Award Chambers & Partners

America's Leading Lawyers for Business 2008: Litigation: General Commercial

Chambers & Partners has compiled its 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' 2008 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: 

Illinois Ranking: Tier 1

The Firm: A "formidable" presence on the Illinois legal landscape, Kirkland arguably presents "the preeminent litigation practice in Chicago." The firm's strengths are numerous — sources rave about "professional, responsive practitioners," "excellent advocacy skills" and "superb trial preparation." Above all, however, the "remarkably deep bench" commands attention. One peer explained: "They have a huge team, and the standard is consistently high — I have never encountered a mediocre lawyer at Kirkland." The range of talent makes this a "well-rounded practice" that clients trust to handle cases across numerous areas. Well known for commercial litigation, the firm's litigation expertise extends to cover antitrust, appellate work, class actions, ERISA litigation, insurance coverage and products liability.

The Lawyers: Richard Godfrey has "an extraordinary, encyclopedic knowledge of the law and is a consummate appellate lawyer," clients assert. Known for his experience in class actions, he has acted for GM on several significant cases and is currently defending the company in a class action lawsuit that alleged certain vehicle manufacturers had conspired to prevent the sale of less expensive new Canadian vehicles to American consumers. John Hickey focuses on jury trials and is widely respected. He has developed a practice in IP and environmental matters and mass tort cases. Emily Nicklin is a revered trial lawyer. Known for her strength in accounting-related work, she is also active in professional liability, products liability, breach of contract, and ERISA cases. Market authorities agree that "she is highly visible in cases, and great at what she does." Steve Patton led a team of lawyers acting for R.J. Reynolds and the other major tobacco manufacturers to dismiss lawsuits arising out of the Master Settlement Agreement entered into between the major tobacco companies and 52 states and other governmental bodies. He is also experienced in products liability cases. Clients are delighted with the performance of David Bernick, explaining that "he is wonderful in court — like a steamroller." Steven Harper is also a highly rated business litigator. His practice encompasses antitrust, class actions, consumer fraud, government contracts, insurance coverage, professional negligence and breach of contract. "Effective, efficient and cooperative," Garrett Johnson receives positive feedback. Clients are impressed with his courtroom abilities, declaring: "He is forthright and does a fine job." He recently defended Motorola against preference and fraudulent transfer claims that had been brought against the company in 2001 by the official committee of unsecured creditors in the Iridium bankruptcy. Bob Kopecky is heralded for his expertise in securities litigation; he is also well versed in contract, business tort and shareholder derivative cases. Steve McCormick recently defended Honeywell in a dispute arising from the sale of a business by Honeywell to a competitor.

Clients/Work Highlights: The firm defended GM in an action in which plaintiffs challenged GM's right to unilaterally modify health care benefits provided to the firm's retirees, their spouses or surviving spouses, and qualifying dependents. The firm is also acting for BP in a high-profile race discrimination and business conspiracy case.

District of Columbia Ranking: Tier 2

The Firm: This firm's reputation for harboring the very toughest of litigators precedes it. The DC office — which comprises 110 litigators, of which 30 are partners — may not carry quite the same clout as Kirkland's Chicago head office, but the firm is adept at pooling its resources to realise a potent cross-office, trial capacity. IP, antitrust, and products liability are often on the menu at this "tenacious firm," which recently won a huge contract case on behalf of client BASF — defendant Lyondell was ordered to pay $170 million by a New Jersey state court. Other key clients on the DC office's impressive roster include Honeywell, Siemens, Time Warner and Boeing; in the investigatory sphere, its clients include Fannie Mae.

The Lawyers: Despite the workload involved in acting as chairman of Kirkland's worldwide management committee, the "hugely talented" Thomas Yannucci remains notable in a litigation context. Especially active in the media world, some of his greatest successes involve keeping clients out of court — hence his slipping beneath some peers' radars. Nonetheless, as one contemporary put it, "he'd be on anyone's list of the country's top 100 litigators."

Litigation: General Commercial: The Elite
New York Ranking: Tier 3

The Firm: Sources agree that while Kirkland & Ellis is relatively new to the New York market, "it's definitely building a presence in the city." Last year, the firm relocated David Bernick, one of its top litigation partners and rainmakers in Chicago, to develop its 240-lawyer office in New York: this move seems to have already paid dividends, as sources note that "the firm has significantly increased in stature over the last year." The litigation group now stands at approximately 70 "talented trial lawyers who are all extremely comfortable in court." The group is currently representing UBS in three lawsuits pertaining to short-sale transactions in equity securities. It is also defending the CEO and several directors of Loral Space Communications in a derivative suit and class action suit alleging breach of fiduciary duties in connection with an affiliated transaction in Delaware Chancery Court. The firm has a blossoming healthcare and drug litigation practice, and is representing GlaxoSmithKline in litigation alleging that the diabetes treatment drug Avandia causes heart attacks. Clients say: "If you're going to take a case to trial, this is the firm to do it."

The Lawyers: Spearheading the firm's New York office, "widely renowned and established" David Bernick has a national reputation as an aggressive trial lawyer who handles complex litigation in the areas of RICO, pharmaceutical products, asbestos restructuring, tobacco cost recovery and medical devices. He is particularly recommended for product liability cases, and represents large tobacco firms and Detroit automotive companies in high-stakes litigation. Peers agree that "he pushes hard from start to finish." Jay Lefkowitz is endorsed by sources for being thoroughly prepared and "hitting all the right points in the courtroom." He devotes his time to commercial, securities and white-collar litigation, and rejoined the firm three years ago after taking a leave of absence in 2001 to work as deputy assistant to President Bush for domestic policy.

Reprinted with permission from Chambers USA, America's Leading Lawyers for Business 2008 —