A global business firm, Willkie Farr & Gallagher has been steadily increasing its litigation profile in both a market share and a literal headcount/geographic footprint sense. While its core strength in the US has historically been New York (and remains so), the firm has branched and out developed other domestic locations as well; it now has an office in San Francisco and has also been making strategic recruits to enhance its DC bench as well. The firm lured Michael Gottlieb to its bench from Boies Schiller and also recently added commercial litigator Mark Stancil (who also is equipped with a sub-specialty in appeals) from DC mainstay firm Robbins Russell. “Twenty years ago, I would have thought of Willkie Farr as a top-notch law firm with litigation services, but that model has changed,” insists a peer.
Willkie made news in late 2019 when two partners on its New York white-collar and enforcement team, Michael Schachter and Randall Jackson, triumphed on behalf of shipbuilding executive Jean Boustani in a case in which the client was accused of paying millions of dollars in kickbacks tied to $2 billion in loans to Mozambique-owned companies. After a six-week trial, the Willkie pair won a full acquittal for their client. In addition to making a media splash (including logging an “impact case” award at the Benchmark 2020 awards ceremony), the case drew attention to Schachter’s trial acumen (he was appointed the honor of appearing as one of the Top 100 trial lawyers in Benchmark that year as well) as well as to Jackson, a quickly rising future star. “Pay more attention to Randall,” advises a fellow star in the white-collar capacity. “Willkie should be given credit for displaying that kind of diversity in a case like that. That shouldn’t really matter but it does, because, sadly, you just don’t see much diversity in the white-collar bar. So kudos must be given in this case, and Randall is fantastic – he has skills and experience beyond his years.” New York securities star Tariq Mundiya and the aforementioned Gottlieb obtained a victory on behalf of the board of directors of a group of CITGO entities, all of which are owned (directly or indirectly) by Petroleos de Venezuela, S.A. (PDVSA), Venezuela’s state-owned oil company. Upon the ouster of former President Nicholas Maduro and Juan Guaidó’s subsequent appointment by the Venezuelan National Assembly, the US government recognized President Guaidó and his government as the legitimate Venezuelan government and supported the National Assembly’s efforts to take control of PDVSA’s US subsidiaries through the passage of legislation and subsequent appointment of a board of directors for an ‘Administrative Board.’ That board then appointed new directors to all of the US subsidiaries, including CITGO. In an effort to fight back against the Guaidó government, the Maduro regime challenged the legality of these appointments. In June 2019, the ousted directors who had been appointed by the Maduro regime filed an action in Delaware Chancery Court seeking a declaration that they are the legitimate boards of the CITGO entities. Willkie represented the Guaidó directors. The parties filed competing motions for judgment on the pleadings and engaged in several rounds of expedited briefing. Mundiya also secured a resounding victory for Innoviva, an LLC manager and minority owner, in an arbitration proceeding filed by the majority owner concerning a dispute about distribution of royalties from pharmaceutical giant GlaxoSmithKline. One peer, a star player in the insurance litigation field, testifies, “I think Willkie is doing a lot more insurance-side work, which is a big upgrade for them!” This same peer advises, “Look into Christopher St. Jeanos – ask around about him! He’s a stand-up lawyer, and I think he’s only in his mid-40s! My litmus test when it comes to dealing with counsel is ‘Are you just a paper tiger?’ And Chris is not – he’s the real deal.” St. Jeanos represents Willis Management Vermont, Willis Limited, and Willis Re in a coverage matter arising from a complex and highly bespoke insurance and reinsurance structure established in 2012 and early 2013.