gibson Dunn & Crutcher has grown to see its litigation bench swell with crackerjack trial lawyers that have been on the forefront of major matters that have grabbed the national, and indeed international in certain cases, limelight. Standout trial lawyer Randy Mastro remains a figurehead regarding the firm’s ongoing representation of Chevron in its successful RICO and fraud suit against the purveyors of a $9.2 billion Ecuadorian judgment against the company for alleged contamination of the Amazon Basin. Mastro is also lead counsel to Lynn Tilton and her investment firm Patriarch Partners in a high-profile three-week trial before the SEC, a six-day trial in Delaware Chancery Court, an ongoing civil RICO case in federal court in the Southern District of New York, and a number of related, ongoing matters. These matters stem from 2015 allegations that the client violated the antifraud provisions of the Investment Advisers Act of 1940 in their operation of three collateralized loan obligation funds by reported misleading values for the assets as well as failure to disclose a conflict of interest arising from Tilton’s undisclosed approach to categorization of assets. The SEC case was tried in late 2016, and a decision is pending. Decisions are also pending on the Chancery and RICO cases. Orin Snyder continues to receive rave reviews from peers as “someone who doesn’t at all seem to mind being in the center of the fray. In fact, he seems to thrive on the adrenaline of healthy sparring match.” One competitor muses, “Orin is a great litigator – I’m sure he won’t deny that, either. But in all seriousness, this guy has confidence to spare, which perceptive people will understand does not necessarily equal arrogance, and this has done wonders for him in dealing with some nasty battles. His star is definitely on the rise, and he attracts some very trendy clients. He just won a big case for Facebook. He is also a terrific brief writer.” The firm’s intellectual property capacity is seeing a steady ascent in profile. Los Angeles’ Wayne Barsky secured a unanimous jury verdict in favor of Merck-Serono and Pfizer in a patent infringement suit concerning multiple sclerosis medicine. In February 2018, a jury rejected the plaintiff’s staggering claim of $5.4 billion in damages. Gibson Dunn upped the ante still further when it recently DC’s Richard Parker to its bench from O’Melveny & Myers. Parker, resoundingly championed by peers as a “true antitrust trial lawyer, not just a deal clearance guy,” is a veteran of several of the biggest precedent-setting headline antitrust trials of the past several years.
Sullivan & Cromwell’s Robert Giuffra served as National Coordinating Counsel for German automaker Volkswagen Group in connection with an unprecedented agreement in principle with the US DoJ, US EPA, the US FTC, the California Air Resources Board and the Plaintiffs Steering Committee, to resolve a significant portion of the massive multidistrict litigation arising from the company’s recent emissions scandal. A settlement was reached in April 2016, and it includes offering to almost 500,000 US owners of certain Volkswagen vehicles buybacks, repairs, compensation and environmental remediation. The overall value of the settlement is estimated at over $14 billion. “That’s called a win,” quips a peer, speaking to the eye-popping dollar value. “Bob Giuffra handles a lot of cases that no client in their right mind would actually try because they are life or death,” offers one peer, “but when parties see Bob’s name on the docket, it is almost the equivalent of a trial because a powerful message is sent that this is a very serious matter, and it will not just be a typical ‘settlement dance’ at the negotiating table.” This settlement builds on Giuffra’s prior victory on behalf of Volkswagen, which involved a group of hedge funds bringing a lawsuit in 2010 seeking more than $5 billion in damages against Porsche SE (which now owns more than 50% of Volkswagen) in the US District Court for the Southern District of New York and New York State Supreme Court. After securing a dismissal at the pleading phase in the lower court, Giuffra won a precedent-setting appellate victory in the US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, on behalf of Porsche. Beyond this noted client, Giuffra also spearheads a spate of litigation for UBS and Goldman Sachs. Most recently, in July 2017, Giuffra triumphed in yet another matter, on behalf of department store Kohl’s and two of its executives in Wisconsin federal court, where he led a team that successfully convinced the court to dismiss with prejudice a putative securities fraud class action by Kohl’s shareholders who alleged that Kohl’s financial restatements in 2010 and 2011 revealed fraudulent and material misstatements. This array of cases reinforces the peer assertion that “Bob’s portfolio proves that he’s in demand by a far more diverse group of clients than other ‘Wall Street’ lawyers. He’s not strictly beholden to financial institutions.”
At Weil Gotshal & Manges, arguably the firm’s largest and most high-profile engagements – and game-changing victories – involved its representation of Johnson & Johnson. In particular, Diane Sullivan, a nationally revered trial lawyer, provided lead trial counsel for this client in a four-week bellwether trial in New Jersey state court involving claims the client’s baby powder caused cancer. Sullivan secured a unanimous defense verdict, the first defense verdict in New Jersey courts, where thousands of cases in the talc mass tort are pending against the Company. “Diane Sullivan does it again,” trumpets a peer. “She is just a force of nature.” While Sullivan’s star power is unquestioned, she is not the only one triumphing on Johnson & Johnson’s behalf. Princeton-based Allison “Ali” Brown scored big when, in May 2019, she secured a complete defense jury verdict (and the third of a series of wins) for this client in mass tort talc litigation following one week of trial in South Carolina state court. The jury returned a unanimous, 12-0 verdict in favor of the client. Sullivan and Brown together represented Spanish energy company Repsol in litigation involving allegedly more than a billion dollars in liabilities in connection with the pollution of the Passaic River in New Jersey, one of the EPA’s largest Superfund projects in history. This litigation, which saw its genesis more than five years ago, saw the Superior Court of New Jersey entering final judgment in favor of Repsol in November 2018. The firm’s commercial capacity is helmed by David Lender, an all-purpose litigator whose practice incorporates almost all of the components that Weil is known for. Lender secured a complete defense jury verdict for C&S Wholesale Grocers following nine days of trial in April 2018 in an antitrust class action in the Minnesota federal court. The jury’s verdict erased several hundred million dollars sought in treble damages, plus attorneys’ fees, and brought nine years of litigation to a close. Plaintiffs alleged that the client, as well as another wholesale grocery operator, entered into a conspiracy to allocate their respective geographic territories between themselves for a period of five years, resulting in inflated grocery prices. (The other defendant settled before trial.) Lender also serves as counsel for Credit Suisse and certain of its affiliates in a series of real estate loan disputes in courts around the country, with billions of dollars at stake, regarding Yellowstone Resort in Montana. The plaintiff, who is now in jail, is trying to say he was duped into taking a loan on real estate that went bankrupt in the post-2007 environment. In 2018, Lender led the client to an appellate victory before the Ninth Circuit in a unanimous decision dismissing the claims. Lender also is part of a team representing Sears Holdings Corporation, the parent company of the Sears and K-Mart retail brands, and certain of its debtor affiliates in connection with their Chapter 11 proceedings before the United States Bankruptcy Court for the Southern District of New York. The team assisted the restructuring by handling the disputed, proposed sale of the debtors’ assets to Sears’ chairman and largest pre-petition shareholder, ESL Investments. “Lender killed it on that,” crows a peer. “He led Sears at the trial to decide if they were going to get sold to Eddie Lampert! If they lost this trial, 85,000 people would have lost their jobs! But they WON!” Another New York partner, securities and white-collar star Jonathan Polkes is also widely acclaimed. “I’ve sent him cases without hesitation,” confirms a peer. “He tried a game-changer of a case for Morgan Stanley against a Russian oligarch and did a fabulous job.” This case ended in triumph for Polkes and his client when the Second Circuit affirmed the federal jury verdict in Morgan Stanley’s favor in June 2017. Both Lender and Polkes enjoy their third consecutive year of being appointed to the Top 100 list.
While Wachtell Lipton Rosen & Katz is primarily known – and revered – for its unquestioned dominance in the M&A field, its litigation bench is equally lauded, with trials making a more elevated showing as of late. One peer observes, “In the past few years, I’m noticing them doing more trial work! More of the cases that they are dealing with are not ones that can be easily swept away by other means.” In particular, William Savitt is championed by several peers. “Bill Savitt is the best in the business. His judgment is exquisite,” extols one. Another peer, based in Delaware, confirms, “Bill is constantly in Delaware, and he has exactly the right tone for the Chancery court. He’s sort of become the go-to here. Wachtell of course has a really good core, but Bill is omnipresent.” Savitt is leading a team that is litigating for Cigna regarding its merger transaction with Anthem, which did not go forward on antitrust grounds, regarding the question as to whether or not Cigna can obtain a breakup fee, estimated to be roughly $1.5 billion.
Dechert’s Andrew Levander commands nationwide recognition for his “blue-ribbon” white-collar practice. “If I were ever to do something really stupid and get myself in a tight spot, Andy would be my first call,” confirms a peer. “He is sharp, detail-oriented, keeps his cool – he steered Jon Corzine through the [now collapsed investment fund] MF Global proceedings, and you know what a hot mess that was! Andy didn’t even flinch.” Another prominent practitioner in the white-collar space quips, “Andy is about 68 but shows no signs of diminished energy. He can do it all – he’s a brilliant guy, he’s good in the court, he has charm and aplomb, and he also must be a very busy guy, since he’s managing as well! He was in the sweetest spot of his career a few years ago, with the credit crisis. I was actually once in talks about working with him, but I finally said to him, ‘Andy, I want to BE Andy Levander, not work for him! I want to be the general! ‘ And that’s simply not going to happen with Andy around! Although I should make sure to credit him with also building an impressive team over there coming up behind him.”
Another white-collar and trial veteran, Kramer Levin Naftalis & Frankel’s Gary Naftalis, has a history of attending to headline-grabbing cases, and this past year has been no exception. Specifically, Naftalis triumphed in May 2016 on behalf of Congregation Jeshuat Israel, the congregation that has worshipped for the past 130 years at Newport, Rhode Island’s Touro Synagogue, the nation’s oldest synagogue, in a dispute with a New York City congregation over the ownership of the synagogue and the ownership of silver bells valued at $7.4 million. The decision allows the client the opportunity to sell the bells to create an endowment that will enable it to preserve the historic synagogue while maintaining the structure and its historic purpose. New York City-based Congregation Shearith Israel had aggressively opposed any sale of the bells, sought ownership of both the bells and Touro Synagogue, and sought to evict Congregation Jeshuat Israel from the synagogue. A peer marvels, “No pun intended, since this case is regarding the bells, but Gary strikes again!” Another peer confesses, “Many of us were under the impression that Gary would want to start slowing down but it seems he just can’t help himself! He loves this stuff, he really enjoys it, and it shows in the masterful, dedicated way he just throws himself into this work.” Praise is also resounding for Lankler Siffert & Wohl criminal and civil trial lawyer Helen Gredd, who “has represented some very senior people and is a world-class litigator.” One peer asserts, “If I ever needed a lawyer, she’d be my first phone call. She’s just that good.”
At Simpson Thacher & Bartlett, Lynn Neuner is championed by peers to be “obviously a leader there now.” Neuner attends to a caseload that spans insurance and securities. She scored a January 2018 victory in the latter of the aforementioned categories as lead counsel for Hovnanian Enterprises, who successfully fended off Solus Alternative Asset Management’s efforts to enjoin a refinancing transaction between the client and GSO Capital Partners. Allegations included fraud, disclosure and tortious interference claims under both federal and state law. “Lynn has a really nice courtroom demeanor but also really good judgment and common sense,” declares a peer.
A firm known to pivot between plaintiff and defense work, with some recent major wins in the former capacity, Susman Godfrey, historically known as an “old-line Houston firm,” has taken the New York market by storm. New York star Bill Carmody is said to bring a considerable amount of heft and “aggressive chutzpah” to a team already brimming with trial talent. Carmody is half of a Susman team serving as court-appointed co-lead counsel in a consolidated antitrust proceeding arising out of the LIBOR-rate fixing scandal. The Susman Godfrey pair represents a direct purchaser class, which was certified by the Court in 2018- the only one of several proposed classes to receive certification. Recent agreements with several defendants, including Barclays, HSBC, Citigroup and Deutsche Bank, have brought settlements to date to $590 million. Litigation remains ongoing with non-settling defendants. Carmody, an all-purpose bet-the-company trial lawyer, is lauded by all fellow litigators who are familiar with him. “Bill Carmody can just strut into the court like he owns the place,” extols one peer. “For the wrong person, this could be considered off-putting but for him, it just works.” Another contemporary notes, “When you hire Bill Carmody, your metric should be not just be ‘How much do I want to win?’ but more ‘How much can I afford to lose?’ If the answer to the latter question is ‘I can’t,’ you should hire Bill.” The Los Angeles office has swiftly made its mark on this crowded legal community. Kalpana Srinivasan, a younger partner who is nonetheless considered “a force,” serves as co-lead counsel for HouseCanary in its misappropriation of trade secret case, fraud and breach of contract case against Title Source (now known as Amrock) related to HouseCanary’s real estate appraisal and valuation technology. At the conclusion of the seven-week trial, a 12-person jury found unanimously in favor of HouseCanary, awarding the client $706.2 million against Title Source on counterclaims in this high-stakes legal battle. In late 2018, the court entered final judgment of $740 million including fees and interest. The court rejected Amrock’s motion for a new trial in January 2019.
Another powerhouse noted for juggling plaintiff and defense work, Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan, a firm with “trial lawyers” unequivocally woven into its branding manifesto, is positively brimming with stars that have been earmarked for the Top 100 list. Michael Carlinsky extracted a July 2014 settlement from Bank of America on behalf of AIG as part of the client’s mortgage-backed securities litigation against the bank. AIG is due to receive $650 million in cash, plus a share of an earlier $8.5 billion deal between the bank and several investors. Daniel Brockett is noted as someone who “does most of the antitrust work at Quinn. He is a hustler and has some really impressive clients.” Peers also note that, “although in the antitrust space Dan is one of the biggest players – maybe the biggest – he also does securities work, and does an equally wonderful job with this.” Another celebrated DC partner, Tara Lee focuses on civil litigation, white-collar and corporate crime, and government contracting. Cementing her reputation for trial prowess, Lee recently triumphed on behalf of defense contractor TCI, against highly unfavorable odds, in a whistleblower action concerning marksmanship credentials of some of its guards. A peer marvels, “Tara came on board at Quinn Emanuel knowing she faced the very high expectations of that firm’s culture, and proceeded to exceed those expectations almost immediately.”
One partner who left Quinn Emanuel to launch his own endeavor, Selendy & Gay (along with another Quinn alumnus, Faith Gay), Philippe Selendy is noted for a long, staggering, and nearly uninterrupted string of settlements with banks alleged to have wrong-footed institutional investors. Selendy triumphed again on behalf of Federal Housing Finance Agency by securing a $5.5 billion settlement from Royal Bank of Scotland in July 2017. This latest victory brings Selendy’s combined total of settlements to an eye-popping sum of nearly $25 billion. A peer extols, “Philippe Selendy is the king! Everybody knows him and everyone cheers the work that he’s done. I suspect even those that have been against him. He really dug into a lucrative matter and has pursued it tirelessly, making millions for his clients.” Regarding Selendy’s pivot to boutique life, one peer quips, “That was a bold move! But then, that’s Philippe for you. I have no doubts he will succeed.”
New York ‘s Steven Molo, figurehead of another boutique, MoloLamken is called “an outstanding advocate and fearless in court” by a satisfied client. “He is focused and resolute. He took our case and honored every promise made.” A peer, viewed by many as one of New York’s top trial lawyers, views Molo as “every bit my equal. He is quite talented.” Arguably his most high-profile appointment of late, Molo represented the former Speaker of the New York State Assembly Sheldon Silver on charges of public corruption in a highly publicized case originally brought by Preet Bharara, then-U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York. The case was tried to a jury, which returned a guilty verdict in November 2015. Molo then represented Silver on appeal to the Second Circuit, which, in July 2017 vacated Silver’s convictions on all counts and remanded for a new trial. The court of appeals held that the district court’s jury instructions were erroneous because they did not convey to the jury that “official acts,” for purposes of the federal honest services and extortion statutes, include only formal exercises of governmental power. Molo also represents two Teva subsidiaries in an action for fraud and breach of contract arising out of their $2.3 billion acquisition of a Mexican pharmaceutical company. After the transaction closed, Teva discovered that the sellers had perpetrated a long-running fraud at the company, obtaining fraudulent registrations from Mexican regulators by submitting falsified product formulations and test results, and then engaging in a sophisticated scheme to conceal the violations from regulators during audits. Molo also represents the hedge funds Prosiris and Tilden Park in contested proceedings concerning the distribution of the proceeds of the $9 billion settlement between holders of residential mortgage-backed securities and Bank of America/Countrywide. The issue was whether bonds held by the clients allowed for a recovery by classes of bondholders other than the most senior class. In April 2017, the court issued a ruling favorable to the firm clients.
New York patent litigator John Desmarais, who fronts his own intellectual property shop and has been a noted star in the field for years, makes his debut in the Top 100 list this year on the strength of an August 2018 win for IBM. Desmarais persuaded a Delaware jury to award $82.5 million verdict to the client in an infringement dispute with Groupon, who was found to have willfully infringed four IBM patents, two of them of which were 30 years old.
Winston & Strawn boasts perhaps the most populated real estate among the Top 100 trial lawyer list, with a whopping five partners making the ranks of this elite group this year. Lending further weight to the claims regarding the firm’s diversity of services as well as its position as a truly trial-tested shop, Winston & Strawn recently doubled down in its white-collar capacity, making the auspicious recruit of DC trial veteran Abbe Lowell to its ranks. Lowell, a politically savvy and connected practitioner who attends to both criminal and civil matters, joined the firm in May of 2018 from Norton Rose Fulbright (after that firm had absorbed Lowell’s longtime former firm, Chadbourne & Parke.) Peers view Lowell’s hire as “unquestionably a win-win situation.”
Lowell’s position within the firm was via an invitation from his old pal from law school, New York-based Jeffrey Kessler, another Winston partner not wanting for recognition. Kessler attends to a unique hybrid of sports and antitrust law. While his work in the latter practice often depends on keeping his clients out of the limelight, the former practice lands Kessler squarely in the headlines. Kessler won a major victory in March 2018 on behalf of college football and basketball players challenging the legality of the National College Athletic Association’s (NCAA) restraints on compensation when the Northern District of California denied the NCAA’s motion for summary judgment and granted partial summary judgment in favor of Winston’s clients. Kessler first brought the suit in 2013. Subsequent to several earlier rulings, a potentially history-making showdown bench trial was held in September 2018 and, in March 2019, Kessler led the Winston team in scoring an historic victory when the court ordered a permanent injunction against the NCAA’s limitations on colleges and universities providing education-related benefits beyond tuition. “Jeff Kessler is a huge name, and he’s on board for plaintiffs and defendants,” testifies a peer. “He has a superstar presence in the sports arena, for which he gets all the publicity, but we actually see him a lot more in the defense arena for antitrust matters. He can drive you crazy because he pounds the table to get what he wants. But quite often, get it he does.”
The San Francisco office will soon be augmented by the arrival of Sandra Edwards, who will soon join the firm from her former post at Farella Braun & Martel. Edwards is a peer favorite, with one remarking, “I worked on a products case with her, and I considered her an experienced trial lawyer. I was impressed by her trial skills and her poise and strategic abilities as well.”
The most obvious example of the firm’s trial star power is Chicago’s Dan Webb, long a figurehead within the firm. “Once upon a time, I thought that Winston wouldn’t have the light bulbs changed without consulting Dan Webb first, so big was his gravitas,” quips one peer hyperbolically. “Nowadays, there are plenty of other great trial lawyers at Winston with their own skills and reputations…but I still think they would not change the light bulbs without Dan Webb’s blessing!” Despite his senior status, Webb remains active and visible, with near-annual trial victories to confirm this. Webb represents TreeHouse Foods in one of the largest antitrust cases in food industry history, concerning single-serve coffee pods. In late 2017, the Southern District of New York handed TreeHouse a victory when it summarily denied Keurig’s motion to dismiss the client’s complaint that Keurig engaged in anticompetitive conduct designed to maintain the coffee giant’s monopoly of the single-serve coffee pod market. Another Chicago-based Winston partner, Kimball Anderson, is revered as “one of the most active litigators at Winston, who has re-created his practice many times over. He is a legacy partner who is still very much in the game.” Anderson attends to a varied practice that includes antitrust, commercial, intellectual property and product liability.
Kirkland & Ellis scored a substantial coup recently, bringing Sandra Goldstein on board from Cravath Swaine & Moore. Goldstein, a veteran of both New York and Delaware courts, is considered a “top name” in securities, commercial and M&A litigation, and her move to Kirkland is viewed unanimously by peers as “quite an upset.” Chicago’s James Hurst, called an “Energizer Bunny of trial work,” continued a long streak of wins with a complete victory in January 2018 for AbbVie in its third bellwether trial in a multidistrict litigation concerning claims that the client’s AndroGel testosterone replacement drug caused heart attacks. The win came after the company (when it was represented by different counsel) was hit with punitive damages of $140 million and $150 million in the first two bellwethers.
Buckley’s trial and appellate luminary Henry “Hank” Asbill, who decamped from Jones Day to join this firm’s DC office, makes yet another appearance on the Top 100 list. “Hank is one of the best, and he probably wouldn’t leave a comfy big firm environment like Jones Day to go just anywhere. Clearly he was looking for a firm with some more ‘fire in the belly,’ which he himself has plenty of,” observes a peer. Asbill has a particularly keen acumen with white-collar work. “Hank has been lucky enough over the course of his career to represent individuals without hurting the companies. He doesn’t get hired to cut deals, he gets hired to try cases or at least leverage his trial skills.” Asbill’s prowess was called into service when the U.S. Attorney’s Office of the Northern District of Alabama charged two partners at a prominent Alabama law firm and the executive of a major local company, with bribing a former Alabama state legislator to take official actions to oppose proposals by the Environmental Protection Agency related to a Superfund Site in North Birmingham. Asbill led a team of attorneys from Buckley and Jones Day in defending the executive in a four-week trial.
The Washington, DC is a market well stocked with trial talent, and in this market Williams & Connolly – called “the Rolls-Royce of firms” – is chockablock with namechecked trial lawyers. “So many Williams & Connolly people are respected trial lawyers that it’s really hard to choose who should make your list without making it look like the list is unbalanced in their favor,” confides one DC competitor. “They have also been hugely successful at grooming younger partners to be up to snuff with the older heavy hitters.” These alluded-to “heavy hitters” include Dane Butswinkas, an all-purpose trial-tested veteran who acts for a variety of individuals and entities across a broad and novel spectrum of cases. Fresh off of a multi-year streak of wins as trial counsel, Butswinkas was enlisted as lead trial counsel in the only criminal case against an individual in connection with the TARP government bailout program implemented in the wake of the financial crisis, involving Jesse Litvak, a bond trader who was convicted on all 15 counts of securities fraud and other offenses that he faced. In January 2017, a federal jury acquitted Litvak of nine of the 10 counts of securities fraud. Butswinkas also leads a team that was retained to represent Celgene in two significant antitrust cases that are being widely followed by the antitrust bar: Mylan v. Celgene, which involves allegations that Celgene delayed Mylan’s development of generic versions of Thalomid and Revlimid by refusing to sell samples of branded product to Mylan for purposes of conducting bioequivalency testing; and In re: Thalomid & Revlimid Antitrust Litigation, putative class-action litigation on behalf of indirect purchasers of these drugs who allege that Celgene engaged in various conduct to delay development of generic versions of these drugs. The firm’s product liability capacity in particular has also seen a nearly uninterrupted streak of wins, with practitioners Joseph Petrosinelli, addressed by peers as “their real ‘stud’ over there now,” and Heidi Hubbard being the most prominent personalities. Hubbard, a noted specialist in the pharmaceutical and medical device field, secured another triumph in June 2017, a Delaware jury returned a complete defense verdict in favor of Alcon in a matter in which plaintiffs, claiming damages of over $400 million, had pursued multiple claims related to purported misappropriation of trade secrets and confidential information, as well as contract claims arising from a stock purchase agreement involving milestone payments. After an Alcon win on summary judgment on the trade secrets claims, Hubbard and her team trial team tried the contract claims to a jury verdict for Alcon, with the Delaware Supreme Court affirming this victory on appeal in March 2018. Another trial leader at the firm, Robert Van Kirk, has spent the last several years chipping away at claims against client The Carlyle Group, as well as its founder Bill Conway. Van Kirk recently finally brought this saga to an end when, after a six-month trial, his clients were fully exonerated in a $2 billion action against them in the Royal Court of Guernsey involving the collapse of Carlyle Capital Corporation during the onset of the financial crisis in March 2008. A peer observes, “Bob Van Kirk is a perfect example of a partner at a dominant DC firm who has spent the last few years doing no cases in DC!” Another peer insists, “I like Bob’s style. He has a welcome and refreshing presence among trial lawyers – understated and patient, which has proven to be a winning approach when dealing with litigation that requires playing the long game.”
Formed in February 2016, the boutique Wilkinson Walsh + Eskovitz, with offices in Washington, DC and Los Angeles, is emblematic of a litigator’s dream shop, boasting composite qualities of diversity, youth, and a culture fostering a work-hard-play-hard ethos that its personnel takes to heart. The firm saw its genesis when revered trial star Beth Wilkinson decamped from Paul Weiss Rifkind Wharton & Garrison and teamed up with four other partners to launch a venture that focuses on high-stakes jury trials, a specialty that many would argue has become ever-increasingly a rarity among litigators of recent vintage. Cresting a nearly uninterrupted multi-year wave of wins, Wilkinson triumphed on behalf of Phillip Morris not two months after the firm opened its doors, when, following a three- week trial, a St. Louis jury found that Phillip Morris had not deceived smokers with the marketing of Marlboro Lights, a claim for which the plaintiffs sought more than $1.5 billion in compensatory and punitive damages. Wilkinson is also held in high esteem for her white-collar abilities, and recently has found herself at the forefront of work for the National Football League. More recently, in May 2017, Wilkinson prevailed when a federal jury in New Orleans handed her a defense win in the first bellwether trial over the blood thinner Xarelto. In August, Wilkinson led a team consisting of that scored big on behalf of Georgia Pacific, securing dismissal of the client from a class-action case, potentially valued at $12 billion, that alleged that the client and numerous other defendants (most of whom settled) conspired to fix containerboard prices.
San Francisco litigation boutique Keker Van Nest & Peters has built itself into one of the most formidable shops in California and beyond, with strong appellate and commercial litigation practices and a nationally renowned white-collar criminal defense practice. Peers stand unanimous in their glowing accolades of firm founder John Keker; indeed, one competitor credits the firm’s ethos to Keker’s initial strategy. “John Keker did a fabulous job building that firm. When he got started, he went to all the big firms around and said ‘Give me all the cases you don’t want.’ He got that work, and used it to become one of the best trial lawyers in the business.” Keker and fellow firm founder Robert Van Nest recently defended Lance Armstrong against USADA allegations of illegal doping, succeeding in having the investigation dropped before a case could be filed. Van Nest also led a trial team that scored a 2016 win for Google in its bitter copyright feud with Oracle.
Calving off of an already elite stable of trial talent such as Keker Van Nest & Peters to launch your own boutique shop would seem somewhat of a daunting risk but that’s exactly what name partner Daralyn Durie accomplished with her maverick venture Durie Tangri. Durie continues to elicit rave reviews for her trial acumen, primarily in the intellectual property realm. “Going against her was like going against a boxer in which you know you’re going to get hurt,” confides a former opponent. “She’s indefatigable, and very sharp. [She is] in complete command, and going against her is exhausting.” Although Durie counts large local mainstays such as Genentech among the clients that count on her for a high-touch, hands-on approach, it is also noted that Durie and her firm have become the attorneys of choice for several of the Bay Area’s many start-ups. While regarded as an “IP rockstar,” Durie’s practice extends beyond said practice; she has represented defendants in nationwide and international class actions, scoring major jury victories in the process. Exemplifying this, in a rare class-action case that made its way to trial, Durie scored on behalf of the 450,000-student California State University system, which was sued for sending out bills and then raising tuition the same semester. The plaintiffs sought $100 million in refunds, but in April 2018, a state appellate court an earlier jury verdict that the fee increase was reasonable.
In Los Angeles, Hueston Hennigan, a litigation boutique carved out of the former commercial litigation group at Irell & Manella, was quickly risen to prominence as one of the region’s most celebrated trial-specific shops. On the senior end of the spectrum, managing partner Brian Hennigan is a noted figure in the white-collar crime field. In a matter that dovetails with the headline-making issues regarding impending trade wars, Hennigan has recently taken on a matter concerning Chinese oligarchs and allegations of dumping aluminum in the US. Name partner, and arguably the firm’s most visible partner, John Hueston is a widely lauded trial lawyer who appears front-and-center on many of the firm’s most contentious matters. These include the successful defense of the California State Bar in an unprecedented lawsuit filed by former State Senator and State Bar Executive Director Joseph Dunn, who alleged that the State Bar and its then-President retaliated against him and terminated his employment because he blew the whistle on ethical violations within the organization. After a five-day trial, the firm obtained a full verdict in favor of the State Bar on all causes of action. Another celebrated LA trial lawyer, Patricia Glaser of Glaser Weil continues to garner acclaim from fellow trial lawyers from all over California and beyond. One former opponent quips, “I didn’t like her so much when I was against her in court one time, but damned if I didn’t respect her. She put me in my place and it was not a good feeling, but the court sided with her and it, if I’m being honest, it was not hard to see why.” Glaser led a team representing William Gross in a widely publicized lawsuit against his former company PIMCO, which he helped found. The lawsuit alleges that a cabal of younger PIMCO executives conspired to force Gross from his executive leadership position at PIMCO in order to redistribute among themselves the hundreds of millions of dollars in annual compensation Gross was entitled to receive. The suit itself alleges constructive termination, breach of contract, and breach of the implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing. The firm recently defeated PIMCO’s demurrer to the complaint, and eventually entered into a confidential settlement. Glaser led a team leading an investigation initiated by the Board of Directors of Guess? in February 2018 for the purposes of probing into recent allegations of improper conduct by the company’s co-founder, Paul Marciano. Glaser also represents a client who for over a decade was a top executive at Google and claims that Uber defrauded him in connection with his hiring as a Senior Vice President of engineering by concealing information related to a competitor’s trade secret claims and by concealing Uber’s massive customer data theft. He also claims that Uber thereafter wrongfully terminated his employment and in the process breached his employment agreement and besmirched his reputation.
O’Melveny & Myers has been at the forefront of some of the country’s most high-stakes and high-profile trial matters, a position largely
attributable to “celebrity trial titan” Dan Petrocelli. Based in the firm’s Los Angeles office, Petrocelli is frequently called upon for his remarkable trial gravitas and has racked up a staggering streak of wins over the past several years alone. Arguably Petrocelli’s crowning achievement of the past 12 months was his landmark June 2018 victory as lead counsel for AT&T, which was given the green light to advance with its proposed vertical merger with Time Warner, one of the industry’s biggest, most innovative and most hotly contested combinations, after Petrocelli triumphed in dismantling all antitrust claims that sought to block the deal. Far from resting on his laurels, Petrocelli has also kept active in numerous other contentious matters for a broad spectrum of clients ranging from Johnson & Johnson to Sirius XM to famed fighter Manny Pacquiao.
The Los Angeles office of Proskauer benefited significantly – and immediately – with the auspicious 2017 addition of Bart Williams, whose extensive experience in white-collar criminal defense, internal investigations, commercial litigation and, as of late, product liability has continued to gain national attention. Williams led a team that obtained a significant March 2017 victory for Johnson & Johnson, when a Missouri jury returned a complete defense verdict – at that point the only such ruling – in a high-profile product liability trial relating to the client’s talc-based Baby Powder and Shower products and its alleged link to ovarian cancer. “This was huge,” claims a peer. “Johnson & Johnson was getting killed in those cases before the Proskauer team took that on. Bart Williams scored this win weeks after joining his new firm!” Williams, previously with Los Angeles litigation powerhouse Munger Tolles & Olson, is viewed unanimously as “a tremendous trial lawyer, magnificent in front of a jury.”
Jennifer Keller, name partner of Los Angeles boutique Keller/Anderle, is yet another star of the local trial bar. Keller is noted nationwide as being “a real trial tactician, who always has this strategy at the forefront of her mind from the get-go.” This reputation sees Keller’s acumen often called into service late in the game to “rescue cases that might have gone south without her.” After years of litigation, MassMutual hired Keller as lead trial counsel to defend it against a class action involving a life insurance pool. This was a bellwether case and the matter was estimated at over $40 million. After a three-week jury trial, in February of 2018, the jury handed MassMutual a full defense verdict. Keller also won a full defense verdict for the City of Costa Mesa in a case brought against the City by two sober living home providers and an industry trade group. Keller was also hired by Broadcom co-founder Henry Nicholas, as trial counsel (after a reversal on appeal) to prosecute a lawsuit against the IRS on a case in which the IRS disallowed a $300 million tax loss, claiming it was an illegal tax shelter. On the eve of trial, the parties settled on favorable terms.
In San Diego, Juanita Brooks of intellectual property mainstay Fish & Richardson is known as “a titan of the patent bar.” Peers confirm, “Juanita is a former public defender and one of the best trial lawyers in the country for patent cases. She is in court a lot.” Brooks has spent over eight years defending the patents on Allergan’s blockbuster glaucoma drug Combigan in an ANDA case that began in 2009 when four generic drug makers filed applications with the FDA to sell their own versions of Combigan, an action which Allergan believed infringed its patents. The latest round of this litigation culminated in an October 2016 trial, which ruled in favor of Allergan. More recently, Brooks led a team that scored a huge upset victory in the spring of 2018 for Gilead at trial involving Gilead’s multi‐billion-dollar drugs Sovaldi and Harvoni, which are cures for Hepatitis C. Initially the jury sided with Merck finding the asserted claims not invalid. In the damages phase, however, Fish convinced the jury to award Merck less than 1/10th of the over $2 billion demand. In a bench trial following trial, Brooks convinced the court that Merck’s in‐house lawyer took Pharmasett/Gilead’s confidential information about the drug that was under development and used that information to draft the patent claims at issue. As a result, the court held that Merck had “forfeit[ed] its right to prosecute this action against Gilead,” wiping out the $200 million damages award.
Bird Marella Boxer Wolpert Nessim Drooks Lincenberg & Rhow prides itself on its ethos of solely focusing on high-stakes commercial and white-collar litigation matters. The firm generates an enthusiastic chorus of acclaim from clients; one cheers its practitioners as, “tenacious advocates and skilled negotiators of the highest caliber, who are most adept at understanding client’s objectives. [They are] masterful at learning complex subject matter, and they never lose sight of the forest, even while knowing every leaf on every tree.”
For the past three years, Bird Marella has been representing JM Eagle, a plastic-pipe manufacturer, in a federal False Claims Act matter allegedly worth billions. Co-lead Ekwan Rhow is defending JM against claims by more than 100 municipalities involving fraud related to the sale of a PVC pipe manufactured by JM Eagle. The firm is also defending a parallel federal class action and related state court product liability case. Rhow has recently been appointed to the American College of Trial Lawyers and is unanimously championed by local peers. “Ekwan is a great lawyer, who also has a lot of business. He has really taken to [Bird Marella] and helped developed it.” White-collar specialist Gary Lincenberg represented the lead defendant when the State Attorney General filed criminal charges against medical caregivers at Providence Hospital for violating the state’s mandatory reporting requirements relating to alleged physical abuse in the psychiatric unit at a Providence hospital. More recently, Lincenberg succeeded in obtaining dismissal of 37 of the 40 criminal charges prosecutors sought against the directors of Plains Oil, which was bedeviled by an oil spill off the coast of Santa Barbara. A client raves, “I could not be more respectful and appreciative of any attorney. Gary’s legal skills were amazing to me.”
The Texas market is positively chock full of trial talent, and one of the firms most renowned for its bench is Houston boutique Gibbs & Bruns. Topping this list, Kathy Patrick has received overwhelming ovation for her work as lead counsel for the 22 institutional investors whose $8.5 billion settlement was officially approved at the end of January 2014. In March 2015, the New York Supreme Court Appellate Division approved in its entirety the $8.5 billion Countrywide RMBS settlement negotiated by the firm on behalf of its RMBS clients, including PIMCO, Blackrock, MetLife and others. This settlement is nearly double an already eye-popping $4.5 billion settlement with JPMorgan that Patrick scored earlier on behalf of 21 institutional investor clients. Patrick’s streak of billion-dollar settlements has continued without interruption. Most recently, in March 2017, she led a team that secured a $2.4 billion settlement with Lehman Brothers Holdings on behalf of 14 institutional investors. Just prior to that, in August 2016, the pair also scored a $4.5 billion settlement with JPMorgan on behalf of 21 institutional investors. This team is currently engaged in an ongoing securities fraud action against Petrobras on behalf of institutional investors arising out of the massive “Lava Jato” or (“Car Wash”) bribes-for-contracts scandal that has embroiled Petrobras and scores of Brazilian politicians. Gibbs & Bruns firm figurehead Robin Gibbs led a team representing Enterprise Products Operating in a massive engineering/construction lawsuit concerning a large petrochemical refinery currently under construction in Mont Belvieu, Texas that was hampered by several years of unsatisfactory work and massive cost overruns, estimated in the range of $700 million.
Dallas boutique Lynn Pinker Cox & Hurst earns rave reviews from peers and clients alike. Much of the firm’s powerhouse reputation is attributed to Mike Lynn, a “fearless” trial lawyer. “Mike Lynn has a stellar reputation and it’s well deserved,” testifies a client. “[He is] one of the most passionate and strategic lawyers I’ve ever worked with. He seems angles nobody else sees. He is quick on his feet and exploits every misstep by the other side.” Lynn recently represented a Saudi Arabian prince as a plaintiff in a breach-of-contract case against a local technology company, Youtoo Media, and its principal Chris Wyatt. The client sought to recover approximately a $3 million down payment made on a potential equity investment in Youtoo. Lynn also defended counterclaims for fraud and breach of contract brought against client by Youtoo. At trial, the jury awarded the client approximately $3 million in damages. (The case is currently on appeal to the Fifth Circuit.)
Another firm routinely praised for possessing a deep stable of trial lawyers, McKool Smith lays claim to record-setting victories in the patent arena, as well as commercial matters. Figurehead Mike McKool leads the litigation department, and is considered “an icon” by peers. “Mike McKool – and don’t call him ‘Michael,’ he doesn’t like it – is just a fascinating guy and that has something to do with the fact that he’s also a fascinated one. He is constantly learning, absorbing knowledge, and advancing and it shows in his approach. He’s a rockstar! I’m not kidding either – he plays guitar and brings that performer zest into court.” McKool has litigated in more than 100 jury trials over the course of his 40-year career and has experience working with airlines, energy companies, telecommunication firms, investment banks, and other large corporations. In the summer of 2017, McKool led a team that secured a $9.4 million verdict for music producer Quincy Jones against the late musician Michael Jackson’s company in a breach of contract and royalty dispute. A federal judge ruled that Jackson’s estate and Sony did not pay Jones royalties for music used in the singer’s posthumous documentary. “I keep thinking that Mike McKool is going to exhaust his trick bag one of these days, and I keep getting amazed that he never does!” Illustrating the firm’s well documented IP prowess, McKool and Douglas Cawley continue to generate praise for their representation of Ericsson in patent infringement actions against Apple concerning 41 of Ericsson’s standard essential and implementation patents covering technology that enables smartphones and tablets to connect to mobile networks, including 4G mobile technology and earlier 2G and 3G technology. The companies reached a settlement agreement in December 2015 that included a cross license covering both companies’ patents, including those that cover 4G mobile technology and earlier 2G and 3G technology. The agreement resolved all pending patent litigation between the two entities.
Jackson, Mississippi’s Orlando “Rod” Richmond of Butler Snow was described by one industry competitor as having “one of the best courtroom presences in the industry,” a trait which was recently on display in a case for Johnson & Johnson in its saga of defending talcum powder litigation across multiple jurisdictions. Most recently, Richmond tried a four-week trial in St. Louis City Court. “Rod is fantastic,” enthuses a peer, “He is a former military man who doesn’t flinch at trying cases in very difficult, plaintiff-friendly venues like Atlantic City and Philadelphia, and he manages to bring a calm, pleasant demeanor to what could be very ugly proceedings. It works – he sways the juries.”
Based in King & Spalding’s Atlanta headquarters, Ray Persons, who focuses his practice on complex litigation, including class actions, mass torts and product liability, is identified as “one of the finest lawyers in town, hands-down, who has tried over 60 jury trials. Others can litigate, but Ray can really try cases.” A competitor based in New York attests, “Of all of the people I’ve come across, Ray Persons really struck me. In this practice, you deal with a lot of blowhards who raise a fuss. Ray stands out by going against all that and is all the more effective for it. He has a mellow way about him, with a pleasing Southern accent.”
Alabama hosts an impressive array of trial lawyers, Samuel Franklin of Birmingham’s Lightfoot Franklin & White continues to be “an undeniable presence,” earning almost unanimous peer accolades not only for his trial work but also for his keen acumen with appeals. A peer insists, “Lightfoot as a firm has a very good appellate practice group. All of their lawyers do a good job in that regard and Sam Franklin has a lot of heft in that area. But his appellate skills don’t take away from his trial abilities.”
Chicago-based litigation shop Goldman Ismail Tomaselli Brennan & Baum has since expanded to Los Angeles and Dallas, yet still retains the character of a true boutique, with trial readiness remaining central to its ethos. The firm is specifically sought after to try cases that have proven difficult or impossible to settle and often involving elements of product liability, antitrust, intellectual property, and/or some combination of the three. The firm’s most celebrated figure, Tarek Ismail is acknowledged without exception, and sought out, by peers who, as one succinctly puts it, “have a live hot coal of a case on their hands and need to refer it to someone else to try it and win it.” Bartlit Beck is another another “preeminent” trial-oriented firm with roots in Chicago. One of the firm’s founders and name partners, Phil Beck, a celebrated trial lawyer who is unanimously championed by fellow litigators nationwide as “a bit of an icon.” A senior-level partner, Beck remains active, and most recently represented MassMutual in its actions under the Massachusetts Uniform Securities Act, against underwriters Credit Suisse and Goldman Sachs, arising from their sale of residential mortgage- backed securities to MassMutual between 2005 and 2007. Credit Suisse settled after four weeks of trial, taking an additional $79.5 million charge to earnings because of the settlement payment. Goldman Sachs settled shortly thereafter.
In Minneapolis, Michael Ciresi and Jan Conlin, both former key partners of Robins Kaplan Miller & Ciresi (now Robins Kaplan), are yet another tag team that has made the bold move of channeling their individual and collective star power into a new eponymously named boutique. Ciresi Conlin has been championed by peers for “really putting the cards on the table, and showing all aces.” Ciresi has long been lauded by peers nationwide for his practice that straddles commercial, product liability and intellectual property work. “He’s a star and he knows it,” confirms a local peer. While Conlin is said to be “somewhat more easygoing at first blush,” peers advise, “Do not underestimate her. I’ve seen arrogant lawyers at big out-of-town firms do just that and get crushed. She’s very sweet but she is as fierce of a trial lawyer as they come. She’s quietly strong and confident and knows her stuff.” Summing up the pair’s collective venture, a competitor insists, “I wouldn’t mess with either of them – I’m pretty confident they’re in this for the long haul.”
In Cleveland, Ulmer & Berne’s Michael Ungar is beloved by Ohio peers without exception. “Michael is beyond good, he’s just A1, gold standard awesome,” pipes one peer, while another insists, “If I had to choose one litigator who’s at the top, someone that would be my first choice to represent me in a tough case, Michael would be my first call. He’s an intellectual tough guy who how to fight and when to fight, and he is smart about it.” Within the past year, Ungar obtained a favorable result for client Preferred Proppants, major seller of sand and other resources for the fracking industry. A competitor obtained an ex parte temporary restraining order in Ohio state court, claiming that the client had misused information learned during a prospective acquisition of the client to instead target the acquisition of a competitor of the plaintiff rather than the plaintiff itself. The restraining order enjoined Preferred Proppants from any further activities toward the acquisition of the competitor or any other Ohio-based sand resources. The client then removed the case to federal court and, within a matter of days, won an order dissolving the restraining order and admonishing the plaintiff that its theory of relief was unlikely to succeed on the merits. The plaintiff then voluntarily withdrew the complaint. Ungar was also recently called on to mediate a challenging and thorny case involving the dean of a law school in Ohio who came under fire via whistleblower litigation for salacious allegations such as sexual improprieties and substance abuse. “That case is causing a huge uproar in the legal community right now, and Mike Ungar is just going full-tilt with it, which I don’t envy him for,” offers a peer. “I typically think of him as a financial services guy, so it may seem odd that he’s involved with this type of case but then again, it isn’t. It’s just further proof that he can litigate anything.” Milwaukee’s Gass Weber & Mullins late founding member Ric Gass was not only an active trial lawyer, but he elicited acclaim from well beyond the Badger State’s borders, and even beyond US borders; at least one Canadian lawyer, including one particularly prominent Bay Street trial lawyer in Toronto, acknowledged Gass as a leader. Gass primarily focused his practice on catastrophic injuries, product liability, and bad faith. He tried nearly 300 cases to verdict, including a case worth $104.5 million, the largest jury verdict in Wisconsin. Gass had recently obtained a defense verdict for Snugtop and Custom Hardtops after the plaintiff requested $44 million in damages for a spinal cord injury she received when a fiberglass cover was blown off the bed of a pickup and struck her; she had alleged that the defendant defectively designed the fiberglass cover. [Editorial update: Benchmark regrets to report that Gass had passed away just before press time.]
In Boston, Campbell Conroy & O’Neil is viewed with reverence by peers, particularly in the product liability capacity. “These guys are just unbelievable,” marvels a peer. “Obviously for business purposes you can’t take every case to trial but when disputes do get to that hotly contested level, Campbell Trial Lawyers are the obvious winners of the beauty contest.” Founding name partner James Campbell has been at the forefront of some of the firm’s most notable trial wins over the years. Most recently, in May 2014, Campbell was part of a team that obtained a defense verdict for Honda in a claim of defect relating to its rollover side curtain airbag system in a 2006 Honda Odyssey in the Bridgeport Division of the US District Court, District of Connecticut.
In the Baltimore office of Venable, Craig Thompson is lauded as “a substantial trial lawyer.” One peer elaborates, “He tried a very significant case for Takeda that was almost five months long. This case followed on to a $9 billion verdict that [plaintiff trial star] Mark Lanier got in Louisiana. Craig turned that around. Awesome stuff.” As of July 2018, Thompson’s prestige will be amplified further with his election to serve as president of the International Association of Defense Counsel. “Craig is a perfect match for his. He is a terrific orator and doesn’t just try cases, he delivers sermons!” Also in Baltimore, Michael Brown, who this past year made the leap from local shop Miles & Stockbridge to Southeast regional player Nelson Mullins, earns rave reviews for his product liability acuity and his courtroom command. “The biggest news in Baltimore right now is Michael Brown, the leader of the Nelson Mullins group in that office,” insists a local peer. “He has the biggest litigation in the state of Maryland, and he was prized by every firm on the East Coast. He tries cases all over the country, and is one of the newer members of the ACTL.” Another peer extols, “Michael Brown now has an entrée to a practice that he never had before. He now has access to J&J, who he is doing a great job for in talc cases. He can go into some of the toughest jurisdictions in the country and WIN, convince those tough juries.”
California also hosts some top plaintiff trial lawyers. Spencer Burkholz of the San Diego office of Robbins Geller Rudman & Dowd triumphed in December 2013 when a district court judge approved a settlement in which Countrywide Financial agreed to pay $500 million to settle investors’ claims that they were misled as part of Countrywide’s sale of mortgage-backed securities from 2005 to 2007. More recently, in June 2016 Burkholz was part of a team that secured an eye-popping $1.6 billion settlement on behalf of shareholders of HSBC Finance in a securities class action in a case launched in 2002 alleging false and misleading statements were made by Illinois-based Household International, which was bought by HSBC in 2003. “Spencer Burkholz is one of their top guys in San Diego,” asserts a peer. “He really is their ‘trial guy’ out there at the moment.” Lieff Cabraser Heimann & Bernstein firm figurehead Elizabeth Cabraser is known nationwide for having handled some of the largest class actions in US history, as well as being one the firm’s, and the country’s, foremost trial lawyers. “There is no greater advocate for justice that I’ve witnessed than Liz Cabraser,” testifies a peer. “She takes her cases to heart.” In a recent example of this commitment to justice, Cabraser represents New York City’s largest public employee union and serves on the Plaintiffs’ Executive Committee in the national multidistrict litigation relating to the manufacturing, marketing, distribution and sales practices of prescription opioid drugs by “Big Pharma” drug makers and distributors and the attendant economic burden caused by opioid abuse in the US, estimated at approximately $78.5 billion, including lost productivity and increased social services, health insurance costs, increased criminal justice presence and strain on judicial resources, and substance abuse treatment and rehabilitation. Lieff Cabaser has also filed separate lawsuits on behalf of Northern California’s Yurok Tribe as well as Rutherford, Smith, and Davidson Counties and the City of Nashville, Tennessee seeking money damages, court orders against the named pharmaceutical manufacturers and distributors prohibiting them from engaging in the unlawful overpromotion and indiscriminate over-supply of opioids in these areas, as well as the creation of abatement funds for the purpose of righting the wrongs created by the drug manufacturers and distributors and the attendant opioid catastrophe. This comes directly in the wake of Cabraser’s multi-year streak of wins against various segments of the automotive industry, which include her landmark $14.7 billion settlement from Volkswagen concerning its emissions scandal, to her actions in the Takata defective airbag cases and in the GM faulty ignition switch matters. Speaking to this, a peer remarks, “This is obviously a huge appointment, but for Liz it just seems like another day in the office!” The head of the firm’s personal injury, mass torts, and environmental group, she is among the supervisory counsel for the court-appointed plaintiffs’ steering committee for fishermen, property owners, business owners and others who suffered damages in connection with the April 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill. The steering committee announced in principle in March 2012 a cap-free settlement with BP, and to date, Cabraser’s efforts have assisted in yielding $2 billion in payments. Cabraser also serves as the lead attorney in the GM defective switch litigation, in which consumers who purchased or leased GM vehicles containing a defective ignition switch sought monetary relief for the diminished value of the cars. One opponent concedes, “When we’re about to go against Liz Cabraser, I warn my team to make sure they are extremely prepared, because it will be a fight. She is aggressive, but she is also unquestionably ethical, and just quietly always seems to know more than you do.” Peers also insist, “Don’t let [fellow Lieff Cabraser name partner] Richard Heimann get overshadowed! He doesn’t get the press and he doesn’t seek it, but he is a very dangerous lawyer. I saw him come in and do a trial one time and people’s hair just blew back!” Heimann serves as local counsel for lead plaintiff Public Employees’ Retirement System of Mississippi and the class of investors it represents in a in a complaint charging that Diamond Foods and certain senior executives of the company with knowingly understating the cost of walnuts Diamond Foods purchased in order to inflate the price of Diamond Foods’ common stock. In January 2014, the court granted final approval of a settlement of the action requiring Diamond Foods to pay $11 million in cash and issue 4.45 million common shares worth $116.3 million on the date of final approval based on the stock’s closing price on that date.
Even among the crowded pedestal of Texas plaintiff lawyers, Mark Lanier, who captains his eponymously named firm from his Houston home base, earns a special pride of place. “Mark is in a class by himself, has tried more high-dollar cases in the pharma industry than anyone I know of,” confirms a peer, “and the man is just magic in front of juries. He exudes a passionate charisma that makes it difficult even for his opposing counsel to doubt the sincerity of a word he says.” One peer goes so far as to retort, “Half of the other lawyers on your trial lawyers list aren’t fit to shine his shoes.” Lanier’s practice takes him far outside the Lone Star State’s borders, attending to high-level class action matters all over the US. One of these many high-level appointments includes the aforementioned eye-popping $9 billion jury verdict that Lanier scored in a Louisiana court against Takeda, which was alleged to have concealed the risk of bladder cancer associated with its diabetes drug Actos. More recently, he broke records for verdicts in litigation against Johnson & Johnson when, in July 2018, jurors in St. Louis came back with a nearly $4.7 billion verdict against the pharmaceutical giant. “This is massive, not just in dollar amount but in precedent set,” marvels a peer. “Mark Lanier does it again!”
Another plaintiff shop taking a maverick stance to trial work, Reid Collins & Tsai earns a thumping endorsement from peers in the market as well as clients. Austin-based (but renowned from far further afield) Bill Reid, an architect of the firm and an all-purpose commercial trial lawyer, scored a considerable victory on behalf of Claymore Holdings, taking Credit Suisse to task for fraud and breach of contract in connection with a $540 million loan to the developers of a Lake Las Vegas resort. Following a five-week trial, Reid and his team obtained a $287.5 million judgment against Credit Suisse, which was affirmed on appeal in February 2018. Reid has also kept busy with representations for other clients as well, triumphing on their behalf on either appeals (including one in the US Supreme Court) or in favorable settlements shortly before scheduled trials. In May of 2018, Reid filed an amended complaint in the Supreme Court of New York on behalf of affiliates of Highland Capital Management against several individual defendants and a group of entities they created for breach of contract for defaulting on notes. The suit seeks to recover both the principal and interest owed on the notes, totaling over $500 million. In November, these claims survived motions to dismiss filed by the defendants. Only two months after this action was filed, Reid also filed a shareholder derivative action in New York state court on behalf of Renren against its CEO, chairman, and largest shareholder, and one of its directors. The complaint asserts claims for, among other things, breach of fiduciary duty in connection with Renren’s spinoff of its most valuable assets — for far less than fair market value — to a private company owned and controlled by the defendants and other insiders. The complaint seeks to recover more than $500 million in damages. “Bill Reid is so comfortable in court you would think he was born there,” quips a peer. “He makes it all look so easy. Of course, his little secret is that he actually prepares like crazy, which is what you need to do when you’re hunting elephants with these cases.”
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PLEASE FIND THE COMPLETE LIST BELOW
|Kimball||Anderson||Winston & Strawn||Chicago|
|Cristina||Arguedas||Arguedas Cassman & Headley||Berkeley|
|Henry "Hank"||Asbill||Buckley Sandler||Washington, DC|
|Wayne||Barsky||Gibson Dunn & Crutcher||Los Angeles|
|Philip||Beck||Bartlit Beck Herman Palenchar & Scott||Chicago|
|David||Boies||Boies Schiller & Flexner||New York|
|Mike||Brock||Kirkland & Ellis||Washington, DC|
|Daniel||Brockett||Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan||New York|
|Juanita||Brooks||Fish & Richardson||San Diego|
|Allison (Ali)||Brown||Weil Gotshal & Manges||Princeton|
|Michael||Brown||Nelson Mullins Riley & Scarborough||Baltimore|
|William||Burck||Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan||Washington, DC|
|Spencer||Burkholz||Robbins Geller Rudman & Dowd||San Diego|
|Dane||Butswinkas||Williams & Connolly||Washington, DC|
|Elizabeth||Cabraser||Lieff Cabraser Heimann & Bernstein||San Francisco|
|Joe||Caldwell||Steptoe & Johnson||Washington, DC|
|James||Campbell||Campbell Campbell Edwards & Conroy||Boston|
|Ralph||Campillo||Mintz Levin Cohn Ferris Glovsky & Popeo||Los Angeles|
|Michael||Carlinsky||Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan||New York|
|Bill||Carmody||Susman Godfrey||New York|
|Evan||Chesler||Cravath Swaine & Moore||New York|
|Robin||Cohen||McKool Smith||New York|
|Joseph||Cotchett||Cotchett Pitre & McCarthy||San Francisco|
|David||Dukes||Nelson Mullins Riley & Scarborough||Columbia, SC|
|Karen||Dunn||Boies Schiller & Flexner||Washington, DC|
|Daralyn||Durie||Durie Tangri||San Francisco|
|Sandra||Edwards||Winston & Strawn||San Francisco|
|Samuel||Franklin||Lightfoot Franklin & White||Birmingham|
|Ric||Gass||Gass Weber Mullins||Milwaukee|
|Robin||Gibbs||Gibbs & Bruns||Houston|
|Robert||Giuffra||Sullivan & Cromwell||New York|
|Patricia||Glaser||Glaser Weil||Los Angeles|
|Sandra||Goldstein||Kirkland & Ellis||New York|
|Helen||Gredd||Lankler Siffert & Wohl||New York|
|Sean||Hecker||Kaplan Hecker & Fink||New York|
|Richard||Heimann||Lieff Cabraser Heimann & Bernstein||San Francisco|
|Brian||Hennigan||Hueston Hennigan||Los Angeles|
|Heidi||Hubbard||Williams & Connolly||Washington, DC|
|John||Hueston||Hueston Hennigan||Los Angeles|
|James||Hurst||Kirkland & Ellis||Chicago|
|Tarek||Ismail||Goldman Ismail Tomaselli Brennan & Baum||Chicago|
|Gregory||Joseph||Joseph Hage Aronson||New York|
|Roberta||Kaplan||Kaplan Hecker & Fink||New York|
|John||Keker||Keker Van Nest & Peters||San Francisco|
|Jennifer||Keller||Keller Anderle||Los Angeles|
|Michael||Kendall||White & Case||Boston|
|Jeffrey||Kessler||Winston & Strawn||New York|
|Mark||Lanier||Lanier Law Firm||Houston|
|Tara||Lee||Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan||Washington, DC|
|David||Lender||Weil Gotshal & Manges||New York|
|Gary||Lincenberg||Bird Marella Boxer Wolpert Nessim Drooks Lincenberg Rhow||Los Angeles|
|George||Lombardi||Winston & Strawn||Chicago|
|Abbe||Lowell||Winston & Strawn||Washington, DC|
|Joan||Lukey||Choate Hall & Stewart||Boston|
|Mike||Lynn||Lynn Pinker Cox & Hurst||Dallas|
|William "Billy"||Martin||Barnes & Thornburg||Washington, DC|
|Randy||Mastro||Gibson Dunn & Crutcher||New York|
|Darin||McAtee||Cravath Swaine & Moore||New York|
|Tom||Melsheimer||Winston & Strawn||Dallas|
|Gary||Naftalis||Kramer Levin Naftalis & Frankel||New York|
|Lynn||Neuner||Simpson Thacher & Bartlett||New York|
|Richard||Parker||Gibson Dunn & Crutcher||Washington, DC|
|Kathy||Patrick||Gibbs & Bruns||Houston|
|Ray||Persons||King & Spalding||Atlanta|
|Daniel||Petrocelli||O'Melveny & Myers||Los Angeles|
|Joseph||Petrosinelli||Williams & Connolly||Washington, DC|
|Jonathan||Polkes||Weil Gotshal & Manges||New York|
|Lyn||Pruitt||Mitchell Williams||Little Rock|
|William||Reid||Reid Collins & Tsai||Austin|
|Ekwan||Rhow||Bird Marella Boxer Wolpert Nessim Drooks Lincenberg Rhow||Los Angeles|
|Orlando "Rod"||Richmond||Butler Snow||Ridgeland|
|Phllippe||Selendy||Selendy & Gay||New York|
|William||Savitt||Wachtell Lipton Rosen & Katz||New York|
|Orin||Snyder||Gibson Dunn & Crutcher||New York|
|Kalpana||Srinivasan||Susman Godfrey||Los Angeles|
|Diane||Sullivan||Weil Gotshal & Manges||Princeton|
|Michael||Ungar||Ulmer & Berne||Cleveland|
|Robert||Van Kirk||Williams & Connolly||Washington, DC|
|Robert||Van Nest||Keker Van Nest & Peters||San Francisco|
|Dan||Webb||Winston & Strawn||Chicago|
|Reid||Weingarten||Steptoe & Johnson||Washington, DC|
|Ted||Wells||Paul Weiss Rifkind Wharton & Garrison||New York|
|Richard||Werder||Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan||New York|
|Beth||Wilkinson||Wilkinson Walsh + Eskovitz||Washington, DC|
|Bart||Williams||Proskauer Rose||Los Angeles|