Winston & Strawn

United States (National)

Review

Dispute resolution

Winston & Strawn has blossomed into one of the nation’s most prominent and prolific litigation hubs. It is also recognized as one of the country’s most trial-centric. “Of all the ‘big-law’ firms, Winston really seems like the one that is focused on building out a bench stocked with true trial lawyers,” observes a peer. “They are also attracting stars in the making, undoubtedly with the agenda of giving them the platform to hone their trial skills further.” The firm has also chosen wisely with its expansion strategy, shying away from going all-in with any particular market and instead maintaining a geographically even roster of trial talent, which is spread among its offices in New York, DC, Texas, Illinois and California.
     New York’s Jeffrey 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. This year found him there yet again with a groundbreaking case in sports law when he logged another milestone triumph against the NCAA and its most-significant sports conferences in a long-running litigation that has seen Kessler and his clients, a class of current and former Division I college basketball and FBS football players, emerge the victors at every turn. The case alleges that the NCAA violated antitrust law by limiting amount of compensation that the athletes could receive. In March 2019, after a 10-day bench trial, the Northern District of California ordered a permanent injunction against the NCAA’s limitations on colleges and universities providing education-related benefits beyond tuition. In May 2020, a Ninth Circuit panel unanimously affirmed the favorable ruling, which was challenged by the NCAA and wound up before the Supreme Court, where Kessler presented oral argument in March 2021. In June, the Supreme Court affirmed the Ninth Circuit decision, bringing this hard-fought litigation to an end and wowing the legal community. “Jeff Kessler, boy, is he ever ‘having a moment!’” marvels one peer in summation. While the sports practice finds Kessler acting as a plaintiff, in antitrust he is strictly defense. A plaintiff-side antitrust practitioner testifies, “Jeff is pretty much our mirror in antitrust cases. We can pretty much count on him turning up on the other side of us when we bring a big antitrust case, especially if it’s one where there is a possibility of it going to trial.” Beyond Kessler, Susannah Torpey is emerging as another antitrust partner to be reckoned with. Unlike Kessler, however, Torpey is noted as someone who is “getting a lot more active on the plaintiff side of antitrust. She just filed two major cases in this capacity. Keep an eye on her.”
      Two other Winston trial stars, Chicago’s George Lombardi and San Francisco’s Sandra Edwards led a team that represented Monsanto in the first, high-stakes Roundup product liability jury trial in the US, defending against allegations that the herbicide causes non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. Following an eight-week jury trial, the trial team successfully reduced a punitive damages award by $211 million, which was further reduced on appeal. In January 2020, Winston went on to serve as lead trial counsel for Monsanto in another jury trial in Contra Costa Superior Court against similar allegations regarding Roundup. That matter settled before trial.      

      Still another of the firm’s marquis trial lawyers, DC’s Abbe Lowell represented Rafael Ramirez, the former UN Ambassador to Venezuela, former Minister of Energy for Venezuela, and former head of PDVSA, in private civil litigation regarding alleged corruption at PDVSA. Ramirez was sued by energy company Harvest alleging injury through a Ramirez-involved bribery scheme, which prevented the plaintiff selling its assets in Venezuela from 2012, causing $472 million in losses. The plaintiff accused Ramirez and others of seeking a $10 million bribe to approve the transaction. In February 2019, plaintiff obtained a $1.4 billion default judgment against Ramirez. Lowell and his team persuaded the court, via a June 2020 hearing, to open the default judgment and to vacate the default judgment so that Ramirez. On the eve of a scheduled court conference regarding additional discovery and hearing and trial dates, Harvest simply gave up and dismissed the lawsuit voluntarily.
     Chicago’s Linda Coberly and Los Angeles’s John Schreiber are defending Medtronic and certain of its current and former officers and directors in a putative shareholder class action challenging  Medtronic’s $50 billion acquisition of Covidien in 2015, which was structured as an “inversion” in which Medtronic adopted Covidien’s Irish domiciliary. A putative class of Medtronic shareholders challenged the deal on the grounds that they were required to pay capital gains taxes as a result of the inversion structure, as well as on disclosure and dilution theories. In April 2020, the court denied class certification, a rarity in class actions of this nature.
     The Dallas office hosts another of the firm’s often-mentioned partners and yet another trial star, Tom Melsheimer. “Tom is just awesome,” chirps one peer. “He is a true trial lawyer.” Another peer marvels, “I’ve seen Tom just devastate opponents at trial, and he seems to do it so naturally.” Melsheimer’s practice frequently touches on the commercial, antitrust and intellectual property capacities. The Dallas office also houses intellectual property star John Keville, who represents Contour IP Holdings in a competitor patent case brought by GoPro involving Contour’s patents directed to recording high-resolution video content while streaming a lower-resolution video in real-time to a controller.  
     The firm’s IP prowess is also exemplified by New York-based Michael Elkin, who, along San Francisco’s Jennifer Golinveaux, is representing Cloudflare, which provides essential security and content delivery services for the Internet, against RICO and copyright infringement claims brought by online model Deniece Waidhofer against Cloudflare, as well as the owners and operators of a website, and several online advertisers. Waidhofer alleges that Cloudflare infringed Waidhofer’s copyrights in certain images available on websites that used Cloudflare’s services and that Cloudflare’s agreement to provide its services also constituted participation in a racketeering enterprise with the website and third-party advertisers.