Let’s face it: Any law firm that bothers to enter our Litigation Department of the Year contest can boast victories that moved markets, changed the law and brought salvation for their clients. But even in these rarefied circles, 10 firms stood out.

Davis Polk & Wardwell

Rewind to April 2012, when the U.S. Department of Justice agreed to stand down after a multiyear probe into alleged Chinese bribes by Davis Polk client Morgan Stanley. The same month, state and federal prosecutors opted not to criminally charge another firm client, Intesa Sanpaolo, for allegedly violating U.S. sanctions against Iran, Cuba, Libya and Sudan. Month after month, with just 36 litigation partners, Davis Polk kept clients out of trouble.

Kirkland & Ellis

It’s been all hands on deck at Kirkland & Ellis since BP plc tapped the firm to face down litigation and investigations stemming from the disaster that fouled the Gulf of Mexico in April 2010. Somehow, the firm’s massive litigation department still found time to handle 54 trials or arbitrations, negotiate 284 favorable settlements, and secure five Supreme Court victories, including a major 5-4 decision protecting generic drug manufacturers from state tort liability.

Latham & Watkins

Most firms would be thrilled to claim a fraction of Latham’s victories over the last two years, from defeating New York City’s ban on big sugary drinks to rescuing Ernst & Young from New York state’s disgorgement claims over Lehman Brothers audits. Latham sure thrilled its clients, including TransPerfect Global Inc. in a hard-fought patent case over language translation technology, and Live Nation Worldwide in a nearly $1 billion arbitration brought by Europe’s CTS Eventim.

Munger, Tolles & Olson

See a pattern? After bond king Jeffrey Gundlach walked away from TCW Group with “two-and-a-half Empire State Buildings” of documents, Munger fought off a half-billion-dollar claim for trade secret theft and convinced a jury to give Gundlach $67 million. After lifestyle queen Martha Stewart signed a merchandising deal with J.C. Penney, Munger blocked an attempt by Macy’s to enjoin it. After the BP gulf spill, Munger cut a $1.4 billion deal to resolve all government claims against Transocean.

Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison

When the big banks needed an army of top litigators to defend them after the financial crisis, Paul Weiss was at the ready. The firm notched more than a dozen impressive victories for Citigroup Inc. alone during our judging period. For Bank of New York Mellon, the firm squashed a billion-dollar suit related to the disastrous leveraged buyout that created LyondellBasell. Paul Weiss also excels at crafting high-stakes settlements—whether it’s resolving concussion-related suits against the NFL or wrapping up a class action for MasterCard Inc.

Sullivan & Cromwell

Sullivan & Cromwell’s deep bench of securities litigators proved their worth again and again, winning relief for clients like Goldman Sachs & Co., UBS AG and BP. Securities litigation isn’t the only area where the firm shone. From defeating a long-running $1.3 billion antitrust case that Novell Inc. brought against Microsoft Corporation to helping a Dubai investment fund defeat a $700 million employment arbitration, S&C produced top-tier results that matched its reputation.

Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz

Wachtell’s litigators continue to strut their stuff in M&A battles. In Delaware, Wachtell blocked the hostile $5 billion takeover bid for Vulcan Materials by Martin Marietta Materials Inc., and forced attorneys to rethink confidentiality agreements. In Boston, Wachtell convinced a jury (if not The New York Times) that Goldman Sachs didn’t commit a $1 billion fraud when it advised Dragon Systems Inc. to sell itself for stock that soon became worthless. And at the Second Circuit, Wachtell helped to develop the key arguments that doomed Irving Picard’s $19 billion claim against JPMorgan Chase & Co.

White & Case

How’s this for client trust: In 2012 Toshiba Corporation alone opted to brave trial in a $2.7 billion antitrust class action against liquid crystal display manufacturers. White & Case repaid that trust when the plaintiffs agreed to settle for just $30 million. Other clients—the Republic of Bulgaria, Facebook Inc. and pharmaceutical companies defending so-called pay-for-delay deals—all scored stellar victories after putting their faith in the firm.

Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale and Dorr

Wilmer’s intellectual property department stood out among its peers, winning high-profile cases for Apple Inc., Intel Corp, and the Hewlett-Packard Company. But the firm also won critical victories in white-collar cases and in securities litigation relating to the collapse of the commodities broker Refco Inc. At the U.S. Supreme Court, Wilmer’s top-caliber appellate advocates won over a majority of the justices on topics ranging from free speech to immigration rights and patent law.

Winston & Strawn

Winston not only tries cases for a range of pharmaceutical, professional services and tech companies, it wins them too. The bigger the better. The firm won the third-largest U.S. jury verdict of 2012—$1 billion for Monsanto Company; racked up a 9-0 decision at the Supreme Court for generic drug maker Caraco Pharmaceutical; and expertly defended Ernst & Young LLP (in a nearly two-year-long arbitration) over its auditing of troubled HealthSouth Corporation.