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When San Francisco antitrust litigator Daniel Wall first interviewed at Latham & Watkins in 1999, Robert Dell, Latham’s chairman and visionary-in-chief, offered two pieces of gnomic prognostication. The first was that Wall, then a partner at McCutchen, Doyle, Brown & Enersen, would “become much larger” if he were at Latham. The second was that if Wall came to the firm, he would eventually be judged not by the success of his own practice, but by the success of the entire litigation department. Wall finally understood the wisdom of Dell’s comments in September 2004, when he won a blockbuster trial for Oracle Corporation in the most important antitrust case of the last two years. After a beauty contest, Oracle hired Latham to beat back a government challenge to its $10 billion takeover of PeopleSoft Inc. In his presentation to Oracle’s in-house lawyers, Wall had emphasized Latham’s size, depth, and reach: almost 600 litigators deployed around the country and the world. Once Oracle picked Latham, with only four months to prepare for trial, Wall called on a team of 41 Latham partners and associates � scattered across 11 offices in Europe and the United States � to subpoena documents and take depositions from dozens of third-party business software application customers. Discovery was so extensive that, for one document delivery, Latham leased the entire cargo hold of a United Airlines 767 plane. Thanks to that colossal effort, Wall at trial was able to present U.S. District Court Judge Vaughn Walker with a sophisticated antitrust analysis of the merger that trumped the government’s less nuanced opposition. The highly publicized victory made a celebrity of Wall, who, at Oracle’s request, gave regular press briefings during the trial. But he credits Latham’s platform � part one of Dell’s prediction � with securing him the Oracle assignment and the excellent work of his team � Dell’s second point � with winning the case. “Working at Latham,” says Wall, “is like playing for the Yankees.” Actually, at least since 2004, Latham’s record is better than that of the Bronx Bombers. Latham litigators won an acquittal for a pharmaceutical executive accused of fraud and conspiracy; secured dismissal of a class action brought by Vietnamese nationals against Agent Orange producer Monsanto Company; eviscerated a billion-dollar toxic tort claim against Kuhlman Electric before settling 1,700 cases for a fraction of the plaintiffs’ demands; and, after years of dedicated pro bono investigation, achieved reform of California’s facilities for youthful offenders. Department chair Peter Wald took a securities class action against client Ernst & Young to trial � a once-in-a-blue-moon event � and won it with a strategy that turned the complexity of the underlying fraud to Ernst’s advantage. D.C. partner Beth Wilkinson followed her 2003 win in an individual smoker suit for Philip Morris by retrying the one count on which the 2003 jury deadlocked. Pregnant with twins, Wilkinson again defeated one of Philip Morris’ most feared opponents. Latham’s appellate department, headed by U.S. Supreme Court litigator Maureen Mahoney, has been peerless since the beginning of 2004, overturning adverse results in federal appellate courts all over the country. Mahoney added gloss to her reputation with her representation of Arthur Andersen in its appeal of its criminal conviction in the Enron Corp. matter. After Latham lost Andersen’s appeal in the Fifth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals, the government was so confident that it did not respond to Mahoney’s cert petition to the Supreme Court. Mahoney had assembled a coalition of amici, whose briefs urged the court to clarify the criminalization of corporate conduct. Mahoney succeeded in persuading the justices to take the case and won a unanimous ruling overturning Andersen’s conviction and remanding the case to the trial court. (In November, after lobbying by Latham partner Catherine Palmer, the U.S. Department of Justice announced it would not retry Andersen and moved to vacate the conviction.) Latham’s success in such a broad array of practice areas is no accident. After the firm struggled through the recession of the early 1990s, Dell, as the newly installed chairman, focused on strengthening the litigation department. According to Washington litigation partner Mark Newell, now the firm’s vice-chairman, Dell and the executive committee identified critical areas of litigation growth � including antitrust, white-collar criminal defense, intellectual property, securities and complex torts � and set out to hire lateral partners in those strategic areas. Such key Latham litigators as Wall, Wald and former department chair Miles Ruthberg all came in as lateral partners. Beth Wilkinson joined Latham from the government. A group of litigators came to the firm from New York’s Mudge Rose Guthrie Alexander & Ferdon. Because Latham’s culture and compensation system emphasize teamwork, “it feels like we’ve been practicing together forever,” says Wald. Latham’s size and talent have also contributed to the firm’s success in defeating the feds. The Oracle and Andersen cases were widely expected to be easy wins for the government. Latham won both. The firm surprised the Justice Department again in a Garland, Texas, case � decided in 2004 � in which it successfully defended the city against allegations of racial discrimination in the hiring of police and firefighters. And in a pair of cases for clients Ford Motor Company and E.I. du Pont de Nemours and Company, Latham litigators employed creative arguments to secure tens of millions of dollars from the government for environmental cleanups. “That’s a string of victories against the United States,” says Mahoney, “and it runs across practice areas.” The powerful Latham litigation infrastructure also extends beyond U.S. borders. Latham boasts a significant indigenous practice abroad, winning cases in France, England and Germany. The firm’s global presence is as strategically designed as its lateral growth. Ten years ago, says Wall, Latham wouldn’t have been considered one of the premier litigation firms. Today that department is filled with young leaders whose success has created what Wall calls a “virtuous cycle” of cutting-edge, high-stakes cases that, in turn, attract talented young lawyers. “Ten years from now,” Wall says, “we’ll still be at the top.” Alison Frankel is a senior writer at The American Lawyer magazine, which is affiliated with The Recorder.

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