Albert Cornelison, Jr., was in his first month on the job as Dresser Industries Inc.’s new head of litigation when a Chicago jury hit the company with a stunning $54 million verdict in a business fraud case. Obviously, Cornelison wasn’t to blame for Dresser’s costly predicament. But it was just as clear that Cornelison’s career at Dresser would be defined by whether he could free the Texas company from the huge award, which included $50 million in punitive damages. His boss, for one, expected nothing less. Speaking to Dresser’s board of directors, general counsel Clinton Ables pledged that the “verdict will never stand. Give us some time, and we will eventually win this case.

During the next four years, Cornelison directed the litigation through a heartstopping series of twists: from a change in trial counsel to a bet-the-ranch appellate strategy through an apparent judicial victory that nearly went sour. In the end, Cornelison and his client emerged victorious: A new jury handed the plaintiffs a mere $1 in compensatory damages, and the trial court cut the punitives by nearly 99 percent.