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Overview

In a litigation practice, lawyers represent clients in a range of disputes, which can be either civil or criminal. Depending on the case, litigators will counsel clients through the pleadings stage, at trial, in alternative dispute resolution, or during internal investigations. Among the tasks that a litigator may perform are researching issues and writing memorandums; doing such discovery work as completing document review, drafting and responding to pleadings, engaging in meet and confers, and taking or defending depositions; preparing for and going to trial; conducting internal investigations; drafting and submitting amicus briefs on behalf of a client or organization, etc. Litigation is a broad career path that offers opportunities to work in a various areas, including—but not limited to—antitrust, appellate, bankruptcy, criminal law, environmental law, general commercial, insurance, housing, human rights, labor and employment, media, patents and intellectual property, product liability and mass torts, securities, white collar, and more. Those within large law firms will often practice general commercial litigation through which they advise companies on their litigation matters. At some law firms, litigators will operate as generalists, taking on a range of matters and not specializing in a specific subspecialty. Many litigators apply to become judicial law clerks to gain insight into the judicial process.

Featured Q&A's
Get an insider's view on working in Litigation from real lawyers in the practice area.
Lina Bensman, Partner
Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton LLP

Describe your practice area and what it entails.

As a litigator, I help clients anticipate, prevent, plan for, and resolve disputes. This requires me to be creative, innovative, persistent, and as persuasive as humanly possible. The courtroom/argument work of litigation (as seen on TV) is challenging and very fun, but it’s just as important to my practice that I be able to help my clients understand evolving legal threats and capitalize on new perspectives and ideas. The strategic advice that I provide to my clients is just as important to them as my ability to dominate a deposition or prepare a killer brief.

What types of clients do you represent?

I represent a variety of clients, including natural resources companies, airlines, manufacturers, financial institutions, retailers, and individuals. Recently, I have been part of teams representing Petrobras, Brazil’s flagship energy company; Bosch, a German multinational engineering and technology company; and LATAM, the largest airline in Latin America.

What types of cases/deals do you work on?

Many of my matters are class actions, and some involve multiple related actions proceeding simultaneously in different forums (including foreign tribunals). I also advise clients on commercial disputes that involve direct counterparties, both when the disputes are in active litigation and before litigation commences, when the counterparties are working to resolve their disputes amicably (albeit within the framework of the law).

How did you choose this practice area?

I spent some time dabbling (especially as a summer associate, when I requested and received assignments from as many different practice areas as possible within Cleary), but in the end, litigation is where I have the most fun. As satisfying as it can be to find workable compromises and amicable solutions, I particularly enjoy the more aggressive and action-oriented aspects of my practice. Courtrooms are not quite the Thunderdome, but for those (like me) who enjoy competition and debate, they are great places to be.

What is a typical day like and/or what are some common tasks you perform?

Every day feels different, but the majority of my work is characterized by collaboration—with my colleagues, with my clients (with whom I develop the strategy and deepen my understanding of the facts and stakes), and sometimes even with opposing counsel (for example, when settling a matter). I spend a lot of time talking through factual and legal questions with others, and then turning our shared understanding into some kind of written product, like a brief or an interview outline.

What training, classes, experience, or skills development would you recommend to someone who wishes to enter your practice area?

I am somewhat of a generalist (though with a focus in particular on commercial disputes and complex cases), and I find that curiosity and intellectual flexibility are particularly useful. Someone with a more general litigation practice should be able to learn new things effectively and pivot when the need arises, so I would recommend not being too locked in to specializing (especially at such an early stage) in any substantive area of the law, but instead making sure to understand the process of litigation and the rules that govern discovery and trial practice. I would couple that with a few classes in challenging but fascinating areas of the law, ideally totally distinct areas, to focus specifically on the skill of learning new things.

What are some typical tasks that a junior lawyer would perform in this practice area?

Junior team members on my matters often take on the role of subject matter experts, either in a particular area of the law or in some part of the key factual context. This naturally leads to opportunities to draft relevant sections of briefs, letters, interview or deposition outlines, and presentations. My cases often involve challenging subject matter, both factually (e.g., complex technology) and legally (e.g., innovative theories of liability), so junior lawyers often spend time deeply researching particular issues or diving into documents and testimony that illuminate key factual questions.

How do you see this practice area evolving in the future?

I expect (and hope) that the law will be increasingly influenced by scientific advancement across many fields—both because new technologies will force new approaches to dispute resolution, including by creating new kinds of disputes, and because evolving understanding of psychology and social forces will inform better legal principles. For example, hindsight bias is well studied academically, and the insights into combatting it that have come out of that research should increasingly influence how the rules of evidence are applied by courts.

In what ways has the coronavirus pandemic affected your practice? How have you adjusted to lawyering in the wake of COVID-19?

It will come as no surprise that the most noticeable change during the pandemic has been the shift to remote depositions and hearings. Having now participated in many remote events, I have found that they can be quite effective—and even have some advantages over the traditional live versions. For example, a remote hearing offers a much better view of the judge than a live hearing, which can help the attorneys arguing a motion calibrate their argument based on how it is being received. Something is definitely lost by not being in the same physical room as all other participants, but I would expect to see many more remote events even after circumstances improve.

What do you feel are the benefits of taking a generalist approach in litigation versus pursuing a more specialized practice?

For those who are passionate about a particular area of the law, I expect a specialized practice will be more rewarding than a general one, and I don’t consider specializing to be inferior in any way—indeed, I hear all too often about the advantages of a specialized practice. What I most enjoy is the process of litigation rather than its academic aspects, so regardless of the substance of the dispute, what I find most rewarding is developing a strategy that generates as many wins as possible for my client and generating arguments that persuade judges and juries. I also like collaborating with different people and learning new things—and having to be flexible pushes me to keep learning and growing as a lawyer.

Lina Bensman, Partner—Litigation

Lina Bensman is a partner based in Cleary Gottlieb’s New York office. Her practice focuses on complex civil litigation.

She has acted as counsel to financial institutions and multinational corporations, as well as individual clients, in a variety of securities and other commercial litigation matters before federal and state courts. Lina also has experience in white collar criminal defense and internal investigations and has represented individual clients and corporations before the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission and the U.S. Department of Justice in high-stakes matters.

Lina joined the firm in 2011 and became a partner in 2020. She received a J.D., cum laude, from the New York University School of Law and a B.A., cum laude, from Brandeis University.

Rasha Gerges Shields, Partner
Jones Day

Describe your practice area and what it entails.

As a litigator with first-chair trial and appellate experience, I am able to assist clients in a variety of industries in pre-trial, trial, and appellate proceedings. Being a general litigator gives me the flexibility to work on a diverse range of cases and adapt my litigation and trial skills to new areas every day. I have litigated a variety of general and complex litigation matters, including commercial contracts, antitrust, fraud, health care, trade secrets, and intellectual property.

What types of clients do you represent?

I have represented a broad range of corporate clients in a variety of industries, including a large privately owned water-bottling company, a medical diagnostic laboratory company, a California oil-refining company, foreign entities based in China and Germany, and financial institutions. I have also represented individuals and entities facing government investigations, including cases involving public corruption and tax evasion. In addition, I have a very active pro bono practice; I have represented asylum seekers, a mother in a child-custody dispute, nonprofit organizations (such as Bet Tzedek Legal Services, Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles, and California Women’s Law Center), and constitutional law professors across the country.

What types of cases/deals do you work on?

I have represented clients on the defense side as well as the plaintiff side. In addition to defending clients in high-stakes litigation, such as purported class action lawsuits alleging damages in the billions of dollars, I have filed complaints for clients that were defrauded during corporate acquisitions, had their trade secrets stolen and their intellectual property misappropriated, and had contractual arrangements with their suppliers breached. As a generalist and former prosecutor, I am just as comfortable prosecuting cases for clients as I am defending them—though different litigation skills and strategies are required. 

I have also represented individuals in pre-indictment criminal investigations, as well as corporate entities in government and internal investigations.

How did you choose this practice area?

I was drawn to litigation throughout law school, and I absolutely loved moot court. My clerkship experience, both at the district court and at the Ninth Circuit, confirmed my interest in pursuing a career as a litigator. It was during my Ninth Circuit clerkship that I learned about Jones Day’s Issues & Appeals practice, which combines appellate work with strategic pre-trial and trial work, and I was sold—I joined the practice immediately after completing the clerkship. As an associate, I was able to work on a mix of cases and had the opportunity to argue before the Ninth Circuit, the California Court of Appeal, and the California Supreme Court. After about four years at Jones Day, I joined the U.S. Attorney’s Office as a federal criminal prosecutor. In that capacity, I first-chaired trials and argued my own appeals. Following seven years at the U.S. Attorney’s Office, I rejoined Jones Day as a partner in the Business & Tort Litigation (“B&TL”) practice. Given my first-chair trial experience, the B&TL practice was a natural fit for me, allowing me the flexibility to work with the other practices at Jones Day that fit with my experience, including White Collar Criminal Defense, Antitrust Litigation, and Appellate Law.

What is a typical day like and/or what are some common tasks you perform?

The great thing about being a litigator is that you never stop learning and you have to continuously adjust to new developments—that leads to many atypical days! But as a general matter, my days usually involve advising clients about ongoing litigation or investigations; participating in tons of conference calls (video calls during the pandemic); meeting and conferring with opposing counsel about discovery disputes; drafting pre-trial motions and briefs; and preparing for depositions or hearings. A large portion of my time also involves conducting fact-finding investigations, such as interviewing current and former employees of corporate entities or analyzing key documents to see how they impact the legal dispute. In addition to my client work, a typical day for me also includes video conferences with law students around the country whom I mentor, as well as meetings and programs for the multiple nonprofit organizations I am involved in, such as the Arab American Lawyers Association of Southern California, California ChangeLawyers, Just The Beginning—A Pipeline Organization, the UCLA Law Alumni Association, and the Women’s White Collar Defense Association.

What training, classes, experience, or skills development would you recommend to someone who wishes to enter your practice area?

I would strongly recommend participating in activities that will give you stand-up opportunities, like moot court and legal clinics. I would also recommend paying particular attention during your legal research and writing classes, as well as classes involving civil procedure, evidence, and federal courts. And because writing effectively and concisely is so important to being a good litigator, I would recommend taking advantage of opportunities to become a teaching assistant. Learning how to review and edit the briefs of first-year law students will help strengthen your own writing skills. I also highly recommend applying for federal clerkships. If law school teaches you how to think like a lawyer, clerking teaches you how to think like a judge, which is an amazingly insightful skill for a litigator to develop!

What is the most challenging aspect of practicing in this area?

The most challenging aspect of being a general litigator is the wide variety of subjects that you need to master, often in a short amount of time. However, this challenge is also one of the reasons I love being a general litigator. You never stop learning, and you gain insight into new industries every day. For example, through my cases, I’ve learned about how airplanes are manufactured, how Swiss bankers do their job, how companies are bought and sold, how the manufacturing of bottled water is automated, how oil is refined and sold, how pharmacists and pharmacies dispense medicine, how financial institutions function, how companies can be victims of computer hacking, and how valuable trade secrets can be stolen.

What misconceptions exist about your practice area?

A common misconception about being a litigator is that all litigators need to fit the same mold—and that you cannot be a successful litigator if you are viewed as being “nice.” As a young associate, I was once tasked with taking a portion of the deposition of a very prominent lawyer. During a break in the deposition (and before I had asked any questions), I offered the other side refreshments. In response, the prominent lawyer thanked me, adding, “You’re too nice to be a lawyer.” Following the break, I had the chance to ask my tough questions, catching the prominent lawyer completely off guard, and I persisted, despite his own lawyer’s meritless objections. You can be an effective litigator without being unreasonable, nasty, or discourteous. In fact, you can be much more effective with a smile and a touch of civility, particularly in a jury trial—jurors are always watching you, and they notice your every move.

What is unique about your practice area at your firm?

At Jones Day, our practices are very fluid and versatile. We have litigation teams that involve significant crossover amongst different practices, such as the Antitrust, Health Care, Financial Markets, Intellectual Property, and White Collar groups. For each case, we identify our best lawyers for each matter, regardless of practice. This approach allows us to provide outstanding legal services for our clients. It also broadens the reach of the firm’s general litigators, enabling us to work on an increasingly diverse slate of high-stakes cases.

What are some typical tasks that a junior lawyer would perform in this practice area?

Junior lawyers are essential members of any litigation team. Oftentimes, junior lawyers are tasked with mastering the facts of a case. They review the client documents, as well as the documents received during discovery, to identify key documents and facts that can be used during depositions and trial and that can change the outcome of a case. Junior lawyers participate in witness interviews and help prepare witnesses for depositions. They also play a crucial role in researching case law that is integrated in important discovery letters and motions. In certain cases, our junior lawyers even have stand-up opportunities, such as arguing pre-trial motions or taking and defending depositions.

Rasha Gerges Shields, Partner—Business & Tort Litigation

Rasha Gerges Shields is a partner at Jones Day in Los Angeles. She is a former federal prosecutor and an experienced first-chair trial and appellate lawyer. Rasha defends companies and executives in high-stakes civil and criminal cases. She has been the lead trial counsel in federal court and has argued before the California Supreme Court, the Ninth Circuit, and the California Court of Appeal.   

Rasha is devoted to public service and pro bono work and has been the recipient of numerous honors and awards, including California Minority Counsel Program’s Law Firm Diversity Leader Award, an honor annually bestowed on a single individual in California.  

Rasha received her B.A. degree from UC Irvine in 1997 and her J.D. from UCLA School of Law in 2001. After graduation, she clerked for the Honorable Gary Feess in the Central District of California and the Honorable Ferdinand Fernandez in the Ninth Circuit. Rasha joined Jones Day as an associate in 2003, and after serving as a federal criminal prosecutor from 2007 to 2014, she rejoined Jones Day as a partner.

Thomas C. White, Partner
Sullivan & Cromwell LLP

Describe your practice area and what it entails.

Sullivan & Cromwell’s Litigation group encourages us to be generalists who can tackle whatever complex disputes our clients are facing. As a result, my practice encompasses the full range of complex litigation matters. From briefing motions to dismiss in securities class actions to trying an intellectual property case in federal court, I represent clients in every stage of a litigation, from complaint through appeal. I have particular expertise in products liability matters, bankruptcy litigation, financial services litigation, and M&A litigation.

What types of clients do you represent?

I have represented a wide range of clients in different industries. My clients have included Volkswagen and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles in actions related to diesel emissions and Micro Systems Engineering, Inc. in a copyright, trade secret, and breach of contract action. I have also represented financial institutions, including Barclays, Goldman Sachs, Popular, Swiss Re, and UBS in securities and ERISA class actions. Right now, I have the privilege of representing the Republic of Argentina in litigation related to its acquisition of a controlling state in the energy company YPF and cases arising out of its issuance of GDP-linked securities in 2005 and 2010.

What types of cases/deals do you work on?

The types of cases I have handled for our clients run the gamut from M&A disputes, securities actions, environmental liability cases, copyright and trade secrets, mortgage-backed securities, etc. Recently, we have been handling a number of cases where the consumer plaintiffs’ bar has been making creative use of the RICO Act to bring products liability claims. S&C has deep ties to many global financial institutions, and I have worked on many matters stemming from the 2008 financial crisis.

How did you choose this practice area?

I don’t really view it as a choice—I’ve always known that I would be a litigator. In that sense, I feel like this practice area chose me. I enjoy the challenge of parachuting into a field that I know very little about and quickly getting up to speed on the relevant part of a client’s business.  I enjoy the adrenaline rush that comes with taking a deposition or delivering an oral argument. I think the areas in which I can bring my skills to bear—whether it be crafting creative arguments or spotting issues—are where I contribute the most value to our clients.

What is a typical day like and/or what are some common tasks you perform?

It all depends on the case. Some cases are writing intensive; some are deposition intensive; and some are expert intensive. As a junior lawyer, I spent more time on research and writing, but I was fortunate to have opportunities early in my career to advise clients as well. I still do a lot of brief writing, but I also spend a lot of time brainstorming about issues and helping my clients make strategic decisions.

What training, classes, experience, or skills development would you recommend to someone who wishes to enter your practice area?

You should challenge yourself, particularly in your second and third years of law school. Although I’m a litigator, I’ve found that it’s still enormously valuable to have a basic knowledge of financial concepts—particularly as someone who practices in New York—because those ideas come up over and over again. I would encourage all law students to take at least one course that focuses on finance or accounting. Having that coursework under your belt before you begin practicing will be helpful in terms of skills development, regardless of which practice group you end up joining.

What do you like best about your practice area?

I love taking depositions. I try to think through how key exchanges will go while I am on the record with the witness and anticipate ways he or she may try to dodge my key questions. I like deviating from my outline when I get unexpected testimony or “sniff” that the witness is hiding something. I also enjoy helping our junior lawyers prepare for their first depositions. I give S&C’s deposition training each year, which is always a lot of fun.

What misconceptions exist about your practice area?

Many people assume that junior litigation associates spend most of their time doing “doc review.” That has not been my experience. It’s also a negative spin on an important part of the job. Most of the time, even junior lawyers at S&C get involved with documents after they have been flagged as being relevant to the case in some way. Our junior associates are not paging through every scrap of paper in a file—they are hunting down the key evidence in the case. Personally, I want to look at every piece of paper that I reasonably can before taking someone’s deposition or cross examining them at trial. I don’t see that as “doc review.”

What kinds of experience can summer associates gain in this practice area at your firm?

S&C summer associates can gain all types of experience—it all depends on what they’re interested in learning and what type of summer they want to have. Recently, a summer associate working on one of my matters spotted an issue on his own and wrote a memorandum on it that ended up being the basis on which the Second Circuit affirmed our trial win. I also worked with a group of summer associates as part of our mock jury exercise—which was a lot of fun. If you’re someone who enjoys rolling up your sleeves and really diving into the work, there are very few limits on the types of experiences you can gain as a summer associate.

What do you feel are the benefits of taking a generalist approach in litigation versus pursuing a more specialized practice?

To me, the key benefit that a generalist litigator brings to a client is the fact that the judge and the jury are going to be generalists. If your practice is hyper-specialized, there’s a greater likelihood that you will get caught up in your own jargon and assume that others will understand concepts that seem obvious to you, which aren’t obvious to the uninitiated judge or juror. Generalist litigators can take any set of facts, fully understand them, and then distill them into a narrative that will resonate with your case’s judge or jury.

The legal market is always evolving, and my advice to law students is to resist the pressure to specialize early in your career. Areas that are in high demand now may be not be in five or ten years’ time. If you narrow your focus in your first years of practice, you risk developing skills that may not be useful in the long term. The skills of a generalist litigator, on the other hand—like being able to write clearly, cross-examine witnesses, and deliver effective opening and closing statements—will always be in demand.

Thomas C. White, Partner—Litigation

Thomas C. White is a partner in the firm’s Litigation group. He represents prominent global companies and individuals in complex commercial litigation, including securities class actions, products liability actions, bankruptcy litigation, arbitration, and government investigations. He has represented Goldman Sachs, FCA, Volkswagen, California Resources Corp., Barclays, Cytec, the Republic of Argentina, Giants Stadium, the New York Bankers Association, The Clearing House, Popular, Swiss Re, and UBS.

A skilled courtroom advocate, Tom has twice been recognized as a “Litigator of the Week” by The American Lawyer’s Litigation Daily. He was recognized in May 2019 for a trial victory on behalf of Micro Systems Engineering, Inc. and again in November 2020 for securing the dismissal of a consumer class action against Volkswagen.

Luna Barrington, Partner
Weil

Describe your practice area and what it entails.

I am a partner in the firm’s Complex Commercial Litigation practice, where I represent clients in high-stakes litigation, including consumer class actions, antitrust, contract disputes, and mass torts. I also have extensive experience at trial and in multidistrict litigations in state and federal courts across the country.

What types of clients do you represent?

I represent clients across a broad spectrum of industries—including consumer products, e-commerce, pharmaceuticals, metals and mining, and food services—in their most challenging and bet-the-company matters. Some of my current and past clients include ArcelorMittal USA, C&S Wholesale Grocers, Farmers Insurance, Johnson & Johnson, Serta Simmons, eBay, and Sanofi.

What types of cases/deals do you work on?

I’m typically involved in disputes that really target my clients’ core businesses and reputations. My work has included the successful defense of one of the few antitrust class actions tried to verdict in recent years—with nearly a billion dollars in damages at stake—on behalf of C&S Wholesale Grocers in Minnesota federal court, and successfully sustaining that victory before the Eighth Circuit; an Eleventh Circuit win for Farmers Insurance in an ongoing industrywide antitrust MDL targeting insurance carriers’ methods for reimbursing auto body shops across the country; complete defense verdicts for Johnson & Johnson in talc mass tort cases in New Jersey that turned the tide for the company as it prepared to litigate and try thousands more cases nationwide; and a landmark pro bono case in Arizona federal court that, following a multi-week bench trial, overturned an unconstitutional and racist ban on Mexican-American studies in Arizona public schools.

How did you choose this practice area?

When I clerked on the federal court, I was involved in a wide variety of cases, and I liked the challenge of learning new areas of the law. Weil’s Litigation department has a reputation for handling “bet the business” litigation and the most complex cases, which often involve issues of first impression or high stakes. It is incredibly exciting and challenging work.

The firm’s Complex Commercial Litigation practice, in particular, allowed me to create a more generalist, individual practice. I have found that as every litigation is different, it is critically important to be able to showcase a broad range of success in complex, high-dollar-value cases, regardless of the nature of the allegations. As a generalist, I am able to specialize in high-stakes trials without limiting them to specific practice areas.

What is a typical day like and/or what are some common tasks you perform?

A typical day for me involves meetings with my teams—now conducted mostly over Zoom—where we discuss the status of our cases and strategize on next steps. I also spend time throughout the day advancing my clients’ interests and business goals, including counseling them on legal or case developments and corresponding with opposing counsel on various aspects of cases. Otherwise, I’m reviewing and finalizing work product with my teams and preparing for depositions and/or court conferences.

What training, classes, experience, or skills development would you recommend to someone who wishes to enter your practice area?

I would strongly recommend any young lawyer wishing to pursue a generalist trial practice to pursue a state or federal clerkship. There is no better way to learn the ins and outs of litigation than through working with a judge. I also encourage young associates to be proactive with their careers and to look for opportunities to develop their practical skills. A great way to do that is through your mentor. I am fortunate to have a mentor who has always looked for opportunities for me and helped to facilitate them for me when I sought them out myself. My mentor has also taught me how to be an effective lawyer with a courtroom presence.

What misconceptions exist about your practice area?

I think there is a general misconception that BigLaw lawyers don’t go to trial, but that hasn’t been my experience. I have done a trial nearly every year that I’ve been at the firm, and it’s been incredibly exciting and challenging. Although my typical day doesn’t involve being on trial, there are enormous opportunities to get trial experience in big firms like ours and in practice areas like mine.

What are some typical tasks that a junior lawyer would perform in this practice area?

One of the unique aspects of working at Weil is the level of exposure and opportunities presented to associates at every phase of litigation—but especially at trial. Weil’s trial resume is second-to-none, and Weil takes pride in instilling in every litigation attorney—regardless of level—a trial-ready approach. Our innovative associate training program allows senior practitioners to convey trial skills to junior lawyers. And our attitude toward staffing associates on trial teams presents them with primary responsibility over pleadings, dispositive motions, discovery management, witness preparation, and witness examination, among other skills. This exposure provides junior associates the experience and aptitude needed to excel at an early stage in their professional careers.

What kinds of experience can summer associates gain in this practice area at your firm?

Summer associates in our practice are treated as regular members of the team. Summer associates are placed on case teams and are at the table when strategies are discussed and incoming projects are divvied up. Integrating them in this way enables them to see every aspect of a case during their time at the firm and understand how they interplay with one another and the client’s overall business goals—which isn’t commonly taught in law school. If something is happening on their case, they will be a part of it.

In what ways has the coronavirus pandemic affected your practice? How have you adjusted to lawyering in the wake of COVID-19?

The pandemic has obviously required a lot of us to adjust to working from home and meeting over Zoom instead of commuting to the office and sitting in a conference room with our colleagues. And, of course, we have to conduct trials, depositions, and court conferences virtually, but the transition has been fairly smooth. In terms of my actual practice, the cases we see now have a lot to do with business ramifications in the wake of the pandemic, from handling breach of contract issues to counseling on restructuring of debt.

 

Luna Barrington, Partner—Litigation

Partner Luna Barrington is an up-and-coming trial attorney with experience guiding clients through their most challenging legal and reputational issues, whether they be in the antitrust, commercial, or products spaces. Luna has a distinguished track record in litigating class actions, where she has achieved victories at all phases of litigation, including trial. Recently, Luna was recognized as a Future Star by Benchmark Litigation.

Luna is extremely active in firm and other professional organizations’ mentoring, diversity, and development initiatives. She is a co-leader of AsianAttorneys@Weil, the firmwide affinity group dedicated to the recruitment, retention, and professional development of Asian attorneys, and a member of the leadership development program at the Asian American Bar Association in New York. She was recently appointed as co-chair of AABANY’s Litigation Committee. 

Prior to joining the firm, Luna served as a law clerk to the Honorable Richard M. Berman, United States District Court for the Southern District of New York. She received her J.D. from the University of California, Hastings College of the Law, where she was a member of the Hastings Business Law Journal. Luna received her undergraduate degree from the University of California, Santa Cruz.

Erica Harris, Partner • Brian Melton, Partner
Susman Godfrey

Describe your practice area and what it entails.

As partners at Susman Godfrey LLP, we specialize in trying complex commercial litigation cases. Any significant dispute that arises from the business context—from breach of contract to antitrust to intellectual property—falls within our practice area.

What types of clients do you represent?

We have a diverse clientele of individual inventors, small and midsize business owners, and Fortune 100 companies. Our clients include plaintiffs and defendants; all of our clients benefit from our working on both sides of the “v.” 

Some of our clients are sophisticated repeat purchasers of legal services, and some have never hired a litigator before but turn to us because their company is on the line. Our clients come from a broad range of industries, including energy, finance, technology, insurance, manufacturing, retail, entertainment, real estate, and health care.

What types of cases/deals do you work on?

There are no formal practice groups at Susman Godfrey. Our founding partners believed that a real trial lawyer could handle any case that was to be tried to a judge or jury. 

Over the course of our careers, we have worked on and resolved all manner of business disputes: contract, patent, fraud and misrepresentation, trade secret, antitrust, securities, class action, oil and gas, and environmental. We also are retained for high-dollar disputes in non-traditional areas, such as family fights in closely held businesses or estates and even divorces.  Nothing heading to trial is off limits. 

Erica is one of Chevron’s lead counsel in climate change litigation filed in courts across the nation. She also represents Total Petrochemicals & Refining USA Inc. in commercial litigation arising out of the 2019 Intercontinental Terminals Company LLC Deer Park Explosion and antitrust litigation against the leading national railroads. Brian is currently lead counsel to universities in reaping the benefits of developing and encouraging innovation. These clients have large patent portfolios, and he has recovered over $70 million for them through targeted infringement lawsuits and licensing negotiations outside of litigation. Brian also leads a trial team representing Chevron in a $50 million lost oil royalties case in Louisiana.

How did you choose this practice area?

We love and excel at persuading judges and juries, solving complex legal questions, translating the facts and law into comprehensible language, learning our client’s business, and identifying what matters most in each case. Those qualities make us ideally suited to try and win complex commercial cases.

What is a typical day like and/or what are some common tasks you perform?

Speaking from over 20 years’ experience, we can tell you with assurance that no two days are the same. Over the past month, for example, we have attended in-person and Zoom hearings, taken and defended depositions, interviewed witnesses for upcoming trials, managed our own trial teams, participated in firm management, mentored associates, and the list goes on. Trials are scarce with COVID, but Brian has several set for the end of the year. The diversity of our practice is what makes it exciting.

What training, classes, experience, or skills development would you recommend to someone who wishes to enter your practice area?

Go to work for a real trial lawyer. Nothing beats firsthand experience. We were both lucky to have had opportunities to work with Steve Susman and Lee Godfrey early on in our careers. Young associates at our firm now get hands-on experience with partners, such as Neal Manne, Kalpana Srinivasan, Bill Carmody, and the two of us. For new lawyers, we would also recommend a NITA-type trial advocacy program. We both went to those and found them very helpful prior to stepping into a real courtroom. 

Also, and this can get overlooked, a large portion of our practice involves negotiating—with opposing parties, clients, courts, and third parties. Negotiating does not mean fighting with the other side. Fighting is not helpful in most situations. You can get better at this critical task by taking a negotiation course in law school or as part of a CLE program.

What is unique about your practice area at your firm?

Because we specialize in trying cases and because we earn most of our revenues from non-hourly fee arrangements, our litigation practice is focused on what matters at trial. With every stage of litigation, we keep in mind what is critical to proving our case at trial and what is not. Accordingly, we do not waste time fighting over small things that are not going to affect the outcome at trial, nor do we take every deposition we can just because we can. Our efficiency is what makes us profitable in a non-hourly matter. These principles and good habits show up in our hourly practice as well.

What are some typical tasks that a junior lawyer would perform in this practice area?

We hire only the top graduates from the top law schools and require every partnership track associate to have clerked for a federal judge. We trust our associates with much more than just legal research, brief writing, and document review. 

Young associates at Susman Godfrey are given significant responsibility. They take depositions; argue motions; and work with clients, experts, and opposing counsel as full members of each trial team. We let them open, close, and present the key witnesses at trial. Juries and judges love seeing young lawyers at trial.

What kinds of experience can summer associates gain in this practice area at your firm?

Our summer program is designed to give summer associates a realistic look at what it is like to be a full-time associate at Susman Godfrey. Unlike many other law firms, our summer associates do not receive make-work or “practice assignments.” Instead, summer associates play important roles as members of our trial teams as we work up our cases and prepare for trial. We make it a point to take each summer associate out of the office to trial, depositions, or hearings. Susman Godfrey summer associates receive the same type of challenging legal work as our full-time associates. We strive to make sure that our summer associates have the true trial lawyer experience.

How is practicing litigation in a boutique different from practicing in a large law firm?

Our litigation boutique is structured almost as a reverse mirror of the large law firm. Instead of a pyramid where there are 10 associates to each partner, our firm generally has more partners than associates. As a result, an associate’s work is not reviewed and rewritten by multiple lawyers before going to the client. Our associates work directly with the clients and directly with the partner in charge of the case. 

When it is time to determine who makes partner, the discussion is focused on the candidate’s merits—not whether that practice section warrants another partner. And, while large law firms generally govern by committee, our firm makes every decision of importance by a vote of the entire partnership. Indeed, every case that the firm takes on a non-hourly basis must be considered, debated, and approved by a majority vote of the entire firm’s partners and associates at a weekly meeting.

Erica Harris, Partner, and Brian Melton, Partner—Litigation

Erica Harris tries complex commercial cases for plaintiffs and defendants in federal and state courts across the country and in arbitration. She achieves winning results by taking the time to develop expert knowledge of her clients’ businesses, whether it is a Fortune 50 company or an individual’s life pursuit. Frequently taking cases on a contingency or other non-hourly basis, Harris efficiently prosecutes and defends cases with an eye toward trial. Harris has been named one of the “Top 250 Women in Litigation” in the U.S., Canada, and Latin America by Benchmark Litigation; one of the “500 Leading Lawyers” in the U.S. by Lawdragon Magazine; a “Litigation Trailblazer” by the National Law Journal; and one of “The Best Lawyers of America” in Commercial Litigation, Antitrust Litigation, and Intellectual Property Litigation by The Best Lawyers in America.

Brian Melton is a nationally recognized lead trial lawyer who tries complex commercial cases for plaintiffs and defendants. He is equally at home defending Fortune 100 companies in state courts and enforcing patent holder rights in federal courts across the country. Melton has secured several momentous wins throughout his career and has established himself as trusted counsel and a sought-out trial lawyer. In the past three years alone, Melton is responsible for securing well over $100 million for his clients. Melton has been named a “Winning Litigator” by the National Law Journal following his headline-grabbing jury verdict against Dr. Dre and Beats Electronics.  Melton is a U.S. Army veteran—he served with distinction as an Airborne Ranger Infantry officer.

Tracie Bryant, Partner • Matthew Summers, Associate
Kirkland & Ellis

Describe your practice area and what it entails.

Tracie: Most broadly, general litigation entails settling legal disputes in a court of law or through arbitration. Litigators at Kirkland are involved in every aspect of the litigation matter. We may start our work by advising clients even before a complaint is filed. Once a complaint is filed, we work on briefing related to the case, manage discovery, and then prepare and try the case. At Kirkland, the litigation team often works on any appeals that may follow as well. As a general litigator at Kirkland, I work on a wide variety of subject areas, including antitrust, false advertising, class actions, and other commercial disputes.

Matthew: Kirkland’s General Litigation group handles any type of litigation—except intellectual property, which has its own practice. We handle all phases of litigation, from evaluating a case before litigation is instituted through trial and appeal. Kirkland also conducts internal corporate investigations and represents clients facing governmental investigations.

What types of clients do you represent?

Tracie: My clients are just as varied as my practice area. I’ve represented telecommunications companies like Verizon, health care companies like Abbott Laboratories, building supply manufacturers like JELD-WEN, Inc., and everything in between. Most of my clients are large Fortune 500 corporations, but others are small startups or even individuals.

Matthew: Kirkland’s client base spans the full spectrum—from the largest corporations in the world to single individuals. This exposes Kirkland associates to a diverse group of companies and individuals facing diverse challenges. In my practice, I have had the opportunity to represent clients ranging from a technology entrepreneur to the recently homeless to large companies like Johnson & Johnson, Boeing, RBS, Macy’s, Syngenta, Aerojet Rocketdyne, and Toll Brothers, among others.

What types of cases/deals do you work on?

Tracie: Most litigation matters are resolved before trial, but Kirkland is often retained when the client believes that a case is likely going to be tried. I work on getting cases “trial-ready.” That focus begins early in the case with dispositive motions, which may result in the case being dismissed completely or narrowed. Assuming the case proceeds past that stage, I learn the facts of the case, collect the best documents supporting my client’s position, and work with witnesses who will be involved in telling my client’s story at trial.

Matthew: Kirkland’s General Litigation group has given me the opportunity to work on a variety of different cases in various stages of litigation. The firm’s open-assignment system allows me to work on matters that interest me, including trial-ready cases in the products liability and mass tort space, as well as large-scale general commercial litigation that is in the early stages of discovery. For example, after my first year, I wanted to get significant trial experience, so I reached out to a partner who handles trial ready products liability cases and ended up going to trial five times over the next two years on behalf of Johnson & Johnson.

How did you choose this practice area?

Tracie: I’ve wanted to be a lawyer for as long as I can remember and always assumed I’d do some kind of “Law & Order”–style trial work. I decided on my practice area after law school—I clerked in a federal district court, and I was finally able to experience litigation firsthand. I loved everything about it: the legal arguments, the process, and the energy of the courtroom.

Matthew: I wanted exposure to different types of cases and challenges to broaden my knowledge of the law and sharpen my skill set across all phases of litigation, and Kirkland’s general litigation group gave me the best opportunity to do that.

What is a typical day like and/or what are some common tasks you perform?

Tracie: Every day is different and depends on the stage of my cases. It’s hard to generalize, but I usually spend some part of my day thinking through the strategy for cases and discussing it with my colleagues, part of the day talking to clients about their cases, and then a portion of my day writing or revising briefs or other correspondence.

Matthew: Right now, we are in the middle of intensive fact discovery for a trial set for next year, so my typical day includes preparing for and taking/defending depositions, researching and drafting pre-trial motions and briefs, participating in meet and confers with opposing counsel, coordinating the review and production of documents, and preparing for expert discovery.

What training, classes, experience, or skills development would you recommend to someone who wishes to enter your practice area?

Tracie: In litigation, there is a lot of “on the job” training, but I found that Civil Procedure and Evidence are the two classes I call upon most often. I also recommend focusing on opportunities to improve your legal writing through classes, journals, or work as a research assistant. In addition, if you have an opportunity to clerk for a district court judge, it helps you learn a lot about the litigation process and how courts work through cases.

Matthew: Legal research and writing is a critical skill for any litigator. Very often, cases are won or lost on the papers. I recommend classes and programs focused on developing and honing your written advocacy skills. An understanding of procedure, and how that procedure plays out in practice, is also important. Classes and programs focused on pre-trial and trial civil procedure, along with on-your-feet trial advocacy, are beneficial to any litigator.

What is the most challenging aspect of practicing in this area?

Tracie: Dealing with the unexpected. A lot of litigation is thinking on your feet, whether it’s on the phone with opposing counsel, in a deposition, or at a hearing. No matter how much you prepare, there will be something that will happen that you weren’t expecting but you need to be ready to deal with. It’s part of the challenge but also a lot of the fun!

Matthew: Clients come to Kirkland when they are facing the most complex legal challenges, often times with bet-the-company stakes. This requires Kirkland attorneys to think critically to develop creative, sometimes novel, arguments and strategy to achieve the best possible resolution for the client.

What is unique about your practice area at your firm?

Tracie: Unlike most firms, Kirkland truly has a “general litigation” practice area. General litigators at Kirkland are expected to be able to litigate any case in any subject matter, so you won’t see many narrowly defined practice groups on Kirkland’s website such as antitrust litigation or restructuring litigation; those all fall under the “litigation” umbrella. With that said, some people do find that they prefer certain subject matters so they elect to work primarily on litigation matters in those areas. However, Kirkland doesn’t ever require general litigators to specialize in a certain subject matter, and many people work on a variety of cases throughout their careers.

Matthew: What sets Kirkland apart from our peer firms is the level of experience and responsibility given to junior attorneys. It is not uncommon to take your first deposition or argue your first motion as a first- or second-year associate. In my interactions with opposing counsel, whether it is on the other side of a deposition, oral argument, or meet and confer, I am almost always interfacing with senior partners. Kirkland invests incredible time and resources in developing its associates, which, in turn, allows the firm to trust associates with work traditionally reserved for partners.

What are some typical tasks that a junior lawyer would perform in this practice area?

Tracie: Our junior lawyers participate in every aspect of the case. We look for them to research; write; and help prepare senior attorneys for depositions, meetings and hearings—but also, very early, to start taking their own depositions and running meetings themselves.

Matthew: Typical tasks for a junior associate include conducting legal research, drafting offensive and defensive discovery, preparing deposition and trial examination outlines, and drafting briefs and motions. As mentioned above, junior associates should not be surprised if preparing a deposition outline quickly turns into them taking the deposition. Or drafting a motion ends up with them in front of the court arguing the same. My experience is illustrative. Within my first two years at Kirkland, I took and defended my first depositions, argued before the Ninth Circuit, argued my first pre-trial motion, and sat at counsel’s table and second-chaired multiple cross and direct examinations at trial.

In what ways has the coronavirus pandemic affected your practice? How have you adjusted to lawyering in the wake of COVID-19?

Tracie: Immediately, deadlines and trial dates were all moved back, and many of my cases slowed down. After it became clear that the coronavirus pandemic wasn’t going away anytime soon, my cases continued to progress as they had before. The biggest ongoing differences are that I never travel anymore, but I see my clients and witnesses more often because everyone has grown accustomed to video calls.

Matthew: COVID has forced us all to adapt to the remote working environment, and quickly. Kirkland made the transition relatively seamless by providing us with the technology and tools necessary to work from home. While taking a deposition over Zoom took some getting used to, the majority of my practice has been unaffected—a credit to Kirkland’s incredible support staff.

Tracie Bryant, Partner, and Matthew Summers, Associate—Litigation

Tracie Bryant is a partner in Kirkland’s Washington, DC, office. Her practice focuses on complex commercial litigation before federal and state courts across the country. Tracie represents clients in litigation matters involving contracts, antitrust, consumer products, false advertising, trade secret, defamation, and constitutional law. She has extensive experience with class action litigation and representing clients seeking or defending against temporary injunctive relief. Tracie also maintains a diverse pro bono practice and was awarded the 2014 Kirkland & Ellis Washington Pro Bono Service Award. She received her B.A. with honors from Stanford University and her J.D. from Harvard Law School.

Matthew Summers is a litigation associate in Kirkland’s Los Angeles office. Matthew’s practice focuses on all phases of complex litigation in both state and federal courts. His litigation experience includes contract disputes, government investigations, product liability defense, mass tort and class action defense, and white-collar criminal defense. He has been a member of trial teams that secured “Top Defense Verdict” honors in 2018 and 2019 from the Daily Journal. Matthew also has an active pro bono practice. He received a B.A. in Political Science from the University of Southern California and his J.D. from the University of Chicago Law School.

Lauren F. Dayton, Associate
MoloLamken LLP

Describe your practice area and what it entails.

MoloLamken exclusively represents clients in complex litigation. We handle trials, arbitrations, appeals, and investigations across the United States, for clients all over the world. In our civil litigation and appeals, we represent both plaintiffs and defendants. Our attorneys regularly appear before the U.S. Supreme Court, where we have two cases this term. We handle cases across a broad range of subject matters, including business litigation, class actions, intellectual property, bankruptcy, and white collar, among many others.

What types of clients do you represent?

MoloLamken has a diverse range of clients, including foreign sovereigns, Fortune 500 companies, hedge funds, private equity firms, corporate directors, entrepreneurs, and government officials. We represent clients on both sides of the “v.” including plaintiffs in class actions and prominent individuals in criminal matters. At any given time, we might be representing an investment manager seeking to recover on unpaid sovereign bonds, defending a high-profile government official in a criminal prosecution, conducting a targeted internal investigation for a company, and representing a patent holder in the U.S. Supreme Court.

What types of cases/deals do you work on?

My own practice at MoloLamken has reflected the diversity of the firm’s clients and cases and the opportunities that practice presents for associates. At the trial level, I have been part of MoloLamken teams representing a hedge fund bondholder in a multi-day confirmation bench trial in federal bankruptcy court, a consumer class in a fraud suit against a major technology company, and a foreign company seeking to enforce a foreign arbitral award in federal district court. At the appellate level, two of my recent matters included representing a biopharmaceutical company defending the denial of two preliminary injunctions before the Federal Circuit and representing a municipality seeking cert before the U.S. Supreme Court. Among those matters and others, I’ve had the opportunity to develop many different types of advocacy skills, including preparing expert and lay witnesses for deposition and trial, taking and defending depositions, preparing a complaint, drafting motions and appellate briefs, litigating discovery disputes, preparing a sentencing brief, and giving oral argument.

How did you choose this practice area?

Like many former clerks, I loved my clerkships, and I sought to recreate some of the aspects of clerking that I enjoyed most when I was applying to law firms. As a law clerk, I learned so much from observing the judges firsthand and receiving feedback directly from them. I wanted to find a firm where I could work one-on-one with smart, talented partners in a similar way. I was also looking for a firm where I could develop the skills to become a successful attorney, rather than just a good associate. MoloLamken provides exactly that environment. Junior attorneys are given opportunities to hone their advocacy skills as they demonstrate their ability, and to participate in business development in meaningful ways. Another aspect of clerking that I particularly appreciated was the variety of interesting, complicated cases that I saw. At MoloLamken, I’ve had the opportunity to work on an even greater range of complex cases in federal and state courts.  Clerking also showed me the benefit of a collegial environment, a benefit I’ve also experienced at MoloLamken. Working in small teams across offices lends itself to a collegial, mutually supportive atmosphere. Because associates do real, important work, they are valued as part of the team (often “the team” is just one partner and one associate). I feel that the firm as a whole is genuinely invested in my professional development, which makes the work very rewarding.

What is a typical day like and/or what are some common tasks you perform?

The variety of cases MoloLamken handles means there is no “typical” day for an associate. In one week, an associate might draft part of a motion for summary judgment, prepare an expert for deposition, conduct a witness interview for an internal investigation, and participate in a business development pitch. The one constant is the substantive nature of the work. The firm’s expertise and size lend themselves to complex matters that can be handled by smaller teams, allowing associates to participate in strategy and take on substantive roles from the beginning. For example, in one case that I worked on recently, I was the associate responsible for drafting the complaint, serving the defendant foreign sovereign, coordinating discovery, and drafting our summary judgment briefing. Being able to work on all aspects of a case, including strategic decisions, makes our victories even sweeter. Another aspect of a “typical” MoloLamken associate’s day that might be unusual at another firm is communicating with clients. Because associates are involved in all aspects of a case, including strategy, they often interact with clients directly.

What training, classes, experience, or skills development would you recommend to someone who wishes to enter your practice area?

For law students, I recommend getting as much practical advocacy experience as you can, whether through a clinic, moot court, practicum, or judicial internship. Use the resources available in law school to sharpen your persuasive, non-academic writing. Although oral advocacy is important too, brief-writing makes up the bulk of advocacy in private practice, and good writing will help you stand out among candidates with strong credentials. For attorneys who are interested in transitioning to a boutique, the more substantive experience you can get, the better. If your paid practice doesn’t offer those opportunities, look for a pro bono case where you can take a deposition or write an entire brief. If you haven’t had an opportunity to develop a particular skill, consider taking a hands-on advocacy course to jumpstart the process and demonstrate your commitment to growing as a practitioner. Boutiques are looking for attorneys with both litigation skills and entrepreneurial, can-do attitudes.

What is the most challenging aspect of practicing in this area?

The most challenging aspects of practicing at MoloLamken are also my favorite parts: the variety of cases and how much responsibility associates are given. No two cases that I have worked on have involved the same subject matter or legal issue, which means that I am constantly learning about new areas of law and procedure. The diversity of cases also means honing different litigation skills, including drafting briefs, preparing witnesses, taking depositions, and communicating with clients. Because associates play a significant role in our small teams, they have the opportunity to develop judgment. Participating in strategy decisions and taking on substantive responsibility as a young associate is challenging, but also leads to much faster growth. The challenge of taking on significant responsibility is also tempered by the fact the firm is made up of down-to-earth, friendly people, who are eager to help each other and the firm succeed.

What is unique about your practice area at your firm?

MoloLamken’s strength in both trial and appellate matters makes it unique among top-tier boutiques. At any given time, the firm may be going to trial in a bet-the-company case in state or federal court and also handling oral arguments in courts of appeals and the U.S. Supreme Court, with teams staffed across all three offices. Having those complementary practices as a firm makes us stronger in both—better able to anticipate and avoid appellate issues at the trial level and to think creatively in advancing arguments on appeal. MoloLamken is also unique in that, unlike other firms, where trials or Supreme Court cases are reserved for a small cadre of lawyers with particular credentials, here, all associates have the opportunity to work on those trials and appeals. In the past year, I have worked on trial-level cases in several federal district courts and appellate matters in a state highest court, two federal courts of appeals, and the U.S. Supreme Court.

What are some typical career paths for lawyers in this practice area?

Unlike larger firms, MoloLamken is not built on an “up-or-out” model. The firm is selective and intentional with each new hire, with the goal that every attorney who joins will stay at the firm for good. One example of the care the firm takes with hiring is that applicants usually interview with almost every attorney in all three offices to ensure that those who are hired will be a good fit.  Young associates who start at the firm receive formal and informal mentorship from the beginning and are very involved in business development and firm life, including promoting diversity initiatives and identifying new litigation tools.  Attorneys who have left the firm have gone to work in government, often in U.S. Attorney’s Offices, or to clerk for a justice on the U.S. Supreme Court.

In what ways has the coronavirus pandemic affected your practice? How have you adjusted to lawyering in the wake of COVID-19?

Although COVID-19 has presented many challenges, in many ways, MoloLamken was well prepared to transition to a temporary work-from-home model. Because our teams are usually staffed across offices, we already had plenty of experience developing and running cases with team members in different places. And as a relatively young boutique, our firm has always integrated technology that allows us to work effectively outside the office. But we have really missed the opportunity to spend time together in person for lunches, for happy hours, and at our annual firm retreat. MoloLamken has made a point of holding regular firmwide Zoom events throughout the pandemic, but once it is safe, we will be happy to be back together in person.

Lauren F. Dayton, Associate Attorney

Lauren Dayton’s practice focuses on a broad range of trial and appellate matters on behalf of both plaintiffs and defendants. She represents companies and individuals in complex litigation matters, including judgment enforcement and cross-border matters. Lauren also has a robust appellate practice in state and federal courts, including the U.S. Supreme Court. She has briefed complex jurisdictional and statutory issues across various subject areas, including bankruptcy, administrative law, and intellectual property. Lauren joined MoloLamken after serving as a law clerk to the Honorable Steven M. Colloton of the United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit and the Honorable Brian M. Cogan of the United States District Court for the Eastern District of New York. Before law school, she interned for the Honorable Jeffery P. Hopkins, Chief Judge of the United States Bankruptcy Court for the Southern District of Ohio.

Ulrich Payne, Associate
Kobre & Kim LLP

Describe your practice area and what it entails.

My practice area is focused on highly complex multi-jurisdictional disputes. In particular, I handle disputes relating to investment banking, hedge funds, insolvency and debtor-creditor issues, and shareholder/boardroom disputes, all of which often relate to offshore jurisdictions and involve fraud and asset tracing elements, as well as international enforcement work. These disputes include appearing in the Grand Court, Court of Appeal, and Privy Council, as well as engaging in institutional and ad hoc arbitrations.

What types of clients do you represent?

Typically, our firm is brought in by lawyers whose clients are stuck in sensitive situations involving conflicts of interest or in disputes that may require a more niche, distinctive, and specialized skill set to resolve. In this regard, I have represented a wide range of different types of clients—from ultra-high-net-worth individuals and private clients to leading global financial institutions, such as investment banks, private equity firms, hedge funds, and insurance houses—in high-value disputes.

As I am based offshore in the Cayman Islands, these clients often have concurrent onshore disputes and almost always come from all around the world, particularly from countries at the heart of major business and financial activity, such as the United Kingdom, the United States—especially New York, Mainland China, and the Middle East.

What types of cases/deals do you work on?

I have worked on everything from boardroom disputes and insolvency actions to arbitrations and standard contract disputes. For example, one matter I am working on involves the representation of the chair and executives of a Chinese company who were accused of fraud and became drawn into widely publicized conflicts with the board, shareholders, and creditors. The clients held assets in companies registered offshore, which is where I got involved in crafting winding up defenses. In another recent matter, I am representing receivers of a company in proceedings in the Cayman Islands after the borrower objected to their appointment and powers.

How did you choose this practice area?

This practice area chose me. I wanted to be a lawyer for many years, and I found that the law’s tactics and nature keep you on your toes. Becoming a litigator sparked my interest because it involves constantly appraising revisions to the world of law, as well as strategically and creatively thinking about the tactics that can help achieve a client’s goal or minimize their risk and maximize their returns. In a broader sense, my interest stems from my view that the law is also a progressing step in understanding human nature and working with people through different communication experiences.

What is a typical day like and/or what are some common tasks you perform?

Your day changes the more senior you get. Typically, I spend the day working with the teams in the firm and answering any of their questions, but sometimes, there are days where I have to get up at 3:30 a.m. to meet with clients in Dubai to discuss a potential new matter, for example. Then in the morning, there is an insolvency matter that comes up where I would have to identify the right service provider that matches what a client wants. The key to navigating these days is to focus on being attentive to the clients’ needs and as a partner, to really understand who might be the best person on the team to fulfill those needs, whether they are to work through strategies with the client or simply to draft, file, or close submissions.

What training, classes, experience, or skills development would you recommend to someone who wishes to enter your practice area?

The best way to cut your teeth is by taking the leap and entering this area, if it is something you want to do. People get involved on multiple levels with different skill sets that translate into relevant skills, such as understanding how to manage various teams in other jurisdictions around the world. Also, having mentors can be helpful, and for me, some partners with whom I have worked throughout my career have taught and inspired me. Still, I believe that even with all this preparation and experience, you learn by gaining real client experience.

What do you like best about your practice area?

The best thing about working in my practice area is that, as a litigator in very complex and high-value matters that sometimes end up on the front page of a newspaper, you get to see a big difference with what you do in these cases. It is not just the law, but also the strategy here that you see and are involved in, and it is not just each individual battle in the case—you get to see the holistic view of it all. Being involved and seeing the whole picture means you make sure you get good results for your client. There is so much more than the pressure of each case, and the contagious nature of it all attracts me to this field.

What are some typical tasks that a junior lawyer would perform in this practice area?

The tasks a lawyer would perform develop from when you get qualified and, eventually, until you become a partner, from read-
ing, researching, and drafting. For instance, the way a lawyer is involved with dealing with third parties and assisting with cases really changes as your career progresses. As a junior lawyer, you would be involved with the whole range of administrative tasks and business and legal research, as well as diving into the books, since it is not an efficient use of time for a more-senior lawyer or partner to do these tasks. As you work to develop your skills in this area, your work will soon increasingly shift to the skill set you need as a cut-and-thrust litigator.

In what ways has the coronavirus pandemic affected your practice? How have you adjusted to lawyering in the wake of COVID-19?

We have seen an increase in volume of queries we are receiving relating to fraud and insolvency scenarios, including—in particular—an increase in queries from the Asia market. As a firm focused on fraud and misconduct, we see our role as a force for good, helping sort between innocuous and fraudulent actions and defending those who may be wrongfully accused as people and governments seek legal recourse or a new source of revenue.

Functionally, our daily work as litigators has shifted—no longer are all hearings conducted in person, with proceedings far more regularly being conducted online. At a local level here in the Cayman Islands, while court proceedings have been conducted over remote means for some time, far more hearings now take place online to great effect.

How is practicing litigation in a boutique different from practicing in a large law firm?

In my experience, practicing litigation at a medium-sized firm like ours is not all that different from practicing in a large law firm. A major difference at Kobre & Kim, compared to practicing at a large law firm, is that you obviously do not have access to an internal transactional side that can be a reliable source of business whenever a client’s need for litigation pops up. Because of that, maintaining positive and close relations with other law firms is key to driving the firm’s business forward. When considering Kobre & Kim’s “conflict-free” approach—which means that we avoid repeat clients and instead focus on “one-off” special counsel engagements—this makes relationship maintenance all the more important.

Ulrich Payne, Associate- Litigation 

Ulrich Payne represents clients in high-value, multijurisdictional disputes involving insolvency, restructuring, financial products and services, private equity, and contentious boardroom and shareholder issues. He has experience in managing complex, cross-border asset recovery efforts, as well as conducting regulatory investigations for investment banks and other financial or international corporate institutions. Mr. Payne has advised on numerous high-value, cross-border disputes ranging in multimillion to multibillion U.S. dollar amounts across the U.S., Europe, the Middle East, and Russia and Asia.

Mr. Payne has been recognized in multiple legal directories, including a 2019 Chambers Global ranking in Dispute Resolution, Restructuring & Insolvency, which described him as “a very gutsy litigator who is fabulous with clients and technically excellent on commercial cases.”

He also serves the Cayman Islands government as a contributor to legislative subcommittees tasked with advising on the impact of important proposed legislation, such as contingency and conditional fee and third-party funding arrangements, as well as identifying and resolving procedural and legal issues arising in dissenting shareholder proceedings.

Before joining Kobre & Kim, Mr. Payne practiced at Ogier in the Cayman Islands and previously at Kirkland & Ellis in London, where he focused on a wide range of disputes, including complex financial products, investment funds, contentious restructuring, and insolvency matters.

Kieran Gostin, Partner • Betsy Henthorne, Associate
Wilkinson Stekloff

Describe your practice area and what it entails.

We are a trial litigation boutique and pride ourselves on being able to take any case to trial. The firm’s attorneys have now tried more than 100 cases in a wide variety of areas, including almost 20 trials since the firm opened its doors in
2016.

While we take cases at every stage, we are often hired to represent clients at or near the end of discovery. This means our cases are normally ramping up for trial, and our job is to focus on taking what is often a very broad record and simplifying it into a compelling narrative that will be persuasive to a jury.

What types of clients do you represent?

The firm represents a wide variety of clients—including large companies (Bayer, Allergan, Georgia Pacific), sports associations (NFL, NCAA), criminal defendants, and pro bono clients. The pro bono cases are some of the most rewarding, and we have been lucky enough to work together on a substantial pro bono matter representing incarcerated people in Missouri seeking treatment for hepatitis C.

What types of cases/deals do you work on?

Like all attorneys at our firm, we are focused on cases headed toward trial. In terms of subject matter, there is no single type of case on which we work. As a firm, we are willing to take any case to trial, but over the past several years we have had antitrust, class action, criminal, products liability, and sports-related trials. Everybody at the firm floats between these areas and is exposed to all aspects of trial litigation.

How did you choose this practice area?

Kieran: I was working at the DOJ, and my practice mostly focused on briefing and arguing dispositive motions involving constitutional law and statutory interpretation. I joined Wilkinson Stekloff because I wanted a new challenge and to learn from some of the best trial lawyers in the country on how they approach cases. And I am glad I did because it has changed the way I practice as a lawyer. Going to trial regularly gives you a totally different perspective on every other part of a case—including how to take depositions, how to deal with opposing counsel, and even how you argue in front of judges.

Betsy: I knew in law school that I wanted to focus on litigation. I did a trial-focused clinic and interned in two public defenders’ offices and found I enjoyed being in the courtroom, working with witnesses, and making deals with opposing counsel. I particularly loved the problem-solving and strategy aspects of trial work. So, after finishing my clerkships, I looked for a firm where I could do that kind of work with smart people on tough cases. That’s Wilkinson Stekloff in a nutshell.

What is a typical day like and/or what are some common tasks you perform?

No two days are the same, and a lot of what we do depends on the stage of the case. As a general matter, we focus a lot of our time on preparing our cases for trial and then going to trial.

Preparing for trial covers a lot of ground, but on any given day, we might be meeting with clients, participating in internal strategy meetings, prepping witnesses for cross, developing direct and cross examinations, preparing opening statements, or drafting dispositive or trial-related briefs.

The best part of our job is actually going to trial. The hours can be long, but every day brings a lot of excitement. Regardless of which lawyer is standing up in the courtroom, the entire team has to work together to analyze the evidence as it comes in, react, and provide our best response. It is a very collaborative process that is really quite unlike anything else we do as lawyers.

What training, classes, experience, or skills development would you recommend to someone who wishes to enter your practice area?

There is no substitute for getting trial experience. We would recommend doing anything you can to get that experience, whether it be working at a trial firm over the summer, doing a law school clinic or government internship that gives you exposure to trials, or even doing moot court or mock trial in law school. The most important indicator of whether somebody will be a successful trial lawyer is whether he or she has a passion for the work. The best advice we can give to an attorney who is thinking about becoming a trial lawyer is to get out there and see what it is actually like.

What misconceptions exist about your practice area?

One of the biggest misconceptions from candidates applying to our firm is that writing is not an important skill for trial lawyers. We both spend a lot of time writing, and it is still the chief way that we communicate with the court. Sometimes we are writing a lot because our firm is taking the lead on dispositive briefing, but there is also an incredible amount of other briefing that occurs before and during trial. That briefing can have a significant effect on the course of trial—from influencing the evidence that is admitted by the court to shaping the instructions that are read to the jury. But it also has a more intangible effect, as you educate the judge on the merits of your case and hopefully win her or him over to your side.

What is unique about your practice area at your firm?

Wilkinson Stekloff’s relentless focus on trial is part of what makes working here so rewarding. While many firms and lawyers view trial as a last resort, we are thinking about our presentation to the jury from the moment a complaint is filed, or whenever a case first comes to the firm. We develop our trial themes early and use them to guide our decision-making at every stage.

That means we do everything, from depositions to document discovery to the briefing of dispositive motions, with an eye towards our ultimate trial strategy. To take just one example, we don’t just look for experts who agree with our position—we want someone with a compelling story, who will be able to connect with jurors and explain difficult concepts in a way regular people can understand.

Being able to make good arguments will only get you so far
—we want to make our case come alive for the jury. This approach is more difficult but also a lot more interesting and a lot more fun.

What are some typical tasks that a junior lawyer would perform in this practice area?

Betsy: Beth (Wilkinson) and Brian (Stekloff) always say they founded this firm to train the next generation of trial lawyers. And they mean it. Our business model, which consists exclusively of flat fees, means associates get a lot of exposure to clients, witnesses, and opposing counsel. Even junior associates have a seat at the table for strategy and witness meetings, and associate input is always taken seriously. Associates work closely with witnesses in a variety of contexts. This includes preparing for and attending in-person meetings, helping vet expert reports and other materials, drafting outlines for depositions and trial, working with witnesses to prepare PowerPoint presentations for trial, and writing strategy memos. Associates also help with opening statements and closing arguments at trial, conduct research (legal and otherwise—ask us about how associates’ factual research has helped solidify multiple trial victories!), and draft briefs. The bottom line is we aren’t wasting time billing hours or generating busy work—everyone is focused on the case we collectively will present to the jury.

How is practicing litigation in a boutique different from practicing in a large law firm?

Most of the differences are driven by the practical implications of having fewer attorneys—we have around 40 lawyers; whereas, large law firms can have hundreds if not thousands of lawyers. That means all of our attorneys have to be willing to dig in and participate in the management of the firm—whether by serving on the technology committee or helping to analyze potential business opportunities. But it also means you have a bigger voice right from the start: Many of the actions we have taken as a firm (both at trial and otherwise) were first suggested by some of our most junior associates.

The other big difference is a personal one. At a smaller firm, particularly when you are going to trial together on a regular basis, you end up knowing everyone else really well. That creates a different type of environment and encourages the feeling that you and your colleagues are teammates.

Kieran Gostin, Partner, and Betsy Henthorne, Associate

Kieran Gostin is a partner at Wilkinson Stekloff. Since joining Wilkinson Stekloff at the end of 2016, Kieran has represented company defendants in five trials that went to verdict, with each case resulting in a defense judgment. Before joining Wilkinson Stekloff as an associate, Kieran was a trial attorney in the Federal Programs Branch of the U.S. Department of Justice, where he defended the legality of federal statutes and executive agency action. Last year, Law360 selected Kieran as a Rising Star, an honor given to “attorneys under 40 whose legal accomplishments transcend their age.”

Betsy Henthorne is an associate at Wilkinson Stekloff. After graduating from Georgetown Law, Betsy clerked on the Southern District of New York, the D.C. Circuit, and the U.S. Supreme Court. Since joining the firm, Betsy has worked on numerous paying and pro bono matters at various stages, including discovery, dispositive motions, trial, and post-conviction. In 2019, she was part of the trial team that won a complete defense verdict in a multi-state consumer fraud class action, and she and another associate secured the release of a pro bono client who had been given a life sentence at 16 years old. In 2020, she helped negotiate a landmark class action settlement guaranteeing Hepatitis C treatment for incarcerated people in Missouri.

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