When Brown Rudnick Freed & Gesmer stuck its neck out in 1995 to represent the commonwealth of Massachusetts in tobacco litigation, the Boston-based corporate-defense firm took a big risk that it might toil for four years and not get paid.

Luckily, it helped the Bay State win $8.5 billion from the tobacco companies, and it was awarded fees that might end up as high as $178 million, albeit paid over 25 years.