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Rainmaker Q&A: Kirkland & Ellis' James Hurst

James F. Hurst is a partner in Kirkland & Ellis LLP's Chicago office. He has more than 25 years of experience trying cases in areas ranging from antitrust to contract to criminal to intellectual property.

Hurst is a fellow of the prestigious American College of Trial Lawyers, an honor bestowed to attorneys considered by judges and peers to be among the very best trial lawyers in the country. He has also handled dozens of appeals including before the U.S. Supreme Court.

Additionally, Hurst has been widely recognized by legal industry media for his trial skills. For instance, The American Lawyer recently honored him as a "Litigator of the Year" finalist, noting that he won eight straight trials in the 18 months before the award, a feat it called "astounding." He is one of the few two-time winners of The American Lawyer's "Litigator of the Week" honors.

Q: What skill was most important for you in becoming a rainmaker?

A: Being lucky? Early in my career, I had the “foresight” to work closely with a young attorney who eventually became the general counsel of a major company — a company with lots of lawyers who eventually moved on to other companies and then clients. It might also help that I’m hypercompetitive (or so I’ve been told). Most clients appreciate a lawyer who makes the case their own, who fears losing maybe more than they do, and who happily endures long hours and sleepless nights if it means figuring out a way to win.

Q: How do you prepare a pitch for a potential new client?

A: I prefer to start digging into whatever problem the client is facing and then providing initial thoughts and advice. Brainstorming about solutions makes for a more engaging and productive meeting than a one-sided discussion “bragging” about resumes.

Q: Share an example of a time when landing a client was especially difficult, and how you handled it.

A: Once when I just started acting as a lead attorney, and probably looked too “young,” I landed a skeptical client by inviting them to call a competitor who I had recently faced at trial. I mostly crossed my fingers and hoped the opposing counsel would say something nice.

Q: What should aspiring rainmakers focus on when beginning their law careers?

A: There are lots of talented, creative lawyers out there. So to any young lawyers reading this, make sure you’re one of them. Sometimes, though, the easiest way to differentiate yourself is to respond quickly, directly, concisely and confidently to any client request. A super quick response (“I’m on it. Can I answer in the morning?”) means a lot to clients with a million things on their plate. And giving a direct, concise answer avoids the frustration that busy clients face when having to search for the answer in a long email with a big wind up.

Q: What’s the most challenging aspect of remaining a rainmaker?

A: Time management. Like most trial lawyers, I cannot tolerate handling any trial without first immersing myself in the facts, issues and evidence, and that takes time. Fortunately, I am surrounded by loads of super talented Kirkland lawyers who make this process easy.