The following is an excerpt from Practice Perspectives: Vault’s Guide to Legal Practice Areas.
Rajeev Muttreja, Partner—Issues & Appeals
Rajeev Muttreja focuses on appellate litigation, motions practice, and trial strategy in federal and state courts. He has argued before five different U.S. Courts of Appeals and has drafted briefs in the U.S. Supreme Court, many other federal and state appellate courts, and trial courts across the country. Rajeev has extensive experience defending False Claims Act cases, particularly within the health care industry. He also has significant experience with issues of federal jurisdiction, RICO, class actions, corporate governance, securities law, administrative law, the Fair Credit Reporting Act, the Anti-Terrorism Act, the Alien Tort Statute, and many other areas of law. Rajeev played a leading role on the team that won the landmark personal jurisdiction case Goodyear Dunlop Tires Operations v. Brown in the U.S. Supreme Court. Rajeev also maintains an active pro bono practice. He has worked extensively with the National Immigrant Justice Center and is a member of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit’s pro bono panel.
Describe your practice area and what it entails.
Most legal disputes can be broken down into two basic questions. First, what happened—or, in other words, what are the facts? And second, what should the result be under the law? A large part of litigation involves answering the first question by developing and analyzing a factual record. But appellate litigators focus principally on the second question. This makes our practice much more law focused and, in a way, a bit like law school. A major part of the practice is, as you might expect, litigating appeals in the state and federal courts. This involves litigating appeals on the merits, by explaining in briefs and oral argument why a lower court’s decision is wrong (or right). But it also involves making the case for (or against) discretionary review by the U.S. Supreme Court or other appellate courts by explaining why a particular case warrants the court’s intervention. It frequently involves amicus briefs, as well. Also, at Jones Day, our appellate litigators are frequently instrumental parts of trial teams. We work on trial-level motions practice—such as motions to dismiss, class certification motions, and summary judgment motions—and a case’s legal strategy more generally. We also frequently counsel clients on legal issues before litigation has been filed. Often, our work involves not only substantive questions of law, but also procedural matters, such as jurisdiction. The common thread through this all is the analysis of complex (and frequently unsettled) legal questions, whatever the setting—and whatever the subject matter. Although one naturally develops areas of expertise over time, we are all generalists.
What types of clients do you represent?
I work with a broad range of Jones Day clients. I have frequently represented clients in the health care industry, but the firm’s clients and my work run the gamut of industries. And though our clients are frequently large companies (as is typical with large law firms), I have also often worked with smaller organizations and individuals.
What types of cases/deals do you work on?
I work on complex litigation matters through all stages—from the start of a lawsuit through to the end of the appellate process. I enjoy working on more than just appeals because it adds procedural variety to what is already a substantively diverse practice. Many times, I will get involved with cases that have some procedural wrinkle (or where we may want to introduce one).
I have a lot of experience with the False Claims Act, which is a federal statute that allows private individuals to file lawsuits on the government’s behalf claiming the improper payment of government funds. False Claims Act cases often raise thorny issues that call for creative thinking. For example, in one of these cases filed against a laboratory testing company, we recently won a motion to dismiss with a novel reading of a statutory provision that had received little attention in the case law. In another, we represented a pharmaceutical company in a case about “off-label” prescriptions (prescriptions written by doctors for uses not approved by the FDA) that raised interesting questions about the First Amendment, proximate causation, and Medicare regulations. In addition to advising on the company’s legal strategy, I worked on motions to dismiss and for summary judgment that whittled down the case, which ultimately settled on favorable terms. Now, I am handling follow-up litigation filed against the company under RICO, where there has been a flurry of initial motion practice.
I also frequently work on cases involving the federal securities laws and issues of corporate governance, such as merger challenges, alleged breaches of fiduciary duty, and claims of securities fraud. I do a lot of work with the Fair Credit Reporting Act, as well, specifically for one of the leading consumer reporting agencies. And my practice also involves white collar criminal defense work, general commercial litigation, and much more.
Pro bono work is also a big part of my practice. I have worked on many immigration, habeas, and §1983 cases, in particular. Currently, I have a case in the Second Circuit that concerns whether my client is a U.S. citizen. I am fighting for his right to remain in the U.S., where he has spent most of his life and where his kids all live, so the stakes are high.
How did you choose this practice area?
Both in law school and then especially during my clerkship with the wonderful Judge John M. Walker, Jr. of the Second Circuit, I found that I loved analyzing and writing about complicated legal issues—and that I felt this way regardless of the substantive area. Each case and issue was like a puzzle twice over—first in unpacking the law and then in presenting an analysis clearly and concisely. I decided I wanted a practice that would let me focus on that type of work, which was my favorite part of any case. At the same time, I did not want a practice that focused exclusively on appellate litigation. I liked the different ways in which you need to think about issues at each stage of the process, and I also liked still doing some more “traditional” litigation work. Jones Day’s Issues & Appeals practice couldn’t have been a better fit.
What is a typical day like and/or what are some common tasks you perform?
I’ll spend at least part of any day talking to my colleagues about our strategy in various matters—sometimes my own cases, sometimes theirs—and counseling clients. Often, much of my day will be spent writing or editing briefs or legal memos. But I’ll also sometimes spend a day researching an issue or reviewing a record, particularly when trying to figure out our best arguments on a point. And I will often moot colleagues preparing for oral argument or prepare for argument myself. I also try to stay abreast of the latest developments in the appellate courts, which often can affect a pending matter.
What training, classes, experience, or skills development would you recommend to someone who wishes to enter your practice area?
A judicial clerkship, particularly at an appellate court, is invaluable if not essential because it will improve your writing and analytical skills immeasurably and also give you unparalleled insight into how courts operate and how judges think. That insight is something clients seek. I also think it’s useful to have taken a good number of doctrinal classes in law school. Familiarity with different areas of law pays huge dividends when you are practicing. But it’s most important that you are a good writer. Anything that improves your writing will be worthwhile preparation.
What do you like best about your practice area?
It never feels routine. Every case, every issue, and every day offer something new because I’m almost always working on complicated, unsettled issues. As a result, I feel like I’m always learning, and my work is never boring.
What misconceptions exist about your practice area?
That it’s an isolating practice, where we just sit in an ivory tower. To be sure, the work can be solitary. But the practice is actually quite collaborative. Working through a difficult issue with others (and particularly with my brilliant colleagues at Jones Day) will almost always yield new insights. Even when you think you’ve figured out the winning argument, talking about it will help you figure how best to articulate it, and hearing others’ reactions may flag a counterargument that you hadn’t previously seen. And at Jones Day, in particular, we are always working closely with our other litigation groups.
What is unique about your practice area at your firm?
Many appellate litigation groups are “star” models, largely oriented around one or two superstars. The Issues & Appeals group at Jones Day isn’t. We are quite large—more than 80 attorneys—and very committed to developing and maintaining a broad and deep talent base. We frequently hire more outgoing Supreme Court clerks than any other law firm, and we also regularly hire outgoing clerks from other courts around the country. These lawyers have no shortage of great opportunities, and we wouldn’t be able to attract and keep so many of them if there wasn’t enough interesting work to go around. But there is. Part of it is because of the firm’s size. But it is also because of Jones Day’s structure and ethos of being one firm worldwide. We lack the disincentives that are typically present in large firms to work flowing among practices or offices. As a result, it is common for a litigator in one practice area to bring an issues and appeals attorney into a matter—and, often, for that attorney to be in a different office. This allows us to have issues and appeals attorneys across the country and also generates substantive diversity in our work—so that an attorney in New York (or Boston, or Minneapolis, etc.) can work on cases more typically seen in Washington, DC, etc. And our group’s breadth and size has also given us deep roots at Jones Day, where we are well integrated into the firm. This has served our clients very well and given our attorneys many terrific opportunities.
What are some typical tasks that a junior lawyer would perform in this practice area?
A junior lawyer’s tasks in this area are not all that different from those of a senior lawyer, which is part of what attracted me to the practice initially. Research, writing, and analysis can only be subdivided so much. You do more research when you are first starting your career, and you will more often prepare initial drafts of briefs instead of editing others’ drafts, but the basic feel of the work is the same.