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Keker & Van Nest, a 49-lawyer firm based in San Francisco, won The American Lawyer magazine’s first Litigation Boutique of the Year contest. The firm edged out four other finalists: Susman Godfrey of Houston, the runner-up; Chicago’s Bartlit Beck Herman Palenchar & Scott; Houston’s Beck, Redden & Secrest; and Washington, D.C.’s Zuckerman Spaeder. Keker & Van Nest was cited for a series of litigation successes, including major cases in intellectual property, legal malpractice and white-collar defense. In his report on the firm, senior reporter Paul Braverman wrote that “Keker & Van Nest lawyers handle cases of national importance … Not only do they win consistently, they do so while working in an environment that is a model for the legal industry in the areas of diversity and pro bono. Also, the partners like each other, or do a great job of disguising any animosity beneath a shower of banter and playful teasing.” This competition was open to litigation specialty shops outside The Am Law 200. The magazine’s editors invited some firms to participate; others nominated themselves. The contest was extremely close. The final decision, made by a panel of American Lawyer staffers, was based on the firms’ written submissions and oral presentations, supplemented by reporting with firm clients, opponents and observers. The contest covered the period between January 2003 through June 2004, which the finalists could augment during the final round of judging. All manner of litigation was covered, from pretrial settlements through appellate work. The Keker firm won despite a high-profile defeat in the federal government’s prosecution of Frank Quattrone, the former high-flying investment banker at Credit Suisse First Boston. John Keker, the firm’s founder and marquee attraction, represented Quattrone and lost at trial (the first trial ended in a mistrial). The finalists included: � Susman Godfrey. This 62-lawyer firm divides its time between big-ticket plaintiffs cases and a docket of corporate defense work. According to firm lawyers, the former accounts for roughly 80 percent of their annual revenues. The firm is notable for its lawyers’ high-quality pedigrees, democratic governance structure and willingness to place bets on cases that yield astonishing results. In November, partner Parker Folse III settled an antitrust claim against Microsoft for its client Novell. The price tag: $536 million. The contingency fee: about $88 million. As notable, the firm maintains an active pro bono practice that, among other things, sprung a wrongly convicted inmate from death row in Texas in 2004. � Bartlit Beck. This 48-lawyer firm spun off from Kirkland & Ellis a dozen years ago. Since then its partners have built on their national reputations. Philip Beck was George Bush’s trial counsel during the Florida recount before he saved Bayer from its near fatal, Baycol-induced coma; at 72, Fred Bartlit Jr. still parachutes into hot trials from coast to coast. The firm is notable for an assortment of resumes that would make recruiters weep; a talent for bringing technology into its cases; and a taste for alternate billing regimens that offer substantial upside potential. � Beck Redden. Think of Beck Redden like this: Exxon Mobil can hire almost any defense counsel it wants, and when the problem is big enough, the oil company turns to 64-year-old David Beck and his 33-lawyer firm. Beck and Joe Redden spun off from Fulbright & Jaworski in 1992, and have proceeded to build an elite corporate defense operation. They bring to their cases a style that’s a mix of military bearing, hard-eyed gunslinging, and down-home just-folks jury talking. “We’ve got a market niche,” says Beck. “And it’s a good market niche.” � Zuckerman Spaeder. At 93 lawyers, this firm is the biggest in the group. Its practice spreads from white-collar defense — it successfully defended the Salt Lake City Olympic officials charged with bribery — to civil litigation. It’s the litigation muscle behind the remarkable advances made by the Oneida Indian Nation in upstate New York. Several partners are veterans of public defender offices, which according to clients, has made them unusually attentive to their plight. Says one: “These guys are not only my lawyers, they’re my friends.” Also in the special report are profiles of three small firms that the magazine deemed worthy of watching: � Robbins, Russell, Englert, Orseck & Untereiner is a Washington, D.C., appellate specialty firm. It opened in 2001 as a spin-off from Mayer Brown & Platt, and now fields 12 lawyers. The firm has argued six cases in the U.S. Supreme Court. � Yetter & Warden is a 15-lawyer Houston trial shop that opened in 1997 as a spin-off from Baker Botts. The firm specializes in high-stakes corporate plaintiff and defense work, relies on referrals for new business, and seems to adore going to trial. � Eimer Stahl Klevorn & Solberg is a 4-year-old, 25-lawyer spin-off from Sidley & Austin in Chicago. The firm has big-name clients — Hollinger Inc. and Union Carbide — and its seven partners are free of most big-firm conflict or policy hindrances. As the introduction to this package in the January issue of The American Lawyer concludes: “We can’t say these firms are sharper or more loyal or harder-working than the average Am Law 200 outfit. But after a month’s worth of interviews, we’ve never met a group of litigators who seem happier.”

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