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2 Firms Steal GC Hearts In Health, Pharma

Two BigLaw behemoths have tapped their deep benches of talent to become the most-used and most-recommended sources of legal counsel in the health care and pharmaceutical industries, respectively, according to a new survey of general counsel.

Jones Day, the largest U.S. law firm in the recently released Law360 400, emerged atop the health care field in the 2014 BTI Client Relationship Scorecard report from The BTI Consulting Group (Wellesley, Mass.). And Kirkland & Ellis LLP, the fifth-largest U.S. firm, bested all pharmaceutical practice rivals in interviews with 500 corporate counsel at Fortune 1000 and large companies, according to BTI.

The firms were named “powerhouses” based partly on their ability to serve as the leading suppliers of legal services for the largest number of corporations.

"It does give you an advantage, because a large firm is likely to have more relationships," said BTI President Michael Rynowecer, who cautioned that quality is nonetheless more important than quantity.

Jones Day, with more than 1,700 attorneys, is able to leverage not just a sizable health practice, but also a huge roster of experts whose broad legal specialties, such as antitrust and employment, are often implicated in health care policy and lawsuits.

Coupled with health industry experience that goes back a quarter-century, that full-service staff helps the firm consistently deliver, health practice co-chief James R. Dutro said.

“It’s kind of easy and natural for us to be able to serve clients — and serve really a broad scope of their needs — because it’s been part of the firm. We’re not like many firms trying to build a health practice or learn the health care industry,” Dutro said.

At Kirkland, where the lawyer head count tops 1,400, partner Jay P. Lefkowitz said the core pharmaceutical practice is buttressed by attorneys with prowess in mergers and acquisitions, white collar investigations, the False Claims Act and appellate litigation.

”We have made a real effort to expand our work in the pharma arena. We try to support pharma companies in several different practice areas,” Lefkowitz said.

The scorecard’s second key metric is the frequency with which firms are recommended by clients. For Kirkland, it hasn’t hurt that the pharmaceutical practice in recent years scored epic product liability wins before the U.S. Supreme Court in Pliva v. Mensing and Mutual v. Bartlett.

”Recently I have had a lot of appeals in life science cases for companies that I haven't traditionally worked with,” Lefkowitz said. “I think this is just serendipity — I was fortunate to be in the right place at the right time and had the chance to argue Mensing and Bartlett."

Of course, relatively few cases have the potential to set nationwide precedents, so making clients happy usually has little to do with splashy, news-making affairs.

“I tend to think that our business grows more through word of mouth than headline-grabbing results,” Dutro said.

The BTI scorecard contained second and third tiers of firms that also earned lots of business and praise from clients, and the highest finishers typically were also extremely large. In health care, for example, the second tier of “leaders” consisted of BakerHostetler, Littler Mendelson PC and Reed Smith LLP — all in the top 25 of the Law360 400.

In pharmaceuticals, there were two firms in the second tier: Mayer Brown LLP, the 30th-largest U.S. firm, and Butler Snow O'Mara Stevens & Cannada PLLC, a well-known smaller firm that clocked in at No. 159 on Law360’s list.

While size matters, Lefkowitz gave a nod to rivals with much smaller footprints, saying some outfits with just a few dozen lawyers were doing impressive work.

“There are some really superb boutique firms in this space,” Lefkowitz said.

If that knowledge isn’t enough to keep the giant firms on their toes, there is also the knowledge that this year’s results represented a major shake-up from 2009, the last time the client relationship survey was conducted.

For example, the previous report’s pharmaceuticals section had three top finishers: Bartlit Beck Herman Palenchar & Scott LLP, Patterson Belknap Webb & Tyler LLP, and Shook Hardy & Bacon LLP, while Kirkland made only the honor roll. This time, Kirkland took the mantle while Bartlit Beck and Shook Hardy dropped to the honor roll and Patterson Belknap disappeared entirely.

In health care, Bryan Cave LLP and London & Amburn PC tied atop the 2009 scorecard, but this year, neither made the cut.