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Kirkland & Ellis Named Law Firm of the Year at American Lawyer Industry Awards

Buoyed by a major leap in revenue, Kirkland took home a major award as industry leaders gathered to celebrate the past year and look forward to the next.  

The American Lawyer reflected on a year full of change, growth and innovation Wednesday night at the first American Lawyer Industry Awards in New York.

Kirkland & Ellis took home the award for Best Law Firm of the Year, surpassing a group of competitors comprised of Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton; Cooley; Cravath, Swaine & Moore; Davis Polk & Wardwell; Hogan Lovells; and Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison.

An incredible 19 percent leap in revenue in 2017 helped Kirkland pass the $3 billion mark and overtake Latham & Watkins as the biggest law firm in the world, but that was just one facet of a remarkable run. The firm delivered more than 126,000 hours of pro bono work, including its representation of transgender members of the military in striking down President Donald Trump’s ban on their service, and its work helping overturn Maryland’s segregated higher-education system.

Kirkland handled Seadrill Ltd.’s $20 billion restructuring and Energy Future Holdings Corp.’s $18.8 billion merger with Sempra Energy. The firm delivered a series of victories for General Motors in litigation tied to its ignition switch and other recalls, and represented Allergan in a host of investigations, inquiries and civil suits related to its sale and marketing of opioid painkillers. Amid all of that, the firm also maintained its spot atop league tables for M&A, and continued to capitalize on the private equity boom.

Grace Speights of Morgan, Lewis & Bockius was named Attorney of the Year for her work tied to the #MeToo movement.

“We could not have done this without the many clients who are willing to engage us to handle some of the most sensitive employment matters they will ever have,” she said.

Meanwhile, The American Lawyer’s Lifetime Achievement Award honorees—Cesar Alvarez of Greenberg Traurig, A.B. Culvahouse Jr. of O’Melveny & Myers, Jamie Gorelick of Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale and Dorr, Eric Holder of Covington & Burling, Mary Ann Hynes of Dentons, and Richard Riley of Nelson Mullins Riley & Scarborough—and Law Firm Distinguished Leader honoree Warren Gorrell of Hogan Lovells were all on hand.

“This is an interesting time for our nation,” Holder said, “and we have the capacity to ensure that the rule of law is not eroded.”

He echoed Martin Luther King Jr.’s notion that the moral arc of the universe bends toward justice, urging those in attendance to “figure out a way to put your hands on that arc and pull it toward justice.”

Culvahouse shared a similar sentiment, telling the crowd that “those of us fortunate enough to practice at the very pinnacle of our profession have a great duty to serve our country.”

And Alvarez, reflecting on his childhood as a refugee from Cuba and his father’s insistence that the family would repay the United States for what it had provided his family, said, “In the winter of my life, when I look back, I can say that we as a family fulfilled that promise.”

The rest of the winners from the event included:

Legal Services Innovation Award

Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe makes innovation an important part of its approach from top to bottom. Through Orrick Labs, the firm is working to help develop the legal technology it can’t find in the market, ensuring that it can stay ahead of the curve even as the industry continues to change.

Best Use of Technology

Norton Rose Fulbright‘s in-house data analysis platform, NSight, can bypass the need for forensic consultants, bringing all the necessary information closer to its legal team. They firm has used NSight to simplify the defense of complex litigation, communicate among multiple teams and client contacts, measure against industry benchmarks, analyze risk and navigate data in a secure, privileged environment.  It’s just the type of technology that’s helping to push law firms forward.

Best Alternative Legal Services Provider

In seeking a legal services provider outside the traditional paradigm, the organization uprooting the old model was the clear winner. Through its landmark deal with DXC Technology, UnitedLex helped reduce legal operating costs by 30 percent, and may have created a new path forward for in-house departments looking for change.

Best Client/Law Firm Team

In 2016, 7-Eleven had over 10,000 properties in the U.S. and Canada and a small team of real estate attorneys to handle its real estate portfolio. With its real estate portfolio expanding, changes needed to be made, which led to a collaboration with Seyfarth Shaw that allowed for uniformity in how real estate for the convenience store chain is handled across the country. In addition to handling a large share of the real estate portfolio, Seyfarth streamlined the process by creating a hub that exclusively works on title and survey review for 7-Eleven.

Best Law Firm Business Team

Using data analytics, creative fee arrangements, a business intelligence dashboard and more, Morgan, Lewis & Bockius‘ 40-member business team is bringing together staff members with backgrounds in pricing, project management, finance, math, IT, process mapping and design to benefit both the firm and its clients. Together, they’re building the relationships that form the foundation of every good firm.

Best Mentor: In-House Legal Department

Ask the people who’ve worked with Apple associate general counsel Jim Fowler over the years and they’ll tell you he leads by example. His work ethic is enough to leave an impression on those coming up behind him, but he goes above and beyond by devoting time and energy to improving the careers of his colleagues, even when they move on to different workplaces. As one former colleague said, he’s “never too busy to answer a question and always had an open-door policy.”

Best Mentor: Law Firm

As the longtime head of his firm’s professional development program, Joshua Vincent of Hinshaw & Culbertson is known as the dean of Hinshaw University, which has seen roughly 500 attorneys pass through its doors under his guidance. Over the years, he’s designed a program that sends every new attorney at the firm to weeklong boot camps for basic skills and trial advocacy, building better lawyers and getting their careers off to a strong start.

National Boutique/Specialty Litigation Department of the Year

Keker, Van Nest & Peters may be considerably smaller than most of the firms it goes up against, but it gets big results. Those results include defending Tour de France winner Lance Armstrong in a $100 million False Claims Act case that settled for a small fraction of that sum; winning a nationwide injunction against President Trump’s attempt to defund sanctuary jurisdictions; and obtaining a settlement on behalf of Lyft that allows its drivers to remain classified as independent contractors. When it comes to litigation, the firm shows that size isn’t everything.

Regional Litigation Departments of the Year

California: After a former engineer at Uber published allegations of sexual harassment during her time with the company, Uber turned to Covington & Burling and Eric Holder to conduct the ensuing investigation. Uber’s board unanimously approved the firm’s recommendations. And when the Department of Justice tried to link federal funding to a jurisdiction’s willingness to cooperate with ICE on immigration matters, the firms’ lawyers secured a national injunction in the Central District of California. In a powerful opinion, the firm succeeded on each argument it put forward on behalf of the city of Los Angeles.

Florida: Holland & Knight‘s lawyers secured a $23 million result for the estate of Subway’s founder in a real estate dispute, protected the Dominican Republic’s water resources agency from a $35 million breach of contract suit, and defended Nicklaus Children’s Hospital and a group of physicians against claims that they tried to build a hospital empire at the expense of independent physician groups. The firm also defended Norwegian Cruise Lines and its CEO in a $90 million defamation suit, and secured better treatment for mentally ill inmates incarcerated by the Florida Department of Corrections.

Georgia: Greenberg Traurig won summary judgment for pharmaceutical client Sandoz in a case with implications for companies duties regarding medication guides, and is national counsel for Valeant Pharmaceuticals in cases over its talcum powder product, securing a series of positive results in various jurisdictions. And in a pro bono case that took five years to complete, the firm got a favorable appellate result on behalf of the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, which faced claims of breach of contract and fraud.

New Jersey: More than 30 years ago, Blank Rome became the first out-of-state firm to open an office in New Jersey, and today the firm has established itself as a litigation leader in the Garden State. Over the past couple of years, the firm helped TGI Friday’s overturn a 13-million-member class certification in a case over drink pricing, secured a precedential decision on personal jurisdiction on behalf of WolfBlock, successfully defended PennyMac Loan Services from a consumer class action, and received favorable settlements for pro bono clients in civil rights cases.

Pennsylvania: Over the past year, Morgan Lewis has been at the center of the conversation on sexual harassment defined by the #MeToo movement. Among other investigations over the past year, the firm handled NPR’s review of allegations against its senior vice president of news, ultimately making public its finished report and becoming a leader on the issue. The firm also secured for Uber dismissal of an antitrust suit from Philadelphia’s taxi drivers, a case that was affirmed at the Third Circuit. And following a Supreme Court ruling on juveniles sentenced to life without parole, the firm brought hope to two men that they might one day live outside of a prison.

Texas: Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher is a national firm, but its Texas litigation practice functions like a local one. Among its large local clients, the firm co-led the defense of AT&T’s $108 billion acquisition of Time Warner against an antitrust challenge from the Department of Justice, and secured a victory for Fort Worth-based BNSF Railway in a multibillion-dollar price-fixing class action. The firm also won a take-nothing judgment in an $8 billion bet-the-company arbitration for construction clients Bechtel Corp. and Jacobs Engineering, and convinced the EPA to voluntarily dismiss all Clean Air Act claims against Texas-based Luminant Energy.

Global Legal Awards

Finance Winner: Oi S.A.’s restructuring

Litigation/Dispute Resolution Winner: Dow/DuPont antitrust efforts

M&A Winner: CVS’s acquisition of Aetna

Pro Bono Winner: Reed Smith’s efforts to address refugee crises

Diversity Champion

White & Case

Pro Bono Champion

Jenner & Block