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The Appellate Hot List: Kirkland & Ellis

First impressions are everything. When it comes to appeals, Kirkland & Ellis partner Christopher Landau and the rest of the appellate team strive to impress judges in the introductions to briefs. "If you look at our briefs, we always have an introduction that is a more thematic approach, to try to tell the judges what is going on here from a 30,000-feet perspective before you get into the nitty-gritty of the case," said Landau, who leads the firm's appellate practice. "We not only make the substantive, winning arguments, but we help put everything in context."

Kirkland appellate attorneys grabbed impressive wins in recent disputes that range from constitutional law to contracts. In a long-running fight that began in 2008, Kirkland represented a group of federal judges pro bono in a fight over judicial pay. "It really became a case about a broken promise," Landau said.

The Kirkland team faced an uphill battle. The U.S. Supreme Court had ruled in a class action years ago that the Constitution's compensation clause, forbidding pay cuts for judges, didn't apply to promised future pay raises. Last year, the full U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit determined Congress violated the compensation clause. In April, the high court declined to review the Federal Circuit decision — which meant a pay increase for most members of the federal judiciary.

"I was extraordinarily honored to be approached by these judges to bring the lawsuit," Landau said. "It's not something that a practicing lawyer gets to do every day, and it presented its own unique challenges."

Kirkland partner Mark Holscher and a team of trial attorneys vindicated actor Don Johnson in a contract dispute with Rysher Entertainment Inc. over the copyright to his Nash Bridges TV series. The Kirkland team succeeded at the trial level — the jury awarded $23.2 million in damages to Johnson — and Landau protected the win in the California Court of Appeal for the Second Appellate District.

Landau teamed up with Wiley Rein partner David Weinberg to challenge a biological opinion by the National Marine Fisheries Service that called for limits on certain pesticides. Ultimately the Fourth Circuit reverse the district court's ruling and vacated the report. It went further to instruct the district court to remand the agency. "I think we get some of the most difficult cases in every imaginable subject matter," Landau said. "What we really do then is try to explain to judges not only why the law requires them to rule in our favor, but why they should want to rule in our favor and why it makes sense."