Hagens Berman Sobol Shapiro was competing in the Southern District of New York for lead counsel status in a case when the judge turned to managing partner Steve Berman and asked, “Why would I pick you from Seattle?” According to Berman, “I responded, ‘If I were a class member, what would I want? I’d want a law firm that’s been to trial in class actions that’s been successful with high recoveries. That’s my firm. We go to trial and get high recoveries.’ ”

He got the job.

Operating from 10 offices around the country, Hagens Berman has emerged as a top U.S. whistleblower firm. It was co-lead counsel against Tremont Group Holdings Inc. for its alleged role in channeling investor money toward jailed-for-life swindler Bernard Madoff. In August 2011, the team secured final approval of a $100 million settlement — “the only recovery out of the trustee’s action so far made to victims,” Berman said.

The firm won approval of an $82 million settlement against McKesson Corp. in a case that’s netted close to $1 billion for the class. The complaint alleged that McKesson violated federal racketeering laws by rigging the pricing system on brand-name drugs. Hagens Berman had uncovered evidence of wrongdoing while pursuing another case.

Hagens Berman secured final approval of an $80 million settlement for 70,000 seniors against Midland National Life Insurance Co. for misrepresenting costs in its deferred annuities, and $14.5 million for Texas whistleblower Kyle Lagow against Bank of America Corp.’s Countrywide mortgage unit for allegedly pushing appraisers to pad home values.

The firm gets high marks for its detail work and persistence. Said McKesson outside counsel Melvin Goldman of Morrison & Foerster, “They are a very strong and determined law firm and they are very good substantively.” A government attorney in the Countrywide case added, “They did an excellent job investigating the allegations, filed a well-drafted complaint and were always responsive to questions the government had.”

The firm is still waiting for the resolution of a 12-year-old case against Rio Tinto PLC on behalf of the Papua New Guinea residents who allege harm from mining operations. The matter has been before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit three times, but now is “in suspense” while the Supreme Court “decides issues in another case” related to Rio Tinto, Berman said.