2021 TOP 100 TRIAL LAWYERS
|Kimball||Anderson||Winston & Strawn|
|Greg||Andres||Davis Polk & Wardwell|
|Cristina||Arguedas||Arguedas Cassman & Headley|
|Philip||Beck||Bartlit Beck Herman Palenchar & Scott|
|Barry||Berke||Kramer Levin Naftalis & Frankel|
|Sean||Berkowitz||Latham & Watkins|
|Mike||Brock||Kirkland & Ellis|
|Daniel||Brockett||Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan|
|Michael||Brown||Nelson Mullins Riley & Scarborough|
|Allison (Ali)||Brown||Skadden Arps Slate Meagher & Flom|
|William||Burck||Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan|
|Dane||Butswinkas||Williams & Connolly|
|Elizabeth||Cabraser||Lieff Cabraser Heimann & Bernstein|
|Joe||Caldwell||Steptoe & Johnson|
|James||Campbell||Campbell Conroy O'Neil|
|Michael||Carlinsky||Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan|
|Evan||Chesler||Cravath Swaine & Moore|
|Andrew||Clubok||Latham & Watkins|
|Kevin||Downey||Williams & Connolly|
|Morty||Dubin||King & Spalding|
|David||Dukes||Nelson Mullins Riley & Scarborough|
|Karen||Dunn||Paul Weiss Rifkind Wharton & Garrison|
|Sandra||Edwards||Winston & Strawn|
|Samuel||Franklin||Lightfoot Franklin & White|
|Robert||Giuffra||Sullivan & Cromwell|
|Helen||Gredd||Lankler Siffert & Wohl|
|Sean||Hecker||Kaplan Hecker & Fink|
|Richard||Heimann||Lieff Cabraser Heimann & Bernstein|
|Heidi||Hubbard||Williams & Connolly|
|James||Hurst||Kirkland & Ellis|
|Tarek||Ismail||Goldman Ismail Tomaselli Brennan & Baum|
|Gregory||Joseph||Joseph Hage Aronson|
|Roberta||Kaplan||Kaplan Hecker & Fink|
|Mitchell||Karlan||Gibson Dunn & Crutcher|
|John||Keker||Keker Van Nest & Peters|
|Michael||Kendall||White & Case|
|Jeffrey||Kessler||Winston & Strawn|
|Mark||Lanier||Lanier Law Firm|
|David||Lender||Weil Gotshal & Manges|
|George||Lombardi||Winston & Strawn|
|Abbe||Lowell||Winston & Strawn|
|Joan||Lukey||Choate Hall & Stewart|
|William "Billy"||Martin||Barnes & Thornburg|
|Randy||Mastro||Gibson Dunn & Crutcher|
|Tom||Melsheimer||Winston & Strawn|
|Gary||Naftalis||Kramer Levin Naftalis & Frankel|
|Lynn||Neuner||Simpson Thacher & Bartlett|
|Kevin||Orsini||Cravath Swaine & Moore|
|Richard||Parker||Gibson Dunn & Crutcher|
|Ray||Persons||King & Spalding|
|Daniel||Petrocelli||O'Melveny & Myers|
|Joseph||Petrosinelli||Williams & Connolly|
|Jonathan||Polkes||Weil Gotshal & Manges|
|William||Reid||Reid Collins & Tsai|
|Orlando "Rod"||Richmond||Butler Snow|
|Michael||Schachter||Willkie Farr & Gallagher|
|Phllippe||Selendy||Selendy & Gay|
|Daniel||Slifkin||Cravath Swaine & Moore|
|Orin||Snyder||Gibson Dunn & Crutcher|
|Diane||Sullivan||Weil Gotshal & Manges|
|Michael||Ungar||Ulmer & Berne|
|Robert||Van Kirk||Williams & Connolly|
|Robert||Van Nest||Keker Van Nest & Peters|
|Dan||Webb||Winston & Strawn|
|Reid||Weingarten||Steptoe & Johnson|
|Rebecca||Weinstein Bacon||Bartlit Beck|
|Ted||Wells||Paul Weiss Rifkind Wharton & Garrison|
|Mark||Werbner||Winston & Strawn|
|Richard||Werder||Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan|
|Jamie||Wine||Latham & Watkins|
|Matthew||Wolf||Arnold & Porter|
Paul Weiss’s litigation department has seen no shortage of “good years” over the course of the past decade. However, it would not be an exaggeration to describe the past year as simply extraordinary. The firm has continued to go from strength to strength in building its profile through strategic hiring, mentoring, and maintaining a level of prestige among its peers. In the capacity of trial law, few would dispute the assertion that the firm’s ultimate star player would be Ted Wells, routinely acknowledged and revered as the top trial lawyer not only at Paul Weiss but also in the entire country. “It’s simply not a list of trial lawyers without Ted Wells,” insists one peer and another Top 100 Trial Lawyers nominee. Although a senior member of the firm’s bench, Wells remains as vigorous, dedicated and active as ever. Indeed, he led the charge in a milestone win for ExxonMobil in contentious climate change litigation. Suing under New York’s infamous Martin Act, a New York Attorney General wanted $1.6 billion in damages from ExxonMobil, alleging that the energy giant made material misstatements about how it accounted for climate-related risks, which in turn had a material impact on investors. In December 2019, after a 12-day trial, a New York State Supreme Court Justice sided with the defense. This landmark climate-change lawsuit in New York state court is believed to be the first such case ever to be tried to verdict. This case won Wells a prestigious “impact case” award at the 2020 Benchmark award ceremony in New York in February 2020. At this same ceremony, Wells was also honored with a “Hall of Fame” award for his decades of recognized excellence. Wells also delivering a thundering, impassioned speech from the podium, addressing the progress made but also the extent yet to go regarding the inequality and continuing lack of diversity at “Big Law” firms. This sermon resonated with the crowd, who responded with the evening’s only standing ovation. Paul Weiss’ bench of trial lawyers did get another boost this year, however, when the firm lured trial luminary Karen Dunn to its bench from Boies Schiller. In September 2019, while at her former firm, Dunn scored big for Uber in a Massachusetts-based action brought by a Boston taxi conglomerate that claimed $750 million in damages on allegations that Uber was operating illegally in Boston. Dunn’s jury trial win was also recognized with a prestigious “impact case” award at the 2020 Benchmark awards ceremony in New York in February 2020. This win comes hot on the heels of another case that thrust Dunn into the limelight (and also was recognized with an impact case award at last year’s Benchmark awards,) in October 2017, she was one of two partners retained by nonprofit Integrity First for America to represent 11 plaintiffs from Charlottesville against 26 defendants implicated in the white nationalist/neo-Nazi rally that took place in Charlottesville that August and culminated in violence and other shameful turns of events. The defendants include named people and several organizations, such as the Loyal White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan and Nationalist Front.
Acting on this case with Dunn was
Roberta Kaplan, all-purpose trial lawyer and founder of New York litigation boutique Kaplan Hecker & Fink. Kaplan, who ironically left the aforementioned Paul Weiss to launch this operation, continues to earn plaudits for her role as a mentor and driver of the firm’s culture as well as for her unwavering commitment to pursuing cases dedicated to progressive causes. “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.” On a more business-oriented (and local) level, Kaplan triumphed for Airbnb, a longtime client of hers, in challenging a New York City Council law that, if passed, would have required the client to produce massive amounts of private business records to city officers with no procedural or privacy protections, doing irreparable harm to Airbnb’s business in New York City. Sean Hecker joined the firm from his previous post at Debevoise & Plimpton. Hecker, a securities enforcement and white-collar star, has a particularly vocal fan base as well. “Like I predicted, Sean Hecker really went on to great things,” confirms a peer. “He is terrific and I like working with him. He is good with juries and judges and is very analytical and is a good presence. It’s funny because he was never a Titanic presence at Debevoise, he kind of just quietly did his own thing, but you could tell he had something, and now he has really come into his own. That win he had for the Barclays trader out in California was a substantial white-collar trial win, in front of a judge, no less, which is very rare.” 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.
Arguably the New York firm with the highest “white-shoe” pedigree, Cravath Swaine & Moore is also singled out for its dedication to trial law, and indeed the firm’s increased concentration in Benchmark’s Top 100 Trial Lawyers list reflects this. “If you look around at some of the top trial lawyers in the city these days,” confirms a New York peer, “many of them got their start at Cravath.” To a great extent, trial law figurehead Evan Chesler is credited for forging this culture over the years. Chesler himself has joked, “I try cases – that’s all they let me do around here.” Despite decades plying his craft in front of juries, Chesler still earns plaudits from peers and continues to appear in a lead role on some of the firm’s most groundbreaking matters. Others have stepped up and made their mark, however; notably, Daniel Slifkin is acknowledged by a peer as “Cravath’s most experienced trial lawyer after Evan. He is skilled and polished, with just the right amount of aggression.” Another peer notes, “Evan and Dan are the mentors. They foster the Cravath trial approach.” Chesler and Slifkin play lead roles representing Elon Musk and other members of the Tesla board of directors in connection with a stockholder class and derivative action filed in the Delaware Court of Chancery related to Tesla’s $2.6 billion acquisition of SolarCity Corporation. Plaintiffs allege that Musk exercised control over the Tesla board, despite holding only 22% of Tesla’s stock, and that the acquisition benefited Musk and others at the expense of the company and its minority stockholders. The Cravath team was retained as trial counsel after defendants’ motion to dismiss was denied. At a younger vintage point, Kevin Orsini, who a mere three years ago was still considered one of Benchmark’s “future stars,” has made an astonishing ascent in profile since then due to his increased presence as a first-chair trial lawyer. Although Orsini took home the award for “Antitrust Litigator of the Year” at the 2020 Benchmark awards ceremony due to his proven acumen in the area with a milestone win for AmEx, Orsini maintains an all-purpose approach, covering a broad spectrum of commercial issues. In just the most recent example, Orsini won a significant trial decision for Occidental Petroleum in November 2019. Plaintiffs, entities affiliated with activist investor Carl Icahn, filed the action in the Delaware Court of Chancery in connection with the company’s $57 billion acquisition of Anadarko Petroleum, which closed in August 2019. Plaintiffs criticized the terms of the acquisition and sought company books and records to support a potential proxy dispute to replace Occidental’s board of directors. Following a Chancery decision, plaintiffs appealed to the Delaware Supreme Court, where Orsini argued in February 2020, with both parties reaching a settlement shortly thereafter.
The New York office of Milbank is home to George Canellos, an all-purpose securities enforcement and white-collar practitioner who is one of the most widely admired in the profession. “George has unquestioned credibility from both the bar and the bench.” Canellos’s broad-ranging practice finds him acting on behalf of entities, individuals and, in at least one example, entire industries. He is representing Société Générale Americas Securities in class-action litigation concerning alleged price fixing of unsecured debt securities issued by government sponsored entities between 2009 and 2016. The court has preliminarily approved settlements between plaintiffs and defendants. Canellos also represents one of five individuals that were the target of a September 2018 complaint filed by the SEC claiming that this group orchestrated three highly profitable “pump-and-dump” schemes from 2013 to 2018. The complaint charged the defendants with violating antifraud, beneficial ownership disclosure, and registration provisions of the federal securities laws and sought monetary and equitable relief. In October 2019, the client and his company reached a preliminary settlement with the SEC, wherein they did not admit or deny liability and agreed to pay a small civil fine plus restitution. Canellos also represents the client in a number of civil suits relating to similar allegations, all of which are currently pending.
Kramer Levin Naftalis & Frankel, a full-service New York firm, is also home to a prized white-collar crime group, of which Barry Berke is an undisputed leading presence. Berke was recently thrust into the limelight when he was called into service as special counsel to the Judiciary Committee of the US House of Representatives in connection with its investigation and impeachment proceedings of Donald Trump. As of February 2020, Berke returned to Kramer Levin with newly burnished credentials. Not that he needed them; even before this engagement, Berke has been routinely identified by peers as “absolutely one of the best,” with one elaborating, “Especially at his age point, he has some of the best experience you could ask for and credibility beyond question.” Clients agree; one calls Berke “a counselor, a litigator, and a strategist,” and goes on to assert, “No one is better.” At the more senior level, Gary Naftalis, a consistent nominee to the Top 100 Trial Lawyers capacity, makes yet another appearance this year. “Gary will be doing this forever,” speculates a peer. “He LOVES it! He loves trials!” An all-purpose commercial and white-collar presence, Naftalis prides himself on a courtroom acumen that transcends practice areas and has been recognized publicly by former judges Naftalis has appeared before.
Latham & Watkins has not only made a strong showing in its litigation capacity, it has also proven to breed true trial lawyers. 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. In the DC office, Andrew Clubok is the co-chair of the firm’s securities practice and is unanimously revered as “very skilled and very successful” by peers in this capacity. Clubok led a team that secured a $1 billion judgment in January 2020 on behalf of UBS Securities in a long-running contract dispute against bankrupt hedge fund manager Highland Capital Management, which dates back to the early days of the financial crisis. Another luminary in the securities space, New York’s Jamie Wine is also a favorite in trial circles. A peer at another of New York’s top securities firms confides, “I’m currently in a dispute with Jamie and I think she is very talented, even though she’s not wanting for accolades.” Wine scored a June 2020 win for information technology entity DXC Technology when Virginia federal judge dismissed a $2 billion proposed securities class action accusing the client and its executives of making misleading statements about revenues, causing its stock to drop by up to 16%.
Lynn Neuner of Simpson Thacher & Bartlett appears for the third consecutive year as one of Benchmark’s Top 100 Trial Lawyers, in addition to a six-year run as a consistent nominee as one of Benchmark’s Top 250 Women in Litigation. Neuner major player in insurance, commercial and securities cases and has also emerged as one of New York’s few authorities in the false advertising capacity. Neuner represented Bayer in defending its advertising for Claritin-D against a challenge brought by GlaxoSmithKline, the maker of Flonase, an allergy spray. Glaxo challenged whether Bayer has reasonable substantiation for the claim that based on label indications, Claritin-D relieves eight symptoms, but Flonase relieves only six. In April 2019, it was concluded that Bayer provided a reasonable basis for its claim. In March 2020, Neuner logged another win for this client when the National Advertising Review Board reversed a September 2019 decision of the National Advertising Division and found that Bayer provided reasonable and reliable scientific support for the claims that Aleve is “proven better on pain than Tylenol Extra Strength” and that Aleve is “proven better on pain than Tylenol” for the first six hours post-dosing.
Weil Gotshal & Manges enjoys a reputation as a firm whose litigation bench is one of the most comprehensive in terms of practice depth. New York-based litigation co-chair David Lender is an all-purpose commercial trial lawyer who peers attest “is just killing it.” One even goes as far as to quip, “I would say David Lender is the lawyer I want to be when I grow up, but he’s younger than me!” Lender has been particularly active in the antitrust capacity as of late. He represents H&R Block in connection with antitrust lawsuits that allege the company conspired to implement agreements between franchisees not to solicit or recruit other franchisees’ personnel, thereby causing lower employee wages and stifling career advancement. Six potential class actions over the “no poach” agreements were filed in the Northern District of Illinois and the Western District of Missouri. All cases have now been voluntarily dismissed except for one that was successfully compelled to arbitration, which the plaintiffs have not yet initiated. Lender also triumphed for C&S Wholesale Grocers as lead trial counsel in a significant antitrust class action after the court granted plaintiffs’ motion for class certification. Plaintiffs, encompassing more than 300 retail grocers alleged that the New England-based C&S and a Midwest-based competitor entered into a conspiracy to allocate the New England and Midwest territories between themselves for a period of five years, resulting in inflated grocery prices. The other defendant settled before trial. At the 2018 trial, the jury returned a complete defense verdict. The Eighth Circuit subsequently affirmed. The firm’s securities and white-collar capacity is spearheaded by Jonathan Polkes, a near-unanimous favorite among peers in the practice. “Jonathan is great, and he will try a case. In fact, he has done so a couple of times recently, which is rare among people in that practice and especially at his age group.” For many years, Polkes has partnered with Willis Towers Watson and its predecessor, Willis Group Holdings, to successfully defend several different securities litigations, including approximately 15 securities class and individual actions arising out of the heavily publicized, $8 billion Ponzi scheme orchestrated by R. Allen Stanford and his Houston-based Stanford Financial Group. The complaints in these actions generally alleged that Willis actively and materially aided Stanford’s fraud by providing Stanford with certain letters regarding insurance coverage that contained untruths and omitted material facts, and that Willis knew the letters would be used to help retain or attract actual or prospective Stanford investors. In the aggregate, the plaintiffs in these actions sought in excess of $4 billion in damages. More recently, Polkes scored a significant victory for Carlyle Group in a billion-dollar deal litigation in Delaware Chancery Court arising out of a proposed investment by a Carlyle-led group for a stake in AmEx Global Business Travel, which experienced significant losses as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, and Carlyle’s triggering of a material adverse effect clause to abandon the deal. In March 2020, a Vice Chancellor denied selling the shareholders’ motion to expedite a trial of claims seeking to force Carlyle to close on the transaction.
While Davis Polk & Wardwell houses one of the smaller litigation groups among firms of a similar stature, it has secured a notable presence at the forefront of some of the country’s most high-stakes securities, commercial, antitrust and white-collar matters. Greg Andres, who rejoined the firm in June 2019, represents clients in both civil and criminal trials. He previously served as a partner in Davis Polk’s white-collar group from 2013 to 2017 and has represented individuals, financial institutions and other entities in a wide range of regulatory and criminal investigations involving market manipulation, insider trading, securities, procurement and tax fraud, and money laundering. He also has extensive experience in anti-corruption matters, both in private practice and at the Department of Justice. From August 2017 to March 2019, Andres was a member of the Special Counsel’s Office in Washington DC, investigating Russian government efforts to influence the 2016 presidential election and related matters. Andres served as the lead trial lawyer in the successful prosecution of Paul Manafort in the US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia. Andres makes his debut on Benchmark’s Top 100 Trial Lawyers this year.
No list of trial lawyers would be complete or credible without the substantial presence of Quinn Emanuel. In addition to its behemoth status as a litigation shop, more specifically it is known as an incubator for true courtroom warriors, as the “Trial Lawyers” subtitle to its branding makes sure to drive home. The firm pursues the trial-ready agenda with zeal, and indeed the firm makes a strong showing in Benchmark’s Top 100 Trial Lawyers list, with no fewer than four of its partners nominated every year since the list’s inception. “Quinn breeds a reputation of ‘If you want someone who’s ready to sling mud and not just roll over and settle, call us.’”
Mike Carlinsky, in the firm’s New York office, is routinely addressed by all familiar with him as “Quinn’s big gun.” One peer testifies, “On the plaintiff side of commercial and insurance cases, he is the one I see the most, and man, is he good!” Another insists, “Mike is a cowboy but a streetwise one, he knows the ins and outs, and clients love him.” Still another jokes in summation, “I have dreams about Mike Carlinsky, and they all involve him chasing me.” Another “big gun,” Daniel Brockett, also in New York, is known as a force in the antitrust arena. “Dan Brockett is still going strong as our principal antagonist. He is a hustler and has some really impressive clients. In the antitrust space Dan is one of the biggest players, maybe the biggest. He also does securities.” Another peer elaborates, “Dan was able to pull together about 1,300 opt-outs, a mini ‘class action’ if you will.” Richard Werder, the managing partner of the New York office, is known for “just quietly going gangbusters on a number of cases involving billions.” Among his recent engagements, Werder represented Access Industries in an action by a post-bankruptcy litigation trustee seeking more than $3 billion in damages under fraudulent transfer, preference, and breach of fiduciary duty theories following bankruptcy of company formed through leveraged merger. After a three-week trial, Werder obtained a defense verdict on over $3 billion of claims. The firm’s trial prowess has been championed in bankruptcy matters as well. In the firm’s DC office, William Burck is a celebrated white-collar crime star with dozens of high-level appointments to his credit, including several cases that have made recent national headlines such as the Odebrecht scandal, the “Varsity Blues” scandal, the “Panama Papers” affair, as well as serving as lead counsel to several key witnesses in the high-profile Robert Mueller investigation into allegations of Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election. Most recently, in August 2020, Burck was retained by Steve Bannon, Donald Trump’s former strategist, in defending criminal charges that Bannon stole from supporters of the Trump’s US-Mexico border wall. “The kind of white-collar cases Bill Burck takes on definitely require a trial lawyer, and Bill certainly is one,” insists a peer.
Like Quinn Emanuel, another firm known to pivot between plaintiff and defense work, 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. A peer based outside of New York confides, “Of all the lawyers I’ve worked with in all my years, this guy [Carmody] was the best in every respect. As a trial lawyer he could do it all. He’s based in New York now but stylistically he was absolutely ‘Texas hot!’ He is just in another league.” Carmody represents some of the largest political subdivisions in California—including the University of California system, the California State University System, and the County of Los Angeles, to name a few—in a ground-breaking suit against wireless carriers for overbilling the government.The case settled in 2020 for over $120 million. Carmody also represents Adam Neumann, founder of WeWork, in his almost $1 billion claim against SoftBank relating to SoftBank taking control of WeWork. The case is filed in Delaware Chancery Court and is one of the most high-profile litigations in the country. 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. More recently, Srinivasan served as lead trial counsel to NBCUniversal subsidiary UCP in a dispute with its insurance carrier, Atlantic. UCP was filming a new TV series in Israel in 2014, when it was forced to relocate due to Hamas firing rockets from Gaza into Israel. UCP's insurance carrier Atlantic denied coverage, claiming the policy's "War Exclusions" barred coverage. The case settled the night before trial.
Atlanta-based Greenberg Traurig product liability heavyweight Lori Cohen chairs the firm’s pharmaceutical, medical device and health care litigation practice, in addition to serving as co-chair of the global litigation practice group. Among her current matters, Cohen, who is also recognized in Benchmark Litigation’s Top 250 Women in Litigation list, is a member of the lead counsel team representing Alcon Laboratories and fellow Novartis subsidiary Sandoz in several multi-state putative class actions. This case alleges that the manufacturers of brand-name and generic prescription eye drops intentionally designed their droppers to dispense drops of medication larger than the human eye can hold, allegedly resulting in waste of the product and purchase of more frequent refills. After the client's motion to dismiss was granted by the District Court on grounds of impossibility preemption, Cohen and company were chosen to represent all defendants in briefing and arguing the appeal. The First Circuit affirmed the District Court's decision. Cohen was also lead counsel for C.R. Bard (now Bard) in long-running pelvic mesh litigation, winning back-to-back summary judgements.
At Kirkland & Ellis, Chicago-based trial kingpin James Hurst provides lead counsel to 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, Hurst and his 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.
Winston & Strawn boasts a coveted position as the “Big Law” firm with the highest concentration of trial lawyers to appear on the Top 100 Trial Lawyers list, as well as one of the most geographically diverse groups. It enjoys its second year in a row as one of the Top 20 Trial firms in the country 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 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.
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.”
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.
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.
While it operates from offices in Washington DC, New York and Los Angeles, Wilkinson Walsh remains the essence of “litigation boutique.” More specifically, a litigation boutique with a uniquely pronounced emphasis on high-end trial work. Formed in 2016 by veteran DC trial celebrity Beth Wilkinson, Wilkinson Walsh has been arguably the most buzz-worthy of law firms, and the appearance of Wilkinson and other firm partners at the forefront of a series of high-stakes trials has more than justified the hype. Wilkinson remains one of the most in-demand trial lawyers in the country. “Still one of the best,” sums up one peer, while another confirms, “Beth is all over the place, just running from trial to trial.” Wilkinson’s dance card has been consumed with cases ranging from antitrust to white-collar to bet-the-company commercial cases but most recently, Wilkinson has been in demand for crisis management on a political level. In May 2020, she was retained to help guide US District Judge Emmet Sullivan as a federal appeals court questions his plan to probe the US DoJ’s decision to dismiss the case against former Trump national security adviser Michael Flynn, despite his admission that he lied to the FBI. In 2018 she was hired by Brett Kavanaugh, then a US Supreme Court nominee, to help shepherd him through confirmation proceedings at which he had been accused of a decades-old sexual misconduct allegation. More recently, Wilkinson was retained by Summer Zervos, a former contestant on The Apprentice, in a defamation suit against Donald Trump in New York state court that accuses Trump of lying in his denials that he did not grope and kiss her without consent in 2007. The case is pending.
The California market is particular hotbed for litigation boutiques. Since its genesis in 2015, Los Angeles litigation boutique Hueston Hennigan has seen an ascent that can only be described as astonishing. Formed by a group of commercial litigators who peeled off of California institution Irell & Manella to launch this venture, Hueston Hennigan has forged itself a coveted position as a local litigation shop that has achieved statewide and even national prominence. The firm is noted for its mission of putting a premium on trial work, a mission that has been fulfilled with rapid momentum on several high-level appointments. “They have just been massively successful,” sums up one East Coast litigator, stating a consensus shared by many peers. The firm’s client base is remarkably diverse, ranging from individuals to a variety of entities encompassing tech giants, Native American tribes, the Boy Scouts and the California State Bar (to name but a few), with very little repeat business and virtually no “routine” cases. “Hueston Hennigan doesn’t do the ‘cookie-cutter.’ They do really cool, cutting-edge work,” declares a peer, who goes on to confide, “I admit it makes me jealous, and I’m sure I’m not alone!” The firm’s figurehead is John Hueston, a trial trailblazer who has carved himself an enviable position among others in the elite trial lawyer circuit. “I’ve seen trial lawyers rise and fade but John is young and vibrant enough to be in this for the long haul,” opines one peer. Hueston’s proven activity as lead counsel on a number of high-level appointments more than supports this near-unanimous acclaim. In just one of several examples of Hueston’s prowess and versatility, he recently represented The California Institute of Technology (Caltech), which was sued by a former researcher who claimed he was terminated for exposing alleged misuse of government funds and research misconduct, and sought $65 million from the client. He further alleged that Caltech tortiously interfered and breached with his business relations and obligations. Caltech, on the other hand, argued that it acted entirely properly in all aspects of its dealings with the government and in eliminating his position after he failed to satisfy his obligations. After Caltech was granted summary adjudication on 10 out of 12 of plaintiffs’ claims, the issue at trial (in May 2019) was whether Caltech retaliated against the plaintiff for complaints he had made and wrongfully terminated him. After four weeks of trial and just two hours of deliberation, Hueston secured a full defense verdict for Caltech. Hueston’s dance card bulges with engagements from other clientele as well, including the Houston Astros, Endo Pharmaceuticals, and an individual caught up in the “Varsity Blues” college cheating imbroglio, to name but a few. 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.
Jennifer Keller, name partner of Irvine 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. In a more recent and timely case, Keller represented this same client, as well as the City’s mayor, who sought to temporarily restrain a state and federal plan to use a facility the state had recently condemned as unfit for human habitation as a Coronavirus treatment center for 80 patients with no coordination with local officials or hospitals, no plans to ensure adequate resourcing, no plans for testing or provision of personal protective equipment for first responders or health care workers, and inadequate planning for preventing community transmission of the disease. 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 the Silicon Valley market, intellectual property and commercial litigation boutique Reichman Jorgensen has made a notable impression on the legal community, and has done so very quickly. Formed in 2018 upon the departure of trial figurehead Courtland Reichman from McKool Smith in order to launch this venture, the firm has already notched itself a maverick image on the legal landscape. Reichman is revered by peers as “a trial veteran, which is unique at his relatively young age, but not that surprising, seeing as how he got his chops through his time at McKool.” A client calls him “a strong advocate and a true trial lawyer,” and goes on to quip, “I only wish there more of him.” Reichman led a team that scored a $236 million jury verdict win in January 2020, less than two years into the firm’s existence. This victory, for Canadian client Densify against industry giant VMWare, concerned virtualization technology.
Proskauer boasts a trial law heavy-hitter in Bart Williams, who is based in the firm’s Los Angeles office. Williams, beloved by a pronounced percentage of peers on a national basis as someone who “just shines in front of jury,” has a diverse practice that spans white-collar, commercial and, increasingly, high-stakes product liability work. Having scored favorable rulings for Johnson & Johnson in talc litigation, Williams’ product liability trial acumen was called into service by Monsanto and its parent company Bayer, in a California case alleging that the use of Monsanto’s herbicide, RoundUp, caused the plaintiff’s non‑Hodgkin’s lymphoma. The case settled weeks before trial in January 2020. Bayer then hired Williams to try another RoundUp case in Missouri State Court, which is set for trial in September 2020. Williams is also lead counsel for toy company Mattel and their co-defendants in 23 separate product liability wrongful death cases in Delaware and California state courts related to the Fisher Price Rock-n-Play Sleeper. The cases allege that the toy in question was not safe for use as a sleeping device for infants. In another action, one which exemplifies Proskauer’s dominant position in sports law, Williams represented the “Power 5 Conferences” in the trial of a high-profile class action brought by current and former NCAA Division I football and basketball players. The players filed an antitrust lawsuit challenging the limits on compensation and benefits for student-athletes. Plaintiffs sought an order removing existing limitations on compensation and benefits available to class members from schools or conferences. Following a 10-day bench trial, the court held that the challenged rules promote consumer demand for college sports by recognizing the distinction between college and professional sports. The ruling was upheld on appeal in May 2020.
Ironically, litigation-specific powerhouse Bartlit Beck has experienced such runaway success with its business model that it has outgrown 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. 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.
Several firms have also doubled down on their concentration of trial talent in locations that fall outside of major metropolises. With origins in the Southeast, a region the firm still maintains its largest footprint in, Nelson Mullins has since expanded strategically and found success in terms of geographic reach, market share and distribution of talent. In the product liability space, the firm has even staked itself a national presence, with several trial luminaries taking the lead on high-stakes cases for a “who’s who” of pharmaceutical industry household names. One of the most buzz-worthy and undeniably successful expansions the firm has made of late was its 2019 entry into the Baltimore market, a move which netted the firm 30 partners from a more local firm. One of these, Michael Brown, is viewed by all Baltimore peers familiar with him as a substantial coup. Brown, a trial lawyer who is particularly in demand in the product liability arena, receives resounding praise. “The biggest news in Baltimore right now is Nelson Mullins getting started here, and by recruiting Michael Brown, they made a grand entrance. They are getting into product liability in a big way,” insists one local peer. Another confides, “One of our partners actually just left us to go work for Michael Brown! But I can’t blame them, because it’s a great opportunity. Michael is dynamite and has a direct line to J&J, who he now does a lot of work for.” Brown’s successes for this particular client, especially regarding its talc litigation, have made headlines and won him acclaim. However, Brown’s acumen is not limited to product liability. He worked with a fellow Baltimore partner on a commercial matter for Westminster Properties stemming from a 2017 property contract dispute in which five current and former tenants of Westminster-managed properties filed a putative class action lawsuit seeking to certify a class of tenants who have allegedly been charged improper and/or excessive fees related to the late payment and/or non-payment of rent. The court dismissed the class action motion, after which the plaintiffs proceeded with individual claims. Another of the firm’s trial aces with a flair for product liability, David Dukes in the Columbia, South Carolina office plays a prominent role in Bayer’s defense of its anticoagulant medication Xarelto (rivaroxaban) against claims that it caused excessive bleeding. After victories in the first 2 MDL bellwether trials in early 2017, Dukes and his team has been on the trial team for every Xarelto defense verdict, of which there have been a series. Dukes and his team was also instrumental in the workup of approximately 75 cases pending in the MDL and Philadelphia Court of Common Please litigations during the latter half of 2018 through global resolution of the Xarelto litigation in early 2019.
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 is defending The Sherwin-Williams Company in connection with a putative nationwide class action bringing a variety of claims based on alleged defects in Sherwin Williams' Duckback Deck & Dock Coating and SuperDeck Deck and Dock Coating products. A consolidated complaint is brought on behalf of five named plaintiffs and alleges federal claims, as well as a number of state law claims arising under various states' laws. Ungar is also defending AXA Advisors in an arbitration where the claimants allege that a former AXA Advisors registered representative, who has been indicted by the Arizona Attorney General and sanctioned by the Arizona Corporation Commission for fraud and theft, stole their funds after they withdrew them from AXA Advisors, transferred them to their personal accounts, and “invested” them with the former registered representative. Claimants allege that AXA Advisors failed to supervise their withdrawals, warn them that the former registered representative was no longer registered with FINRA, and report alleged misconduct that the claimants allege occurred while the former registered representative was associated with AXA Advisors.
In Boston, Campbell Conroy & O’Neil is often marketed under the succinct moniker “Campbell Trial Lawyers,” lending gravity to this credo with a bench heavy with trial-savvy practitioners who regularly log victories in both bench and jury arenas. “Trials: We do one thing. We do it right.,” declares the firm’s slogan on its website, removing any mystery as to its agenda. Founding name partner James Campbell has been at the forefront of some of the firm’s most notable trial wins over the years. Campbell serves as lead trial counsel for an engineering firm in the Flint, Michigan water litigation pending the in both the state and federal courts in Michigan. The litigation has been ongoing for over four years and the first trial is scheduled for June 2021. Campbell also serves as trial counsel in medical device matters involving pelvic mesh and other products; opioid litigation brought on behalf of various cities, counties and states throughout New England; talc litigation pending in New England; and a variety of other product liability, pharmaceutical, professional negligence, toxic substance and environmental litigation. Campbell also represented Ford Motor Company in a franchise dispute that had been pending for over a decade and involved claims for tens of millions of dollars. After an earlier trial and several appeals, the case was tried to a successful conclusion for Ford.
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 is an architect of the firm and an all-purpose commercial trial lawyer. “Bill is a survivor!” insists a peer. “He is hard-nosed but fair. We throw bombs at each other and then settle up afterward.” In December 2018, Reid filed a legal malpractice, breach of fiduciary duty, and breach of contract action against national law firm Reed Smith on behalf of the Cayman Islands liquidators of the Bear Stearns Funds, seeking more than $500 million in damages. The claims arose out of Reed Smith’s alleged failure to meet the statute of limitations in a lawsuit it filed on behalf of the liquidators against the credit rating agencies, as well as its failure to advise and pursue, on a timely basis, hundreds of millions of dollars in residential mortgage-backed securities claims against Wall Street financial institutions. Reid also represents an LB Litigation trustee in a case involving a legal malpractice claim arising out of law firm Brown Rudnick’s alleged failed prosecution of a $300 million preference claim in Lyondell’s bankruptcy proceedings in the US Bankruptcy Court for the Southern District of New York. “Bill gets down in the dirt!” exclaims a peer.
A new addition to this year’s list, Minneapolis’s Jerry Blackwell serves as CEO of Blackwell Burke and also as trial and national counsel for several major corporations. One of the country’s most prominent African-American trial lawyers, Blackwell is a frequent speaker on a variety of litigation topics, including the development of winning trial strategies. Among his recent matters, Blackwell was lead partner in securing a landmark victory for 3M in multi-district litigation concerning its “Bair Hugger” forced-air warming blanket litigation, succeeding in having more than 5,000 individual cases against the company dismissed. Blackwell is now serving as co-counsel in the plaintiffs’ appeal. In a less business-centric but no less important matter (and indeed one that resonates with recent sociopolitical issues), in June 2020, Blackwell scored Minnesota’s first-ever posthumous pardon for Max Mason, a black man who was convicted for what turned out to be a fictitious rape of a white woman. Mason’s conviction served as a scapegoat for a lynch mob to justify the murder of three of Mason’s black co-workers in a circus. A vocal percentage of peers cheer Blackwell’s milestone win as a long-overdue correction of injustice.