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Winning isn’t everything in a Supreme Court practice. The noblest work an advocate can do, at times, is to cabin the damage from a sure loser of a case. But winning is still better than losing. And among the law firms that have argued five or more cases in the last five terms, the survey by The American Lawyer indicates that only Covington & Burling has a 100 percent win rate, coming out on top in all seven of the cases its lawyers have argued. The streak actually goes further back, totaling nine cases won and none lost since 1994. Surprising, perhaps, for a firm that is not usually counted among the handful that specializes in Supreme Court advocacy. But partly because of its record, Covington partners are hoping to climb into that elite circle. “We may miss out on the publicity others have gotten. We don’t have the single figurehead through whom the cases are funneled,” says partner James Atwood. “But we think we should be on everybody’s shortlist.” Cynical rivals suggest that Covington has taken only cases that look like winners. Atwood laughs at the idea: “We haven’t turned down any cases, and the ones we’ve argued have not been slam dunks.” In Brown v. Pro Football, Inc., for example, Covington partner Gregg Levy in his debut before the justices faced Kenneth Starr and Lawrence Wallace. Despite his high court inexperience, Levy had represented the National Football League for more than ten years. He won the case. When it tackles Supreme Court cases, Covington takes a team approach, often involving some of the 14 former Supreme Court law clerks at the firm. “The tradition of this firm is that individuals don’t have clients, the firm has clients,” says Atwood. “Our people don’t have quite the same egos you might have elsewhere.” In two of his own cases, Atwood used a different winning strategy — sitting down early. In both U.S. v. IBM and U.S. v. United States Shoe Corp., Atwood represented the respondents, meaning he argued second. “By the time I got up, I was pretty confident from the earlier questioning that we would win,” Atwood says. “So I hit the main points, waited to see if there were any lingering questions from the justices, and then hit the chair as fast as I could.” Both times, he used up about half his allotted time — a sign of confidence the justices appreciate. Covington has no granted cases scheduled for argument in the fall, but has five certiorari petitions pending — including the Microsoft antitrust case, in which partner Charles Rule is part of the company’s team of lawyers. With so many cases pending, Atwood acknowledges there is a downside to having a long-running winning streak at the Supreme Court: “Nobody at the office wants to be the first one to lose.”

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