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The only thing small about the litigation practice at Munger, Tolles & Olson is the number of lawyers. The department has just 130 lawyers and a breathtaking one-to-one partner-associate ratio. Five out of every six litigators clerked for a federal judge. And one out of every five of those clerks worked for a U.S. Supreme Court justice. “The most critical ingredient is our talent,” says partner Ronald Olson. “We hire the best people available.” And they put them quickly into world-class cases. Over the past two years, the Los Angeles�based firm has come through for The Boeing Company, Abbott Laboratories, Warren Buffett, Southern California Edison Company, Philip Morris USA Inc., Microsoft Corporation and Michael Ovitz. Munger Tolles is also the choice for many law firms in trouble, including Sidley Austin, with its tax shelter woes. (The firm settled investor claims last year for $45 million.) The docket at Munger Tolles stretches from patent cases to smokers’ class actions to probes into the reinsurance industry. In one Abbott Labs case, partner Jeffrey Weinberger won pretrial motions that stopped generic drug giant Teva Pharmaceutical Industries Limited from selling a cheaper version of one of Abbott’s best-sellers, the antibiotic Biaxin. Abbott also called on Munger after it lost a jury verdict that declared invalid the company’s patent on a DNA�based test. Weinberger convinced the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit to vacate on the novel grounds that the plaintiff, Gen-Probe Incorporated, could not challenge the patent if it was still paying royalties as a licensee. “They’ve consistently done outstanding work on complex matters,” says Laura Schumacher, Abbott’s general counsel. For Philip Morris, the firm turned back two attempted class actions filed in California. In one, it convinced a state judge to decertify a class of millions of former smokers brought under the state’s wide-ranging unfair competition law. Partner Gregory Stone argued on behalf of all the defendant tobacco companies that one of California’s recently enacted ballot propositions, which tightened that law’s standing requirements, should be applied to pending cases. Munger also played a pivotal role in one of the most important corporate governance trials in recent years. The firm defended Michael Ovitz, the deposed president of The Walt Disney Company, who had been targeted along with other Disney executives and directors in a shareholder derivative suit brought in Delaware Chancery Court. The plaintiffs sought $262 million arising from the company’s expensive hiring and termination of Ovitz. Partner Mark Epstein faced a tricky task, since his client wanted to tell a different story from the other defendants (that Ovitz had been unfairly fired), without sabotaging the defense strategy. “We were sort of outside the tent,” says Epstein. “We weren’t invited to most of the [defense] meetings.” Still, the defense team had such confidence in Epstein’s preparation of Ovitz that it decided that the lawyer should call the former Disney executive as the first defense witness. “That really ended up working well for us,” says Stephen Alexander of Bingham McCutchen, who defended two former directors. “[Ovitz] could tell the whole story from start to finish.” At the end of the trial, the judge ruled for the defendants. When Boeing faced a scandal involving an employee’s theft of rocket launch secrets from competitor Lockheed Martin Corporation, the company selected Munger to run the litigation. Not only did Lockheed sue for billions, but the U.S. attorney in Los Angeles began a criminal investigation, and the Air Force started a probe. At stake was Boeing’s government rocket launch program and its credibility. Munger’s team, led by Brad Brian and Jerome Roth, succeeding in winning dismissals of Lockheed’s RICO and antitrust claims. Last year Lockheed agreed to drop its trade secret theft claims as part of a proposed joint venture with Boeing (which is awaiting antitrust clearance). The U.S. attorney is still investigating and has filed criminal charges against two former Boeing employees (who are not represented by Munger). Paul Ehlenbach, assistant general counsel at Boeing, describes the Munger lawyers as “super responsive.” Brian dispenses with any false modesty about Munger’s status. “From top to bottom, I don’t think there’s a firm in the country that can match what we bring,” he says. He and his partners are proud of how selective they can be. “We look for special clients with particularly difficult problems,” says Stone. Not surprisingly, a firm like this isn’t interested in discounting rates. “We’re not involved in competing in reverse auctions,” says Olson. “If it’s a fee competition, we pass.” Still, one client notes that Munger’s lean staffing leads to extremely reasonable bills. “They’re probably the most efficient firm I use,” says William Barr, executive vice president and general counsel of Verizon Communications Inc. “The partners are all working foremen. They roll up their sleeves and do real legal work.” Olson insists the firm looks for more than high grades when it comes to hiring. “Greg Stone went to Cal Tech. But what really impressed me about Greg was that he had spent his [early] life running a ranch with his mother and grandmother,” says Olson. (Stone grew up on a 10,000-acre cattle ranch in central California.) “He knew what hard work was like. He knew how to pull a calf.” That’s one way to learn how to roll up your sleeves. Susan Beck is a San Francisco-based senior writer for The American Lawyer magazine.

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