The Great Potential of MBAs for Lawyers

When one thinks of a lawyer, most imagine the television kind. The Atticus Finches, the Perry Masons, the Jack McCoys. Those guys are not your behind-the-desk, paper shuffling types.They are trial lawyers.

And they do exist in real life, though it is not as easy as it looks on TV.

Trial lawyers are a special breed who think quickly on their feet, who can break down a situation and a person in real time. Of course, they only get to the breaking the witness point by first breaking down the mountains of information lurking in the background of any legal battle.

The group we’ve gathered here are giants in the courtroom. Their peers are in awe of how they operate, and their reputation brings them the best, most complicated, bet-the-company cases.

It is hard to put your finger on what makes a great trial attorney, but one thing is definitely true. Although toughness of mind is important, it’s impossible to bring home wins if the jury does not like you. We’ve highlighted some of their biggest cases and talked to several of them about what makes a trial lawyer a great one.

See The Trial Attorneys You Don’t Want To Face, But Who You Definitely Want On Your Side >>>

Phil Beck

Firm:Bartlit Beck

Awards: Recognized by The National Law Journalas Lawyer of the Year Runner-Up in 2001, for Top Defense Verdicts in 1994 and 1997, and as a “Winning Lawyer” in 1997 and 2003.

Greatest Hits:Stopped the recount, a victory that eventually won the presidency for George W. Bush. In 2003, he defended Bayer in a lawsuit over the drug Baycol, when the stakes were so high that a win for Bayer caused its stock price to jump 40% in half an hour. In November 2009, Beck handled a defense of Ernst & Young, fending off a claimed $300 million in damages.

What’s been said: “When you look at David Boies and Phil Beck, you are looking at two of the greatest lawyers in the United States. Neither one of these guys are fire and brimstone. They don’t invoke thunder and lightning and the Lord. They just cut away and cut away — and kill you with a thousand paper cuts.” — Arthur Miller, a litigation specialist at Harvard University School of Law

What Beck told us it takes to be a great trial lawyer: The ability to think like the jury and to “make complex matters understandable…without being condescending;” a talent for anticipating the ways the examination of the witness can go wrong and having a contingency plan for all of them.

Beck (left) consults with David Boies during Bush v. Gore.
David Bernick

Firm: Kirkland & Ellis

Awards: Recognized as a Leading Individual Trial Lawyer in Chambers Global, 2007; one of the Best Lawyers in America for Business Litigation by Woodward & White; and a Super Lawyer in Law & Politics World’s Media.

Greatest Hits: In 2009, shut down thousands of asbestos injury claims through defense of W.R. Grace. In the last twelve months, he also represented Dow Chemical in its M&A dispute with Rohm & Haas; on eve of trial, Rohm agreed to invest $3 billion in the combined company. He has also represented Apple in hearing loss litigation related to the iPod and General Electric and Philip Morris against injury claims.

What’s been said: “…a 5-foot-6 dynamo who has defended tobacco companies and breast-implant manufacturers with equal fervor.” — Forbes, Jan. 7, 2008

What Bernick told us it takes to be a great trial lawyer: The ability to conceptualize the themes that “marry the applicable law with what will be the key and undisputed facts in a way that “will resonate with jurors as embodying fundamental fairness.” The lawyer also must have “total conviction and the ability to show it while maintaining a demeanor of balance and credibility.”
David Boies

Firm:Boies, Schiller & Flexner

Awards: Named the Lawyer of the Year by the National Law Journal and runner-up for Person of the Year by Time Magazine in 2000. Also recognized as The Antitrust Lawyer of the Year by the New York Bar Association and Commercial Litigator of the Year by Who’s Who.

Greatest Hits:Eviscerated Microsoft in an antitrust case. He represented Al Gore in the litigation relating to the 2000 election and won $4 billion for American Express in an antitrust case against Visa and Microsoft. Boies is currently in trial in San Francisco, representing the plaintiffs in the Prop 8 trial.

What’s been said: “The Boies memory is one of the first things cited when people discuss his strengths. What’s most impressive about that gift–focused as it may be by the intensified concentration that his dyslexia demands–is Boies’ uncanny ability to recall a key fact, legal citation or piece of contradictory testimony at moments of the most intense pressure.” — Time Magazine, Dec. 25, 2000
Evan Chesler

Firm:Cravath

Awards: Recognized in Chambers USA 2009: America’s Leading Lawyers for Business; Best Lawyers In America – 2009; and as a Leading Trial Lawyer in US Legal 500 – 2008.

Greatest Hits:Defended IBM’s ALT key against patent-infringement claims, and joined Thomas Barr in IBM’s 13-year antitrust battle. Also represented Time Warner, Novartis, Alcoa, Xerox, and American Express in antitrust and intellectual property cases.

What’s been said: “He sits on top of one of the most successful law firms in the country, and he can talk to you almost like you’re a next-door neighbor.” — Former Alcoa VP Thomas Meek, Oct. 2009

What Chesler told us it takes to be a great trial lawyer: The ability “to understand people,” “to be sensitive to the audience and to the messages they are sending.” Diligent preparation is a requirement, but “preparation without keen attention to how you relate to the particular audience you are facing will not typically work.” And, when questioning witnesses, a great trial lawyer always adapts to the particular witness.
John Keker

Firm:Keker & Van Nest

Awards: Recognized as one of the 100 most influential lawyers in the United States by the National Law Journal in 2006, and was listed in every edition of Chambers USA and Best Lawyers In America for Criminal Defense and Business Litigation.

Greatest Hits: In one of his many intellectual property cases, Keker defended Google against Microsoft. Also known for prosecuting Oliver North in the Iran-Contra affair and defending scandalized financiers Frank Quattrone and Andrew Fastow.

What’s been said: Call around and ask lawyers and judges at random: Who’s the best lawyer in town? The answers are almost always the same:

“Well there’s Keker of course.” “You mean other than Keker? Well…” “John Keker. He’s gotta be No. 1.”

And so he is. John Keker, 59, is a trial lawyer. Not a criminal lawyer or a corporate lawyer or any other label you try to give him. He does trials. That’s it. — San Francisco Chronicle, March 4, 2003.

Keker (right) walks with client Frank Quattrone.
Stephen Neale

Firm:Cooley Godward Kronish

Awards: Named to Super Lawyers 2009, The Best Lawyers in America, and Chambers USA 2009.

Greatest Hits:Shifted the blame for massive flooding in Michigan from his client, Inland Steel, to mother nature. He successfully defended former McAfee general counsel Kent Roberts in his backdating-related trial and has also represented Walter Hewett and General Motors.

What’s been said: “Stephen Neal, he was smooth as butter… I know he didn’t come cheap.” — Juror in the McAfee trial.
John Quinn

Firm:Quinn Emanuel

Awards: Named “One of the World’s Leading Litigation Lawyers” by Euromoney Institutional Investor; “One of California’s Leading Litigators” by Chambers; and “One of the Top 3 Trial Lawyers of Choice by General Counsel in California” by California Law Business.

Greatest Hits:Defended Barbie-marker Mattel from copyright infringement by Bratz-maker MGA Entertainment. Also represented various hedge funds in the aftermath of bankruptcies by Enron and Parmalat.

What’s been said: “Caffeinated, aggressive & brash, esq.” — Fast Company, Aug. 7 2008.

Chambers magazine quotes a client saying, simply, “There is no other.”

What Quinn told us it takes to be a great trial lawyer: “[T]he ability to look calm and in control even when things are coming unglued” in the courtroom. Also, “all top trial lawyers have to have a good memory.”
Steve Susman
Firm:Susman Godfrey

Awards: Included in The Best Lawyers in Americafor 25 years running. Recognized as the “Leading Commercial Litigator in the World” in 2006 and 2007 by Who’s Who.

Greatest Hits: Made a name for himself with $550 million win in a landmark paper antitrust case. In 2009, Susman represented Indiana state employees who were awarded more than $42 million for improperly paid salaries. He and his partners are currently representing the unsecured creditors in the Chrysler bankruptcy. With only two months notice, tried (with son Harry) a multi-million dollar case for Candlewood Timber. He has represented Masimo, Texas Instruments, and vitamin purchasers in another huge antitrust case.

What’s been said: “He is like a voracious animal, and that is the feeling you get in his presence. He scares people on his own side. The opposition is often terrified.” –American Bar Association Journal, Feb. 2008

Keys To Susman’s Success: Colleagues say Susman can digest mountains of information with unbelievable speed. During trial, he wakes up at 4 am to have four full hours to prepare for the day. He likes to keep his practice lean — he instructs all of his lawyers to always be courteous to opposing counsel and witnesses and not fight over the small stuff.
Dan Webb
Firm:Winston & Strawn

Awards: Ranked as the number one litigator in the U.S. by Euromoney’s Guide to the World’s Leading Litigation Lawyers; as the top litigation expert in the U.S. by Guide to the World’s Leading Lawyers; and the top white-collar criminal defense attorney by Corporate Crime Reporter.

Greatest Hits: Busted corruption at all levels, up to an interrogation of Ronald Reaganduring the Iran-Contra Poindexter trials. He also worked the other side, representing major corporations like Microsoft, Philip Morris, and General Electric.

What’s been said: “Persuading jurors is his métier. Mr. Webb grew up in a farm town in western Illinois, the son of a postman, and projects a country charm that he says resonates with juries.” — The New York Times, June 13, 2004

What Webb told us it takes to be a great trial lawyer: Great trial lawyers are “zealots at taking things apart,” and one can never prepare too much. During trial, one must also be able to “know within half a second what you want to do and do it flawlessly.”

Dann Webb (left) speaks for former Illinois Gov. George Ryan during his racketeering trial.
Ted Wells

Firm:Paul Weiss

Awards: Named Lawyer of the Year in 2006 by The National Law Journal and repeatedly as one of the top 100 most influential lawyers and one of the top white-collar criminal defense lawyers in America.

Greatest Hits: Gave impassioned defense of CIA leaker Scooter Libby, who was eventually (and controversially) pardoned. Defended Citigroup against $30 billion fraud charges. Also represented financier Mike Milken, congressman Mike Espy, and Exxon Mobile.

What’s been said: “Before beginning his argument yesterday morning, he paced in front of the empty jury box. He stood in a corner –tall, athletic, mustachioed — like a fighter imaging the bout to come. Under the outwardly gentle guise you could see an inner toughness of someone who will use any combination of punches to win big.” –Washington Post, Feb. 21, 2007 (Scooter Libby trial)

What Wells told us it takes to be a great trial lawyer: The ability to “make the complex simple.” A great trial attorney must also have “excellent people skills” and be a “good story teller,” though one, of course, a jury finds credible.

Wells (right) watches over Scooter Libby during USA v. Scooter Libby.
Mary Jo White

Firm: Debevoise & Plimpton

Awards: Ranked in the top tier of trial lawyers by Chambers Global and as a “star individual” for white-collar crime and government investigations by Chambers USA. Also recognized for white-collar litigation by IFLR Benchmark Litigation Guide 2009and as a Leading Lawyer in The Legal 500 – 2009.

Greatest Hits:Went toe to toe with John Gotti as U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York. Also prosecuted high-profile cases from the 1993 World Trade Center terrorists and was heavily involved in the pursuit of the eventually pardoned Marc Rich.Since returning to private practice in 2002, she defended Timothy O’Brien against a libel action brought by Donald Trump, and also defended numerous companies under federal investigations.

What’s been said: “Invariably described as ‘smart’ and ‘tough,’ White is regarded as a relentless prosecutor — someone, in other words, criminals don’t relish running into.” — TIME, March 13, 2001

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