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The “winningest” law firms in the United States are a decidedly disparate lot. The top firm, based on money won in jury trials in 2001, is the Los Angeles-based Law Offices of Michael J. Piuze, a two-lawyer plaintiffs’ firm founded 26 years ago by an attorney who began his career as an insurance defense lawyer. The No. 2 firm — New Orleans’ Smith & Harang — didn’t exist a year ago, but was formed after its two name partners won a $1 billion judgment against Exxon in an environmental contamination case. The third winningest firm — Miami’s Pertnoy, Solowsky, Allen & Haber — is a litigation boutique that’s not a plaintiffs’ firm at all, but represents both plaintiffs and defendants in commercial litigation. And No. 4 on the list — Pensacola, Fla.’s Levin, Papantonio, Thomas, Mitchell, Echsner & Proctor — is a traditional plaintiffs’ personal injury and medical malpractice firm that has recently received a boost into mass tort litigation through its key role in the states’ tobacco litigation. If The National Law Journal‘s first Litigation 50 survey of the nation’s winningest law firms shows anything, it’s that the law firms that win the highest jury awards in any given year have little in common — other than the fact that they have won at least one substantial verdict that year. (For a list of the top 50 firms in the survey, see NLJ Litigation 50.) Of these winning firms, some specialize in personal injury litigation, others in commercial disputes; others accept any kind of case that seems likely to win substantial damages. SOLO ORIGINS Many of the firms started as solo practices or small partnerships by attorneys with minimal experience and little or no financial backing. Others were started by seasoned refugees from other traditional or plaintiffs’ law firms. Most of the firms are fairly small; three are solo practitioners. But eight firms have more than 20 lawyers and one firm, Dallas-based Baron & Budd, has 80 attorneys. Most represent plaintiffs exclusively. But several firms have thriving defense practices as well. One firm, Chicago-based Bartlit Beck Herman Palenchar & Scott, is known primarily as a defense specialist. Its biggest verdict in 2001 — for $96.4 million — came in a counterclaim in a lender-liability lawsuit. Nearly all the firms were working on contingency for their clients in the cases that attained big verdicts in 2001. But for its work on a breach of contract/tortious interference action that brought a $454.5 million verdict, Dallas’ Sayles Lidji & Werbner was working on a modified contingency arrangement, with the client paying litigation expenses. The National Law Journal‘s Litigation 50 is a survey of the “winningest” trial firms of 2001, based on the gross amount of money awarded by juries during trials concluded between Jan. 1, 2001, and Dec. 31, 2001. A firm’s ranking is based on the total amount from all cases tried to a verdict before a jury, but does not include any money obtained through settlements or through bench trials. The ranking also does not take into account any post-trial changes in the judgment, subsequent settlements or the ultimate chances of collection — just the amount the jury awarded. In order to produce a true list of trial firms, the survey includes only firms that devote 80 percent or more of their practices to litigation. This restriction excluded firms where litigation is only a part of the overall practice scheme. As a result, the Litigation 50 chart does not include such full-service firms as Holland & Hart and Hunton & Williams, which each won verdicts of more than $100 million in 2001. The survey also does not include defense firms, because the rankings are based on dollars won, not judgments averted. To determine the rankings, the NLJ sent out surveys to every law firm involved in the 100 largest jury verdicts of 2001 and every firm we could determine, through searches of www.VerdictSearch.com and other databases, that had won at least one $5 million verdict in 2001. These surveys, sent to more than 300 firms, were supplemented by additional research, including calls to the various firms, to determine every verdict won by each firm in 2001. If multiple firms participated together in a single trial, we gave each firm credit for the full amount of the verdict. Not every firm responded to the survey. Where firms did not respond, we used information in “The 100 Largest Verdicts of 2001,” published in the NLJ‘s Feb. 4, 2002, issue, articles in various other publications, and reports in VerdictSearch and other compilers of verdicts. Despite this additional research, the final numbers do not include all verdicts. Many verdicts are not reported by this publication, or by anyone else. The dollar amounts listed represent what was reported to the NLJ and what we could find. Information about more verdicts was still being acquired as the deadline for the chart passed. The listing for West Palm Beach, Fla.’s Searcy Denney Scarola Barnhart & Shipley, for instance, records lead partner Christian Searcy’s $256 million verdict, but at least $10 million in smaller awards is missing from the total. MULTIPLE AWARDS Most of the firms are on this list because of one gigantic verdict awarded in 2001; for some that big verdict was the only jury award for the year. This is true of some very prominent firms. New York’s Kramer, Dillof, Livingston & Moore usually has several verdicts in the top 100 nationally each year. In 2001, it had only one verdict of any size. But that verdict was the largest ever won by noted medical malpractice specialist Thomas A. Moore — $107.8 million in an obstetrical malpractice case. Other firms had multiple awards. In 2001, Hazlehurst, Miss.’s Shannon Law Firm won verdicts of $100 million, $77.5 million and $600,000. Ness Motley, the noted asbestos and tobacco litigation firm out of South Carolina, won verdicts in separate cases of $130 million, $29.74 million, $19.86 million and $2.9 million. In the firms where there were multiple verdicts, the wins often were accomplished by only one attorney at the firm. Piuze was trial counsel for the two megaverdicts his firm won in 2001 — a $25.7 million products liability verdict against General Motors Corp. and the biggest verdict of the year, a $3 billion win against Philip Morris Inc. on behalf of a dying smoker. Jim Shannon was lead counsel in all the verdicts won in 2001 by the Shannon firm. But some firms had several lawyers contributing substantial verdicts in 2001. Both name partners of Lake Success, N.Y.’s Pegalis & Erickson won substantial medical malpractice verdicts last year — $35 million by Steven Pegalis in May and $114.87 million by partner Stephen Erickson in November. Some of the firms on the list may be “one-hit wonders.” They hit their biggest jury award ever in 2001 and will likely never reach these heights again. Some firms clearly rode the coattails of the primary trial lawyers. But most of these litigation firms — and the trial lawyers that lead them — have long records of winning big judgments. Piuze is a prime example of this. He had his first million-dollar verdict in 1978, two years after he began his practice as a plaintiffs’ attorney. He has had scores of such verdicts since, including a $40.5 million verdict in an insurance bad-faith case in 1983, at the time the largest-ever bad-faith verdict in the world. Jack Harang of Smith & Harang was part of the team that won a $3.367 billion verdict in a 1997 trial over a chemical spill in a railway car in New Orleans. Brian Panish of Greene, Broillet, Panish & Wheeler in Santa Monica, Calif., who won a $55.37 million products liability verdict in 2001, won one of the largest verdicts ever in 1999 — $4.9 billion against General Motors Corp. in an auto products action. Mark S. Werbner of Sayles Lidji has won more than 90 percent of the 100-plus cases he has taken to verdict, including a $24.5 million verdict against American Airlines in a personal injury action and a $23 million verdict against Texas Instruments in an environmental case. In recent years, lawyers with Jackson, Miss.-based Langston Sweet & Freese have won a series of massive judgments, including a $150 million verdict in a fen-phen case and a $144.88 million verdict against Ford Motor Co. This year, the firm’s top verdicts were $71.27 million in a consumer fraud action and $23 million in a medical malpractice trial. The Litigation 50 is a list of the top 50 litigation firms nationwide based on money won through verdicts in 2001. It’s not a list of the best litigation firms or a ranking of the firms that actually collected the most money in 2001. There’s often a long time between verdict and resolution, particularly when taking on certain defendants, says Jay Solowski of Pertnoy Solowski, who is a lead trial attorney in a $540 million verdict against Exxon. “We know Exxon will litigate until the Supreme Court of Mars orders them to pay,” he says. Most of these firms collected far more money in settlements than they did in verdicts. Harang, for instance, has already drawn a substantial share of several hundred million dollars paid out in settlements following the verdict in the 1997 New Orleans railroad tank car case. And while Christian Searcy’s $256 million jury verdict in a wrongful death/personal injury trial was impressive, more significant was the $57 million cash settlement he negotiated with the primary defendants following his win in the liability portion of the trial. Overall, the Litigation 50 made one thing clear: In 2001, juries found the lawyers in these firms incredibly persuasive. Related Chart: NLJ Litigation 50

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