Name: Frank Scherkenbach
Age: 39
Firm: Fish & Richardson
Biggest Case: Power Integration v. Motorola
J.D.: Harvard
Career Goal (as a kid): engineer

After their client Adobe Systems won a patent trial in 1997, Fish & Richardson’s lawyers received a letter from one of the jurors. It congratulated the lawyers involved, “especially that nice Mr. Scherkenbach.”

Not everyone can be both effective and nice. “Frank couples raw intelligence with an unassuming, straightforward personal manner that makes him very effective in the courtroom,” says James Pooley, the lead Fish & Richardson partner for the Adobe litigation. Pooley is now a partner in the Palo Alto, Calif., office of New York’s Milbank, Tweed, Hadley & McCloy.

Frank Scherkenbach, then just a senior associate, presented the closing arguments in the case, which turned out to be one of The National Law Journal‘s “top defense wins” of 1997. “A remarkable accomplishment,” Pooley says.

The lawyer has continued to impress his colleagues, securing two significant jury awards for patent infringement in the District of Delaware as a first-chair litigator: a $32.3 million judgment against Motorola in 1999 for client Power Integrations Inc. and a $4.4 million victory in August involving a surgical robot for plaintiffs Intuitive Surgical Inc. and IBM Corp.

His client list also includes Cypress Semiconductor Corp., Korea Data Systems USA Inc., Microsoft Corp., and Sandell Avionics.

Scherkenbach got his start in 1991 in the then-thriving Palo Alto office (now closed) of Phoenix’s Brown & Bain. In 1993 Scherkenbach joined the Silicon Valley office of Fish & Richardson. He now practices in the firm’s Boston headquarters, having moved there last December to be closer to family.

The compliments keep rolling in about Scherkenbach. David Shaw, a former colleague and now corporate counsel for Intuitive Surgical, climbs mountains with Scherkenbach. “He’s a man I’d want as much on my trial team as on my ropes team,” Shaw says.

Judge Robert Mayer of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit hired Scherkenbach as a clerk out of Harvard Law School in 1989. “There was nothing more I could have asked of him,” says Mayer, now chief judge, about Scherkenbach’s performance.

Scherkenbach was shot in the leg one evening in a random Washington, D.C., gun incident while walking home from a softball game with his fianc�e (now his wife). The bullet ricocheted off the street before lodging in his left calf, where it remains. After waiting most of the night for treatment in a local emergency room, he returned to work the next morning. Mayer, who served as an Army Ranger in Vietnam, promptly presented Scherkenbach with a homemade purple heart.

Partner David Barkan calls Scherkenbach “one of the calmest, most upbeat persons you will meet in the litigation business.” These qualities earned Scherkenbach a place on the firm’s six-member management committee in 1998 — only one year after he made partner. At the time he was its youngest member.

Scherkenbach takes in this praise with typical Midwestern reserve. “It’s nice to hear,” the Wisconsin native says. A Stanford University degree-holder in both mechanical engineering and classics, Scherkenbach says he planned on an engineering career before catching what he calls “the family disease.” His father and sister are both trial lawyers.

Scherkenbach recalls that when he chose law over engineering, one of his engineering teachers told him: “What a waste. You could have done something useful with your life.”

His clients would disagree.