In the News Verdicts & Settlements

Modest Man of Steel

A former steel mill summer employee, now a high-flying state, federal and appellate advocate, Jeffrey Davidson  fights for the little guy and wins.

"I have wanted to be a lawyer for as long as I can remember," Davidson, partner at Los Angeles' Kirkland & Ellis, says.

But his modest roots, working summers in the steel mills of Chicago, taught him about the place of the little guy in the big world.

For Davidson, the most significant aspect of his recent victory in the Cable & Computer Technology v. Lockheed Sanders case was that a small company was able to assert its rights against "big companies with big money." And win.

Growing up in an industrial area of Chicago, Davidson dreamed from an early age of becoming a defense lawyer. 1950's television fare detailing the heroic trial exploits of litigators sealed Davidson's fate.

"My favorite show was 'The Defenders," he says.

Davidson's position as defense counsel with Kirkland & Ellis was his first permanent job.

"Prior to that, I worked every summer between school semesters, usually in the steel mills of Chicago," he said.

According to Davidson, this background in the steel mills paid off in some surprising ways.

"Maybe this is why I was once hired [as counsel] by International Harvester, at one time a steel producer," he says.

Davidson's road to the courthouse began at Illinois' Wabash University with an undergraduate degree in science. He also attended New York's Columbia University, where he earned an undergraduate degree in engineering. He continued on to Indiana University School of Law, where he obtained his law degree in 1973.

Davidson's undergraduate degrees in science and engineering have come in handy in his law practice, he says.

"[Although I have] no real specialty in terms of a substantive area of law, many of the cases have a significant technical aspect," he says.

This technical background was necessary in a patent infringement case, in which he represented an international communications provider. The case involved a dispute over the development of a global cellular phone system. He has worked on other intellectual property cases dealing with missiles, genetic sequencing and eye medications.

Davidson notes a number of achievements in his drive to do right by his clients. He was counsel for the world's largest satellite television provider in a federal antitrust case. He was also counsel to clients in the defense, automotive and oil industries on antitrust issues.

Davidson does not limit his practice to anti-trust matters, however, pursuing a number of mass tort and product liability matters, as well. His cases have involved products as varied as helicopter engines, tobacco and breast implants. Davidson also represented a major defense contractor in an environmental lawsuit.

Davidson says he never has developed a specific practice specialty.

"[I practice] business-oriented trial work, including contracts, securities, antitrust, intellectual property, insurance coverage, mass tort, environmental, real estate, etc.," he says.

Although varied in his practice areas, Davidson never faltered in his focus on defending clients.

Fresh out of law school, Davidson joined Kirkland & Ellis, where he became a partner by 1978. His commercial litigation cases come from all parts of the United States, so he maintains bar licenses in Illinois, Indiana and the District of Columbia, as well as California. He serves as a member of Kirkland & Ellis' management committee.

Davidson says he has enjoyed the variety and challenge of his career in law. The highlight of his career as an advocate was arguing two appeals before the U.S. Supreme Court. He has tried more than 30 cases in a number of courts.

"[The] senior trial lawyers at Kirkland & Ellis taught me an enormous amount," he says.

Davidson also has argued cases before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th, 7th, 8th, 9th, 10th, 11th and District of Columbia circuits as well as the Ohio Supreme Court, Maryland Court of Special Appeals and the California and Illinois courts of appeal.

He also boasts significant experience in arbitration, including arguing significant international matters.

Davidson recently argued a case in which he represented the largest manufacturer of communications satellites in a matter involving a satellite cellular phone system for large regions of Asia and Africa. The case is pending before the London Court of International Arbitration.

When Davidson considers which qualities help him succeed in the practice of law, modesty overtakes him.

"I doubt that I'm really in a good position to judge this," he says.

Reprinted with permission from Verdicts & Settlements,  June 20, 2001.