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America's Leading Lawyers for Business 2007: Litigation: General Commercial

Chambers & Partners has compiled their independent and objective list of America's Leading Lawyers for Business based on comments gathered from thousands of interviews with clients and lawyers from Maine to Hawaii. This guide -- which is designed to reflect market opinion -- contains a view of the firms and attorneys who are considered leaders in their field.

In Chambers' 2007 review of national legal talent in the area of "Litigation: General Commercial," our Firm and our lawyers are listed among the best in the country.

Chambers' comments:

Litigation: General Commercial

Illinois Ranking: 1

The Firm: Most firms like to claim clients hire them because they have a reputation for going to trial. With Kirkland & Ellis, this is not an empty boast but simply a reality. “They genuinely look forward to trying cases,” remarked one client, “and they always plant a seed of doubt in the adversary’s mind - as soon as you retain Kirkland you are dealing from a position of strength.” Aggressive and fiercely intelligent, this firm consistently justifies its reputation as the best litigation outfit in Illinois, if not in the country. Taking on high-stake and prominent cases for the most illustrious clients, it brings a depth and breadth of lawyering to be marveled at, and the Chicago group retains its pool of strength and quality despite David Bernick’s (one of USA’s finest lawyers) transfer to the New York office. This is a firm that “gets the most out of its attorneys” and gives opportunities to junior partners to try cases, providing a large collection of lawyers armed with high-level experience: “The type-A personality out of law school goes to Kirkland.” The team recently won a verdict for Abbott Laboratories in the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals, affirming the summary judgment Kirkland won for its client regarding the weight-loss drug Meridia. The firm also won a favorable jury verdict for client PwC in professional negligence claims, while defending R.J. Reynolds and other major tobacco manufacturers in lawsuits arising out of the Master Settlement Agreement (MSA). “Kirkland has a magical name,” remarked one client, and the spell it has cast over the Illinois litigation scene is unlikely to be broken any time soon.  

The Lawyers: The “efficient and effective” Richard Godfrey is a “remarkable practitioner,” according to interviewees. With a strong appellate reputation and significant antitrust expertise, he possesses “strong strategic and litigation skills that can be applied to a broad range of topics.” He recently represented Aon in matters relating to breach of contract and fiduciary duty, Exxon in gasoline pricing litigation, and BP in an array of litigation. The “high-energy and gifted” Emily Nicklin “has a commitment and dedication to winning that is unparalleled.” Excelling at strategy setting and issue spotting, she is also wonderfully well spoken: “She’s so articulate she sounds even righter than she is.” She won a jury trial for PwC in which the demand, knocked down by Nicklin & Co to $120 million, had at one point been $345 million. “She sees the case thematically,” remarked one client, “from day one she is thinking about how to tell our story to a jury.” John Hickey is credited with “a great courtroom style readily accepted by judges - he really gets people to open their minds and talk.” A trial lawyer of universally praised skill, he has spent much of the past year involved in toxic tort litigation for clients 3M and 7-Eleven. “Entertaining and witty” in court, he can “destroy witnesses in a nice way,” said one source. The “really excellent” tobacco expert Steve Patton has spent the past year embroiled in the complications of the Master Settlement Agreement - the issue at stake is the adjustment of payments to states by companies who may lose market share to competitors through their participation in the scheme. Business-oriented litigator Garrett Johnson is described as a “very fine lawyer,” while Steve McCormick has had a dream year, successfully defending Honeywell in a case of potential billion-dollar exposure. The plaintiff asserted claims of fraud, negligent misrepresentation and fraudulent transfer in connection with the sale of an airbag and seatbelt business but was awarded no damages by a jury who found no liability for Honeywell. Thoughtful behind-the-scenes guy Bob Kopecky has also been the subject of sustained praise.

Clients/Work Highlights: In an appellate victory in August 2006, the team saw the affirmation of the dismissal of claims filed against GM in connection with its investment in GM Daewoo Auto & Technology - a case with a potential exposure of $1.6 billion. Other clients on the firm’s list include 3M; Aon; Dow Chemical and Motorola.

District of Columbia Ranking: 2 (Litigation)

The Firm: This practice is home to a "solid core of litigators who can be relied on to deliver excellent results." Though Kirkland & Ellis is not as strong in the District of Columbia as it is elsewhere, the firm is on the rise nationally, and the regional litigation practice has benefited from this nationwide momentum. Commercial strengths include products liability, antitrust, IP, defamation as well as insurance, where the group advised Nationwide Insurance on litigation relating to Hurricane Katrina. The group’s white-collar practice is also coming on strong, and it typically represents companies in large investigations and trials.

The Lawyers: "A prominent litigator on the national stage," Thomas Yannucci impresses with his ability to coordinate large-scale class action suits across a wide range of substantive areas. Described as “an engaging advocate,” he also ranges outside the commercial sphere, and leant his weight to the firm’s representation of Robin Lovitt in his appeal against the death penalty.

Clients/Work Highlights: The team has represented Honeywell; Braun; ConocoPhillips; Toyota; Barr Laboratories and Verizon. And on the criminal investigations side, it is handling matters for big names such as Fannie Mae and WR Grace.

New York Ranking: 3

The Firm: A national leader for litigation, the firm has a strong showing in the general commercial market, where its New York-based team deploys approximately 60 lawyers in corporate and securities litigation. The office received a major boost during 2006, when legendary national trial lawyer David Bernick branched out from his traditional Chicago base to bring his considerable talents to New York as well. Sources anticipate that his arrival will have a huge impact on the market. During the past year, the team won an emphatic victory on behalf of long-term client Morgan Stanley by securing the early dismissal of a substantial securities class action in the Southern District. In other matters, members successfully represented Honeywell in a derivative action lawsuit that culminated in the stockholder’s claim being dismissed. The group has also set down deep roots in the products liability, insurance and IP markets. In the latter area, it succeeded in having all claims brought by a New York hotelier against Expedia and its core business trademark dropped.

The Lawyers: Senior litigator and one of the firm’s founding partners, William Pratt maintains a close relationship with Verizon and Morgan Stanley, for whom he achieved a major victory in an arbitration involving Sears and pivoting on issues of tax refund allocation and liability.

Clients/Work Highlights: During 2006 the team scored a string of successes, including obtaining summary judgment for American Skandia in a case relating to the design, marketing, sales and distribution of variable annuity products. Clients range from GM and Kmart to Lucent Technologies and News Corporation.

Reprinted with permission from Chambers USA, America’s Leading Lawyers for Business 2007 -