Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton stands out for its impressive global footprint – one of the most expansive in “big law,” with more offices located outside the US than within. Proudly bold in its international aspirations, its domestic-domiciled practitioners in New York and DC routinely attend to matters that cross borders. One peer offers in summation, “Cleary has distinguished itself by being more than just a group of servicers of the standard Wall Street crowd, even though their [New York] office is right there [in the Financial District.]” The firm excels in antitrust, white-collar and investigations work, securities, bankruptcy, commercial and even some intellectual property, and, unsurprisingly, it is also known as being one of the dominant forces in the international arbitration arena.
Cleary’s antitrust capacity benefited from the March 2020 recruit of Bruce Hoffman, a former leader of the FTC’s Bureau of Competition, to its DC group. While this hire is viewed as significant benefit by a pronounced group of peers, one speculates, “It’s not like they needed any additional boost. That is already one of the strongest antitrust groups in the country.” A DC-based Cleary antitrust team scored a landmark win when secured federal merger clearance and won an unprecedented multistate lawsuit brought by 17 Attorneys General as lead antitrust counsel to T-Mobile and parent company Deutsche Telekom in connection with T-Mobile’s historic merger with Sprint Corporation. A peer marvels, “They won, to everyone’s surprise! The conventional wisdom in the press was that they were going to lose. There were betting pools that they were going to lose.” Peer praise is particularly strong for lead counsel Mark Nelson. One enthuses, “I saw him cross-examining an engineer on the other side and Mark ripped him apart! The guy was literally babbling by the end, he was flustered!” The team also included antitrust authorities David Gelfand, Jeremy Calsyn and George Cary. The latter is a perennial favorite among fellow antitrust practitioners. “He is just a master and has unquestioned credibility with the bench and the bar,” sums up one peer, who goes on to insist, “but he is not the only one doing great things there. George has a great team working with him. Leah Brannon for instance has really come up.” Cary and Brannon represent Keurig in massive multiparty monopolization litigation in the Southern District of New York. The litigation involves five complaints brought against Keurig by two individual competitors, two purported classes (direct and indirect purchasers), and an individual purchaser. Among other allegations, these cases allege that Keurig has unlawfully monopolized a market for Keurig-compatible single-serve coffee through a wide range of actions, from Keurig’s design and advertising of its 2.0 coffee brewer and related coffee to its contracts with suppliers, distributors, and other partners. In 2020, Keurig entered into a settlement agreement with the putative indirect purchaser class for $31 million.
Another area in which Cleary is routinely praised is the white-collar and enforcement area. “They have a good nucleus of a practice in DoJ and SEC and in DC and NY,” confirms a peer. Another elaborates, “When I have a huge case that I need to refer, I need the breadth and the depth, not just one star player. The Cleary team is smart, knowledgeable and experienced, and there are a bunch of them: David Brodsky, Joon Kim, Breon Peace, Lev Dassin, Victor Hou – these people are all a solid team.” Peace, Jennifer Kennedy Park and Lisa Vicens are representing Vale in an SEC investigation into securities disclosures related to the company’s dam safety in the wake of the 2019 Brumadinho dam collapse in Brazil. Peace and Vicens are also leading an internal investigation on behalf of Brazil’s national development bank, BNDES, of allegations of corruption in connection with a major Brazilian bribery investigation, and related US investigations, concerning BNDES’s extension of financing to certain companies related to the Brazilian conglomerate, J&F Investimentos, in relation to its acquisition of several foreign companies, including in the US, which Brazilian authorities alleged resulted in a loss of hundreds of millions of dollars in public funds. Vicens is viewed as particularly instrumental in pushing this Brazilian agenda. “Lisa has developed a fabulous South American practice,” confirms one competitor. “She is a homegrown talent, an unusual person in that respect.” Kim and Hou represent Nissan in regulatory investigations relating to executive compensation issues arising out of the arrest of the company’s former CEO, Carlos Ghosn. The Cleary duo assisted with the investigation and negotiated the settlement with the SEC, in which Nissan agreed to pay a $15 million civil penalty, and the SEC alleged that Nissan failed to disclose more than $140 million to be paid to Ghosn in compensation and retirement benefits. This same pair is also representing the former CEO of a publicly traded real estate investment trust in defending against criminal charges and SEC securities fraud charges.
A particularly versatile litigator with a diverse practice encompassing commercial and securities work as well as white-collar and enforcement, Hou is viewed as a standout by a near-unanimous level of peers. In an example of his securities acumen, Hou is representing Synchrony Financial, several of its officers, and its board of directors in a putative securities class action in the District of Connecticut against allegations of misleading statements and omitting material information. After a March 2020 dismissal in the client’s favor, plaintiffs appealed to the Second Circuit, who affirmed the dismissal in February 2021. Acting with Hou on this matter, Jared Gerber is a securities-focused star that has been similarly active of late. Gerber acted with Roger Cooper in representing the Hong Kong-based energy company Sky Solar and certain officers in another securities class action alleging material misstatements. Cooper also, along with Vicens, represents International Flavors & Fragrances, Frutarom Industries and two of IFF’s officers in a putative securities class action alleging that the defendants made material misstatements and omissions concerning IFF’s acquisition of Frutarom, the integration of the two companies, and IFF’s and Frutarom’s financial reporting and results.