Since 1984, Chicago-based Barack Ferrazzano Kirschbaum & Nagelberg has been considered one of the leading litigation shops in Illinois. One client comments, "The firm's services are top notch, and their responsiveness is fantastic. Strengths compared to other firms include the team's creativity advising on strategy, their follow-through, and their professionalism," adding, "Their pricing compared to firms that provide comparable services is also very favorable." Another client exclaims, “Barack Ferrazzano is an exceptional litigation firm whose attorneys are skilled litigators. I have consistently found someone at the firm with the experience that I need and the skill set to handle my dispute/issue. Not only are the attorneys top-notch, but I have also found all of them to be nice people as well.”
Seasoned litigator Robert Shapiro focuses his practice high-profile intellectual property cases, particularly in the fashion, luxury and retail space. Shapiro recently served as co-lead counsel to Louis Vuitton where he won a bid to keep its trademark battle with the manufacturers of a novelty toy purse called "Pooey Puitton" in France. A U.S. District Judge dismissed a parallel case the toy maker was bringing against Louis Vuitton in the U.S., citing the "jurisdictionally bound" nature of trademarks. According to the district judge, a foreign court's determination of trademark infringement has no relevance or effect on whether a product infringes in the U.S.
Roger Stetson and Scott Porterfield co-chair the commercial litigation practice. Stetson routinely represents individuals and corporations in complex business matters, and Porterfield focuses on general commercial litigation, including financial and regulatory matters. The two are part of a lead counsel team representing GreatBanc Trust Company in a multi-district litigation arising out of the bankruptcy of the former Tribune Company. The litigation trustee seeks to recover several billion dollars from Tribune's former shareholders, officers, directors, and several companies that performed work in connection with Tribune's 2007 leveraged buyout. The trustee alleged that GreatBanc, in its role as fiduciary for the employee stock ownership plan, had aided and abetted company insiders' alleged breaches of their fiduciary duties. The trustee also claimed that GreatBanc was unjustly enriched due to the fees it had received from Tribune. In January 2019, the court granted GreatBanc's motion to dismiss, dismissing all pending claims against it, and adopting GreatBanc's in pari delicto arguments.
Operating both from the firm’s offices in Chicago and Minneapolis and engaging in a variety of complex commercial and business disputes,future star Nicholas Callahan is hailed by a peer as "one of the best trial lawyers I’ve come across." A client echoes this sentiment, noting, "Nick is creative, responsive, professional, and efficient. He provides high quality work and works to understand the client's business, which helps him serve as a true outside partner."
Bartlit Beck is celebrated among peers for forging a template of what many firms aspire towards. “They are the type of firm we have all been watching and all want to be like,” concedes one peer. “We want to hire
those type of people, hopefully before Bartlit Beck gets to them.” Another declares, “They set the standard for litigation boutiques in the US. Most people setting up litigation shops owe at least some debt to Bartlit Beck, whether they know it or not.” Ironically, the runaway success that the firm has experienced with its business model has caused it to outgrow its “boutique” status; the firm now has over 40 partners practicing in its offices in Chicago and Denver. “Yes, they’re like a boutique on steroids now,” sums up one peer. Clients are equally impressed. One commends the firm’s “outstanding trial prep and presentation of evidence and arguments,” while another cheers individual counsel at the firm as “incredibly responsive, practical and solution oriented.”
Few would argue that the firm’s most venerated figure remains Chicago trial icon Phil Beck, who boasts a decades-long series of appearances as lead counsel on precedent-setting cases in a wide variety of forums. Beck was lead counsel for Bruce Rauner, the former Governor of Illinois, in a private equity dispute with the general partner of a fund in which Rauner invested. The dispute centered on whether the general partner breached his fiduciary duties by deviating from the partnership agreement’s “waterfall” provision. The case was tried to a final, and confidential, arbitral award. “Phil is still ‘the man,’” confirms one peer, elaborating, “but the firm has done great in alleviating the ‘what’s after Phil Beck?’ question. They have groomed powerhouse people from top to bottom.” Rebecca Bacon, another frequent mention who enjoys her fifth consecutive appearance as one of Benchmark’s Top 250 Women in Litigation, was retained by FedEx Ground to serve as lead trial counsel in an action in the Western District of Pennsylvania brought by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. The EEOC brought its action on behalf of over 300 hearing-impaired package handlers from across the country. They allege that FedEx Ground violated the Americans with Disabilities Act by failing to provide needed accommodations, such as American Sign Language interpretation and closed-captioned videos, to both deaf package handlers and deaf applicants for the package handler position. In addition to monetary relief, the EEOC is seeking a broad, nationwide injunction that would have significant impacts on FedEx Ground’s operations. Bacon also represents USG, a drywall manufacturer, and its former distribution company against Sherman Act and state price fixing claims related to its drywall business. The plaintiffs allege that the defendants violated Section 1 of the Sherman Act by conspiring to fix, raise, maintain, and stabilize prices for gypsum drywall. This multidistrict litigation matter was consolidated in the US District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania. USG settled the class cases and subsequently, 12 of the largest homebuilders in the United States brought similar claims that are currently pending. The firm’s intellectual property prowess has been increasingly on display, and peers are taking notice. “Bartlit Beck are doing more patent litigation! We have a great deal of respect for their IP people.” Scott McBride is lead trial counsel for Bayer in Hatch-Waxman litigation against three generic drug makers in a case relating to Bayer’s soluble guanylate cyclase stimulator, riociguat, a drug used to treat pulmonary arterial hypertension, and chronic thromboembolic pulmonary hypertension, and marketed as Adempas. The case is scheduled for trial in December 2020. McBride is also lead trial counsel defending Gilead Sciences against patent infringement allegations brought by the Regents of the University of Minnesota relating to Gilead’s sofosbuvir-containing treatments for Hepatitis C. In the product liability space, Kaspar Stoffelmayr serves as lead and coordinating counsel and trial counsel for Walgreens in nationwide litigation relating to the distribution and sale of prescription opioids, including a federal MDL in the Northern District of Ohio, related state court cases, and appellate proceedings. The litigation currently involves over 2400 cases against Walgreens in which states, cities, counties, Indian tribes, and private parties assert claims against manufacturers, distributors, and retailers of prescription opioids. Stoffelmayr also acts as national counsel and lead trial counsel for Bayer product liability litigation including approximately 20,000 lawsuits and claims alleging that the oral contraceptives YAZ and Yasmin (and related product) carry an excessive risk of blood clots and other injuries.
In the Denver office, Sean Grimsley is lead counsel for Arconic and its US subsidiary AAP in a case currently pending in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, in which survivors and the estates of victims of the Grenfell Tower fire have brought product liability and wrongful death claims against various US companies regarding products used in or on the Grenfell Tower. Specifically, plaintiffs allege that the Reynobond PE cladding sold by Arconic’s French subsidiary for installation on the Grenfell Tower was defective and that the clients should be held strictly liable under Pennsylvania law for any damage caused by the cladding. Grimsley has filed various motions to dismiss, including for failure to state a claim and forum non conveniens. Grimsley also serves as national counsel for ConocoPhillips in a series of cases brought by states and municipalities across the US seeking damages and injunctive relief related to climate change from the sale and marketing of petroleum products.
Plaintiff specialty shop DiCello Levitt & Gutzler makes its debut on Benchmark and at only three years old, is a relatively new addition to the legal landscape. However, the firm has made waves in a short period of time. This momentum could be attributed to the background of its founding partners – Adam Levitt was previously with securities plaintiff shop Grant & Eisenhofer, and Mark DiCello was formerly a prosecutor – but it could also be due to the firm’s business model. Eschewing the singular approaches employed by many other plaintiff firms, such as a class actions or a single-incident personal injury, the firm has remained dedicated to a variety of strengths across a number of different areas. Several of its cases have made headlines. Ostensibly a boutique, the firm operates out of offices in Chicago, Cleveland, New York and St. Louis.
Exemplifying the firm’s flexible and forward-looking approach, Chicago’s Levitt has teamed up with celebrated Houston plaintiff attorney Mark Lanier in a very timely case pertaining to the issues of “business interruption insurance” that have bedeviled many businesses in the wake of COVID. These specific cases allege that certain insurers rejected special property coverage insurance claims made by small businesses impacted by mandated closures over COVID-19. The lead plaintiffs include a restaurant and nightclub in Bonita, California, and a Florida chain with locations in Coral Springs and Boca Raton. Levitt also represents the State of New Mexico in litigation that arose from Volkswagen, Audi, and Porsche’s sale of purportedly “clean diesel” vehicles that, in fact, contained “defeat device” software designed to conceal the fact that the vehicles emitted harmful pollutants in gross excess of legal. In marketing and selling these vehicles in New Mexico, the defendants violated the New Mexico Unfair Practices Act and New Mexico False Advertising Act through their misrepresentations to consumers regarding the environmental impact of their vehicles. In August 2019, Levitt secured a $13.5 million settlement. Mark DiCello, based in Cleveland, represents the victims of the 2017 disaster at the Grenfell Tower a high-rise apartment building in West London. DiCello identified the US courts as the proper forum in which to bring this case and coordinated with a number of solicitors, barristers and Queen’s Counsel from the United Kingdom to seek justice in the US District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania. The firm’s youngest partner, Amy Keller, has become a leading force in several data privacy-related cases taken on by the firm. When she was just 34 years old, Keller was named Consumer Plaintiffs’ Co-Lead Counsel in a massive Equifax data breach MDL. The litigation stemmed from Equifax’s ineffective handling of a 2017 data security breach that exposed the Social Security Numbers, birth dates, addresses and—in some cases—the driver’s license and credit card numbers of 147 million American consumers. Keller is also active in a similar case regarding the 2018 data breach experienced by the Marriott hotel chain. A client of Keller’s speaks on her behalf: “A company filed a suit against me for slander and Amy Keller defended me. I am a consumer advocate and Amy defended me against this company pro bono. Amy was very patient with me, explaining all aspects of my case, providing me with options, providing me advice. I felt VERY well taken care of. Any questions I had or worries about the lawsuit (this was the first time I had someone sue me) were promptly addressed.”
King & Spalding is an internationally lauded law firm with a network of 22 offices worldwide, 11 of which are outside the US. Peers are quick to highlight the firm’s obvious strengths; one being its global presence. “King & Spalding was way ahead of the curve in terms of establishing an international scope. That firm has as many tentacles internationally as it does in the US.” Another area in which the firm reigns supreme is the energy sector. One competitor confirms, “King & Spalding is very DEEP in the life sciences world, and in energy - forget it. No other big national firm can touch them on the litigation side.” The firm is also said to be “the best in the world when it comes to representing the ‘Big Four’ accounting firms.”
Already one of the strongest and globally comprehensive of national firms, King & Spalding has been on an expansion spree, a phenomenon that has not gone unnoticed by peers. “King & Spalding is clearly in growth mode,” observes one peer. “They are adding people left and right.” Some of these bold additions have fortified the firm’s bench strength across several practice areas and jurisdictions. In February 2020 alone, the firm added product liability and mass tort trial lawyer Morty Dubin to its New York office and international arbitration star Javier Rubinstein to its Chicago office. Dubin, who joined the firm from Orrick Herrington & Sutcliffe, boasts a book of business containing industry heavyweights such as Dow Chemical and Johnson & Johnson, the latter of which he (acting with Ali Brown of Skadden) triumphed for in a March 2019 defense victory regarding claims concerning the company’s talc powder product. Rubinstein, who joined the firm from Kirkland & Ellis “adds a nice new element of strength to an already great practice led by [Houston international arbitration star] Doak Bishop, particularly in the Latin American component.” In addition to these two auspicious recruits, the firm also doubled down on its California practice, scooping a sizeable haul of almost 20 partners from the Los Angeles and San Francisco offices of Boies Schiller in a double-dip of hires in April and June 2020.
In the firm’s initial home base of Atlanta, the firm is regarded as “the 800-pound gorilla,” with one local peer summarizing, “Whether they care to admit it or not, in Atlanta, it’s King & Spalding and then everybody else. You can’t be a huge national firm in this market that represents Coca-Cola and not be the dominant player at the table.” Atlanta-based trial lawyer David Balser was lead counsel to SCANA in criminal and SEC investigations. The dispute was related to the abandonment of SCANA’s new nuclear development at the V.C. Summer plant in South Carolina, including defense of ratepayer class actions, derivative claims, federal securities class actions, and state and federal governmental investigations. Additionally, an expedited federal court injunction proceeding seeking to block implementation of confiscatory legislation targeting SCANA was also at stake. A multi-practice, cross-office team, led by Balser, were involved in a multi-week evidentiary hearing before the South Carolina Public Service Commission that sought to block SCANA’s proposed $14.6 billion merger with Dominion Energy. A complete victory for the client was obtained, leading to the closing of the Dominion merger in January of 2019. “We have a lot of litigation against King & Spalding,” testifies a peer, “and we think very highly of them, and David Balser in particular. When you’re against him, you know it’s going to be a tough fight but it’s going to be a fair fight.” Balser and fellow Atlanta partner Michael Smith were members of the lead counsel team representing Equifax in numerous high profile putative class actions arising from the cyber security incident announced in September 2017. The client is involved in more than 250 consumer and financial institution class actions from the data breach. Trial and global disputes practice group leader Andy Bayman successfully obtained a reversal of a $3 million jury verdict in favor of his client GlaxoSmithKline in a wrongful death lawsuit. Bayman was co-lead counsel in this matter, the first lawsuit ever tried under the “innovator liability” theory. “Andy Bayman got excellent training with [now retired product liability leader] Chilton Varner,” opines a peer, “and now he is running the show and putting that experience to excellent use.
Seasoned trial lawyer Bobby Meadows hails from the Houston office where he is recognized as a frequent fixture in trials in state and federal court, as well as arbitration proceedings. He is lead counsel to Chevron USA in multiple lawsuits arising from an explosion and fire at its Richmond, California Refinery. He has secured the dismissal of over 10,000 plaintiffs in the individual claimant actions. The firm also achieved the dismissal of two purported class actions at the pleadings stage.
King & Spalding is noted as a top performer in the securities enforcement and investigations area, a capacity it has dubbed its “Special Matters” practice. “They have been tremendously successful in this space,” observes a peer. Notably, a sizeable number of its noted stars in the white-collar practice are women. Texas-based Tracie Renfroe serves as the managing partner of the Houston office, as well as co-head of the energy practice. Her trial practice is centered on toxic tort, environmental, professional and product liability, and commercial disputes. She currently represents DePuy, a Johnson & Johnson company, in a multi-district litigation involving metal-on-metal hip implants. New York litigator Carmen Lawrence specializes in securities-related government investigations and litigation. She serves as co-lead of the firm’s Securities Enforcement and Regulation practice and often represents both public and private companies in regulatory and investigative matters. Renfroe, Lawrence, and DC litigator Dixie Johnson are also acclaimed as one of Benchmark's Top 250 Women in Litigation. Johnson is the deputy practice group leader for government matters of the firm, where she represents businesses and individuals in securities enforcement investigations and conducts internal investigations for corporate board committees and companies.
Since its inception in Chicago in 1909, Kirkland & Ellis has steadily risen from its Illinois roots to become an international powerhouse. The firm has approximately 2,200 lawyers with expertise in a number of practice areas, with notable strengths in commercial litigation, product liability, intellectual property, bankruptcy, restructuring and counseling matters and white-collar/investigations work. One client highlights the firm's bankruptcy practice, commenting, "They are preeminent in the bankruptcy space, debtors, and a lot of that comes out of their private equity. It’s pretty astounding how Kirkland managed to get to number one by a wide margin in bankruptcy."
Chicago's James Hurst and DC-based appellate authority Paul Clement are part of the lead counsel team representing AbbVie, AbbVie Products, and Abbott Laboratories in the AndroGel bellwether multidistrict litigation regarding testosterone replacement therapy products. The dispute alleges injuries were caused as a result of taking prescription testosterone replacement therapy drug. In 2018, the team secured complete defense victory in the third, fourth, and fifth bellwether trials and has entered into global settlement to resolve the remaining cases, which are pending final court approval.
Fellow partner Mark Filip heads the firm's government enforcement defense and internal investigations group. Filip and Jennifer Levy are part of Kirkland's nationwide team representing Allergan Finance in relation to the various investigations and litigation involving its sale and marketing of opioids. The litigation consists of over 1,500 separate lawsuits filed on behalf of states, counties, cities, hospitals, Indian Tribes, and putative classes of individuals. Kevin Van Wart is an experienced commercial litigator and currently represents Dow Chemical in a series of product liability lawsuits brought by the State of New York public drinking water providers alleging the company contaminated the aquifer and public wells. Senior litigation partner Richard Godfrey was a key member of the team that secured an important victory for General Motors (GM) in November 2019. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit ruled GM cannot be held liable for punitive damages involving vehicles or conduct related to the old GM brand, which was restructured in 2009.
Antitrust partners David Zott and Daniel Laytin serve as lead counsel members in a team representing the Blue Cross & Blue Shield Association, as well as co-coordinating counsel for all defendants, in a series of putative class action lawsuits filed across the country challenging the structure of the Blue System of health insurance under the antitrust laws. Jeffrey Zeiger is active in restructuring cases, with one client highlighting "Jeff Zeiger in Chicago, he's great! He just got a big win for Neiman Marcus in a litigation relating to their ongoing bankruptcy." Zeiger obtained a dismissal of a $1 billion fraudulent transfer lawsuit against Neiman Marcus. The state trial court has also decided the client can sue the debt investor Marble Ridge Capital for defamation over statements the firm made about its debt. Fellow antitrust authority James Mutchnik represents Hitachi in multiple cases against allegations of price-fixing of cathode ray tubes.
Historically recognized and revered as one of the largest and most comprehensive global players in the corporate and transactional capacity (a position it still enjoys), Latham & Watkins has also proven itself to be an equally dominant presence on the litigation stage. “Latham has always been a litigation powerhouse,” sums up one peer. “This might not have been mentioned as much before because their corporate practice is so celebrated, but it was always had a deep and broad litigation team, with some serious star players. And they just seem to keep getting more of them!” Another peer confirms, “Latham is definitely a destination for litigation these days. They are going from strength to strength. The ‘flight to quality’ that we’re seeing play out right now is working in their favor.” The firm’s expansive US footprint covers a host of major markets, all staffed with partners deemed as “top class” in practices spanning antitrust, white-collar crime, securities, M&A litigation, intellectual property and even more niche practices like environmental law (an area the firm is said to have a higher-than-average concentration in compared to other firms its size.)
In Chicago, Sean Berkowitz is a near-unanimous recipient of acclaim in the white-collar field. “Sean has long been known as one of the best,” confirms a peer. “He is one of those white-collar people who would actually try a case!” A fellow of the American College of Trial Lawyers, Berkowitz also manages a robust commercial litigation practice, is the global chair of the commercial litigation practice, and just completed a five-year stint as the global head of the litigation and trial practice
With offices in Chicago, Washington, DC, and San Francisco, Massey & Gail fashions itself as “a different kind of law firm,” with lawyers covering areas of litigation involving administrative, commercial, antitrust, intellectual property and appeals. An appreciative client raves, “Massey & Gail have been working hard on our behalf on an ongoing sales tax issue.”
Chicago’s Leonard Gail has kept particularly active with a varied portfolio of litigation matters over the past 12 months. Gail represented JP Morgan Chase after, in April 2018, plaintiffs brought tort and contract claims against the client for over $100 million. The primary plaintiff is a high-net-worth individual who banked with Chase for a decade. Over nearly a decade, the plaintiffs’ family office manager to whom he had delegated substantial financial authority over his empire was systematically stealing from the plaintiff and his many entities. After the fraudulent scheme was uncovered, the plaintiff blamed Chase for failing to identify what it claims were forged documents and suspicious patterns of activity. In a separate matter, Gail triumphed for this same client after two wealthy foreign nationals filed suit in Los Angeles Superior Court, claiming that they had been defrauded by their former business partners in the US and claimed that the JPMorgan parties had aided and abetted those breaches of fiduciary duty. They sought damages in excess of $88 million, in a trial that lasted more than three weeks and heard testimony from more than 20 witnesses. The jury returned a verdict in favor of the client.
Jonathan Massey, based in DC, represented the Director of Illinois Department of Insurance, the court-appointed liquidator of Land of Lincoln Mutual Health Insurance Company, in a case that presents the legal question of the lawfulness of a unilateral setoff taken by the federal government to withhold over $27 million concededly owed to Land of Lincoln under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. As a result of the federal government’s failure to pay, Land of Lincoln was forced into liquidation and ceased operations in 2016, leaving 50,000 Illinois residents who unexpectedly lost their health insurance with three months remaining in the plan year scrambling to find coverage. For those who managed to purchase other insurance for the remainder of the year, many had to pay higher premiums, and all had to restart from scratch paying their annual deductibles and co-pays.The case wound up at the Supreme Court , which, in June 2019, granted the firm’s petition to hear the case. In a decision issued in April 2020, the Supreme Court ruled 8-1 in favor of the firm’s client and similarly situated insurance companies. Massey also represented the aforementioned JPMorgan Chase in a putative nationwide class action under the Real Estate Settlement Procedures Act. The action alleges that homebuyers who obtained residential mortgage loans from JPMorgan Chase and who made down payments of less than 20%, were required to obtain private mortgage insurance. Plaintiffs claim that the primary mortgage insurers subsequently reinsured the loans with an affiliate of the client’s, who allegedly received a percentage of plaintiffs’ insurance premiums in exchange for assumingsome of the primary insurer’s risk. Plaintiffs contend that JPMorgan Chase’s conduct constituted an unlawful “captive reinsurance” scheme in violation of the federalstatute. The case implicates potentially many thousands of borrowers and substantial damages.
Both Massey and Gail are trial counsel representing the parents of a deceased man in their claims of intentional infliction of emotional distress and negligent supervision against Fox News and others, related to a fake news story published in May 2017. This ongoing case may determine whether individuals harmed by fake news practices, and by false news reporting, may obtain recourse in the courts. The parent clients were allegedly tricked into allowing and assisting the development of a fake news story about their deceased son which caused great emotional distress to them.
Saul Ewing Arnstein & Lehr is the product of a merger between the Mid-Atlantic-based regional player Saul Ewing and the Chicago outfit Arnstein & Lehr. The combined outfit brings a diverse array of practice areas to an equally diverse client base. A peer speculates, “Saul Ewing is aiming to go national, and they may just pull it off! They are making inroads into some interesting new areas, and they already have cornered the market in a few areas.”
One of the areas in which the firm holds a dominant position in is the higher education practice. Arguably the most high-profile of these is Philadelphia’s Joseph O’Dea’s representation of Penn State as lead counsel to Penn State in all civil matters brought by the sexual abuse victims of Jerry Sandusky, a former sports coach, following Sandusky’s 2011 arrest. O’Dea spearheaded the effort to resolve the majority of victim claims, and also represented the University in numerous Sandusky-related lawsuits that did not involve victims, such as lawsuits brought by former football coaches and another by University Trustees challenging certain governance issues. Baltimore partners Jason St. John and Charles Monk, lead a team representing the Maryland State of Board of Education in defense of a challenge by a class of Baltimore City plaintiffs who are the parents of Baltimore City school children. Plaintiffs are attempting to revive a lawsuit from the early 1990s and claim that the State has failed to comply with its constitutional duty to provide adequate education to Baltimore City school children, including adequate funding for Baltimore City public schools, which have been saddled with failing infrastructure, namely y broken heat systems in the winter, absence of air conditioning in the summer, and pipe leaks throughout the year. St. John leads a team representing the State of Maryland and various state agencies in a high-profile litigation matter relating to a $1.5 billion, multi-phase, mixed-use real estate project to redevelop a 28-acre state office complex in midtown Baltimore known as the “State Center Project.” A Philadelphia team led by John Stoviak and Cathleen Devlin won summary judgment on behalf of Service Corporation International, a provider of cemetery, cremation and funeral services, resulting in the dismissal of the two named plaintiffs’ individual claims in a putative nationwide class action for negligence, breach of contract and violations of Pennsylvania’s Unfair Trade Practices and Consumer Protection Law arising from alleged burial issues. This same team represents Cyprus Amax Minerals Company in pursuing recovery of millions of dollars of environmental investigation and clean-up costs to address alleged lead, cadmium and arsenic contamination of soils associated with the early 20th century operations of two former zinc smelters in Oklahoma. Devlin is a commercial litigator with an environmental specialty. “Cathleen handled disputes arising from ‘problems in the ground,’” quips a peer. The Chicago office is noted for the young energy of its team; two-thirds of its 35 litigators are under 50. George Apostolides serves as the office’s head of litigation maintains a commercial practice with a bankruptcy niche.Nancy DePodesta, a former US Attorney in Chicago, came to the firm and became an integral part of its white-collar group at the firm. Maintaining a specialty in political corruption, DePodesta is also leading two investigations for a major university, crossing with the firm’s higher education practice. Another partner with a fluency with investigations, Boston’s Jeffrey Robbins, who joined the firm in 2018 from Mintz. “That was a great add,” offers a peer. “Jeff is battle-tested, tough, the guy you want with you in the foxhole. He’s got a bit of a defamation niche to him. And he brought some younger partners along with him!” Throughout his career, Robbins has represented a broad variety of both individuals and entities, particularly media entities.
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.” Clients are equally appreciative, with several stepping forward to offer accolades. One client insists, “Communication and strategic planning are key strengths. Brief writing and oral advocacy are exceptional as well.” Another declares, “Their written product is excellent. [They also demonstrate] solid legal product, strategy and performance.” Still another testifies, “[Winston provides] Excellent client service and strategic advice; their work delivered quickly and efficiently, with good cheer.” 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.
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. “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!” Webb represents Illinois Café & Services Company and Laredo Hospitality Ventures in a constitutional and administrative law challenge to a legislative licensing scheme and Illinois Gaming Board rule that arbitrarily burden the clients to the benefit of their competitors. The matter was originally dismissed by Cook County Circuit Court, and Webb and his team appealed to the Illinois Supreme Court. The Supreme Court remanded the case to the Circuit Court to review the Gaming Board’s adoption process and rulemaking procedures. Another Chicago star, Robert Sperling earns plaudits for his securities and financial institution-focused practice. A client applauds Sperling’s “leadership and communication,” and goes on to elaborate, “You are never left in the lurch, and Robert has tremendous ability to drive matters forward in a sensible way. He has a great team that would jump through any hoop, and he provides answers without the need for creating endless memos that aren't useful.” Sperling is representing Goldman Sachs in several False Claims Act matters involving its municipal bond underwriting. These matters have potential exposure of billions of dollars. Sperling and his team obtained a dismissal of one of the matters, which was pending in California, and also represents Goldman in a related antitrust action regarding variable rate demand obligation bonds used to fund municipal projects. Sperling’s team includes future star Joe Motto, who is also seeing his profile rise. A client acknowledges Motto’s “great client service” and goes on to confirm, “[He is} very strategic, and he cares about the outcome.”
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. The sports practice also finds Kessler acting as a plaintiff, while 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. I always hope that it won’t be him, but it always is, which means we’re going to have our work cut out for us.” Beyond Kessler, Susannah 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.”
The Dallas office hosts another of the firm’s often-mentioned partners, 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. Melsheimer represents several health and self-care entities in cases involving similar claimsthe entities were fraudulent and in violation of federal RICO and securities laws. In Winston’s Houston office, Paula Hinton and John Strasburger are part of team (which also includes New York’s Harvey Kurzweil) representing CPB in multiple disputes with Chevron and KBR. The disputes arise out of a project in Western Australia to construct a jetty designed for use with a liquefied natural gas facility. CPB seeks hundreds of millions of dollars in tort and other damages from Chevron and KBR. Additionally, there is an arbitration pending in Australia between the parties. The US suits have stayed pending the resolution of that arbitration.
Last year, the firm’s San Francisco office was augmented by the arrival of Sandra Edwards, a product liability specialist. Edwards is a favorite of peers, with one remarking, “I was impressed by her trial skills and her poise and strategic abilities as well.” Edwards, along with yet another Winston trial star, Chicago-based George Lombardi represents Monsanto in a number of product liability cases related to its RoundUp-related weed killer products. The plaintiffs assert strict product liability, failure to warn, and additional claims alleging that RoundUp-related products cause non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. The Winston pair were part of a three-law-firm team in the first jury trial of these cases in San Francisco Superior Court in July 2018. Following an eight-week trial, the trial team successfully reduced the verdict by $211 million. The case is currently on appeal.