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One morning in December, Kenneth Chiate got a frantic phone call from a man who was suing Prudential Life Insurance Co. for defamation. Two weeks into a jury trial, he feared his case was collapsing and begged Chiate, a partner at Quinn Emanuel Urquhart Oliver & Hedges, to jump in and save it. Chiate watched the testimony that day, interviewed a witness in the evening and the following day marched into court and took over as plaintiff’s counsel. Three weeks later the jury returned a $1.2 million verdict for his client. It’s not the first time Quinn Emanuel has received an 11th-hour call from a client. After all, the firm has a reputation for tackling high-stakes litigation, particularly when a case is headed to trial. Focused solely on business litigation, the Los Angeles-based firm has built a record of significant wins that has attracted clients and prominent laterals, most recently Chiate, a 36-year veteran of Pillsbury Winthrop and Sanford Litvack, former general counsel and vice chairman of Walt Disney Co. “I think people come to us because of our success,” firm managing partner John Quinn said. “Any business case that goes to trial by its nature is a tough one — a coin on the edge. We have a record of being able to win the tough ones, which comes from experience in knowing how to communicate with judges and juries.” The 192-lawyer Quinn Emanuel is a major player in Southern California, where it ranks among the top 10 firms in gross revenue. The firm also has gained a toehold in the San Francisco Bay Area market since opening in Silicon Valley in 1997, and it’s now carving out a niche in New York. But as the firm grows and extends its reputation as a litigation dynamo, a few internal tensions are beginning to surface. Some former associates complain that there is heavy pressure to bill a minimum of 2,100 hours — and more if they want to make partner. And they say that while some associates get significant trial opportunities, the experience is not uniform and those who don’t get into court feel frustrated. Quinn dismissed criticism about the workload, saying the firm’s billable hour expectations are in line with those at other big firms. But he acknowledged that trial experience depends on what happens with the cases that associates are assigned to. “It’s true that it’s a constant struggle to get associates into court and into trial as much as we would like and they would like,” he said. “A lot of it is the luck of the draw. We don’t know when a case comes in if it will go to trial or settle or get dismissed.” NEW YORK EDGE Quinn Emanuel is known for its informal atmosphere and casual dress that includes shorts and sandals. But its workload is on par with that of Big Apple litigation departments, giving Quinn Emanuel a New York edge — perhaps without the starch. “It’s generally a rough place to work,” one former associate said. “It’s based on a New York model, more of a churn and burn.” “It’s a trade-off,” said former Quinn Emanuel associate Melissa Dalziel. “You get incredible experience and give your time to get that experience.” Dalziel said during her 2 1/2 years at the firm she worked on three trials and second chaired two of them. While she liked the work, she said it was hard to have a balanced life. She is now an associate at Beverly Hills’ Weissmann, Wolff, Bergman, Coleman, Grodin & Evall. Former Quinn Emanuel partner Jonathan Losk also found life in the fast litigation lane a bit overwhelming. Nine months after joining the firm he returned to his in-house job at St. Jude Medical Inc.’s Cardiac Rhythm Management Division. “Shortly after I got there, I realized the demands of law firm litigation were too great for me personally,” Losk said. “It’s a very demanding firm. I think that’s true for all big corporate firms that specialize in ligitation. You can’t get away from that. When taking on serious cases, clients expect their lawyer to get the job done.” Urquhart said the firm views itself as a “special forces” operation. And rather than being modeled after a New York firm like Cravath, Swaine & Moore, he said Quinn Emanuel is “more like a big Keker & Van Nest.” Quinn set out to create a premiere trial firm with top lawyers and major clients when he left Cravath Swaine as a third-year associate in 1979. He founded his first firm with two other Cravath Swaine associates but they didn’t get enough work to keep going and the venture folded after about two years. Quinn then opened a Los Angeles branch for New York’s Reboul, MacMurray, Hewitt & Maynard. But he still dreamed of running his own shop, and in 1986 he teamed up with Eric Emanuel, Phyllis Kupferstein and David Quinto to form Quinn Emanuel. This time around, Quinn convinced a few clients to give the young group a chance. “We got in the door any way we could to sell ourselves and our pedigrees and our resolve,” Quinn said. “We would try to impress the hell out of them to get the next case.” The strategy worked. With each success, the firm was able to snag more business. One of its first major clients was Hughes Electronics Corp. John Higgins, who recently retired as the company’s general counsel, said he first turned to Quinn Emanuel in 1988 or 1989 because of its lower rates and the fact its lawyers had trial experience and a Cravath Swaine pedigree. “I was looking for a firm that would try jury cases,” Higgins said, “and they were hungry.” Over the years, he said, Quinn Emanuel has won a number of major victories for Hughes, including a breach of contract arbitration in which the company recovered $22 million. The firm has a roster of major corporate clients, including IBM Corp., Mattel Inc., Lockheed Martin Corp., AOL Time Warner Inc. and the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. It also boasts a striking success rate. In its marketing literature the firm says it has a winning record of 91 percent — 755 of 828 cases — as of March 2002. The score card is a bit skewed, however, since the tally includes cases partners won prior to joining Quinn Emanuel. Given that 13 of Quinn Emanuel’s 55 partners are former prosecutors — who typically have high conviction rates — their prior victories give Quinn Emanuel’s record an extra boost. Asked about the statistics, Urquhart conceded that the firm has not calculated its winning ratio based solely on cases tried within the firm. Marketing glitz aside, the firm has become a marquee name in the legal community. While Quinn declined to reveal the firm’s finances, he said the firm ranked among the top five California firms in profits per partner and had more than $100 million in revenue in 2002. Sources close to the firm say its profits per partner are about $1 million. Assuming the firm’s profit margin is on par with other top firms in Southern California — which average 46 percent — its gross revenue would have hit $106 million last year. Quinn, 51, and Urquhart, 56, are the dominant forces within the firm. Former and current partners say Quinn is the charismatic leader who makes the final decisions on everything from compensation to hiring. “I think it’s fair to say it’s still John Quinn’s firm,” said former partner Warrington Parker, who joined Heller Ehrman White & McAuliffe in March. “I don’t think he’s authoritarian. He solicits opinions from partners. But he’s still the person who makes the ultimate decisions.” Quinn and Urquhart also bring in most of the firm’s business. While sources familiar with the firm’s affairs say their combined book of business far exceeds $25 million, Urquhart said the figure refers to business that originated with them but was passed along to other partners. For example, he said Quinn brought in Mattel as a client, but partner Adrian Pruetz does most of the work for the company. Urquhart said that while seven or eight years ago all business came in through the two of them, a number of other partners now generate significant work. In recent years, the firm has sought to boost its profitability by taking on more contingency fee cases, which currently represent about 5 percent of the firm’s time. The firm’s sole committee evaluates contingency fee matters. Among its current cases, the firm is representing Freedom Wireless in a patent suit against the cell phone industry. Urquhart said that if the company prevails it could potentially receive damages in excess of a billion dollars. Urquhart said the firm initially thought about contingency fee work as a way to compete for associate talent during the Internet boom. “We were concerned that Venture Law Group and Gunderson [Dettmer Stough Villeneuve Franklin & Hachigian] were offering associates participation in equity pools so their compensation would be so out of line with ours,” Urquhart said. Focusing on contingency fee litigation provides “an opportunity for lawyers to hit a home run.” CRAVATH GRADS Quinn Emanuel began its metamorphosis from a small Southern California firm to a midsize outfit with a national reach about five years ago. Since then the firm has doubled in size, added a San Francisco office, opened an outpost in New York and begun handling international arbitrations and developing relationships with firms around the world. Quinn said New York was a natural place for the firm to set up shop since many of the firm’s partners previously worked in New York — 11 partners have had a stint at Cravath Swaine — and many local firms don’t have Quinn Emanuel’s trial experience. “It’s not unusual for a lawyer to become a partner in a major New York firm without having tried a case to verdict,” Quinn said. “We think we have something to offer.” The firm’s New York outpost, which opened in September 2001, currently has 21 lawyers, and Quinn said he expects it to grow to 50 within two years. Quinn said the firm has had an easier time establishing a presence in New York than in the Bay Area. “We were a really known quantity to an awful lot of clients and had prospects in New York,” Quinn said. “That was less true in Northern California where we’ve really had to work to build relationships.” Charles Verhoeven, managing partner of the San Francisco and Redwood Shores, Calif., offices, said the firm has taken the same approach it did when it first started in Los Angeles, building up its business by winning cases. “In the Bay Area, we are still in the process of introducing ourselves, although we have many clients and repeat clients,” Verhoeven said. The two Bay Area offices now have 30 lawyers between them. Among the offices’ significant cases, last year Verhoeven won a $118 million jury verdict in a patent infringement and trade secret case for Bancorp Services LLC. He was also called in to represent an AOL Time Warner subsidiary in a patent dispute eights weeks before trial and won a damages award of $9 million for the client. And in December partner Diane Doolittle won a gender discrimination case for investment bank Jefferies & Co. Inc. The Silicon Valley office faced some upheaval in February when partner Paul Andre left to join Perkins Coie and took four associates and an of counsel with him. Verhoeven said the firm hired Andre from Brobeck, Phleger & Harrison in 2001 to build a biotechnology litigation practice. But, he said, “things didn’t work out in terms of his business generation and plans.” Andre said 11 clients followed him to Perkins Coie, including seven with active patent litigation matters. “In spite of the fact that Quinn Emanuel was not a good platform for patent litigation we were able to generate a substantial amount of work,” Andre said. “All the clients followed us to Perkins Coie and the five attorneys that came with me are working at full capacity. More importantly, they are happy with their work environment.” Former associates said the Silicon Valley office was a difficult place in which to work. They cited the pressure to bill a minimum of 2,100 hours, the competition between partners and associates for work, and the lack of a formal review process for summer associates. In a January memo to attorneys, Quinn laid out the expectations for billable hours. “Most years, associates have averaged between 2,100 hours and 2,200 hours — and partners have generally averaged more,” he wrote. “We have always said there is no minimum billable hour requirement here, and that is true. There may be many legitimate reasons for low hours. In general, though, we expect that, if work is available, associates will bill at least 2,000 hours per year.” He added that most associates who have become partners in recent years “have consistently billed over 2,100 hours.” Former associates said staff turnover at the Silicon Valley office is high because staffers can make more money at other firms. Verhoeven acknowledged the firm doesn’t hire “the most expensive” secretaries in order to keep its overhead low. “Secretaries might be able to find better jobs after working with us a few years,” he said. “Some firms pay secretaries an awful lot of money.” Among the partnership ranks, however, there have been relatively few departures. In the last three months, however, four partners have left — Andre, Losk, Parker and Andrea Pollack. Parker said he decided to leave Quinn Emanuel after six years to focus exclusively on appellate work. And Pollack, who was hired to head up Quinn Emanuel’s New York office 14 months ago, said she left because a former boss offered her a great opportunity to become deputy general counsel of Time Inc. For a growing number of trial lawyers, however, Quinn Emanuel has become an attractive destination. Chiate said Urquhart, who is in charge of recruiting at the firm, pursued him for five years without success. But several months ago, Chiate said he decided to take a leave of absence from Pillsbury to work on a copyright case that involved potential conflicts with the firm’s clients. He went to Quinn Emanuel to see if he could hire partner George Hedges as a copyright expert and Urquhart made another push to hire him. This time, he won Chiate over. “What attracted me was the simplicity of management and the relatively un-political nature of the practice,” said Chiate, who emphasized that he was speaking about big firms in general and not Pillsbury. “It’s not uncommon in major firms for partners to hoard clients and selfishly isolate clients from other partners so as to assure appropriate origin or billing credit for themselves … There is no such protectionism or selfishness, or even a hint of it, at Quinn Emanuel.” Chiate said he also appreciated the absence of committees to handle recruiting, finance, compensation and billing. “Bill [Urquhart] and John [Quinn] make decisions on everything and people trust them,” he said. “After they do due diligence they canvass partners and anyone who wants to can weigh in.” Quinn said he doesn’t have a limit or goal in terms of growth. He doesn’t expect the firm to open another U.S. office, but partners have explored the possibility of opening outposts in the United Kingdom and Tokyo. Quinn said that since the five Magic Circle U.K. firms have mandatory retirement at the age of 55, the firm thought it might be possible to hire a retiring lawyer. But he said that’s a long-term effort that “won’t happen soon, if ever.” “I think we are at the point where our firm is considered to be counsel in almost any major case that’s venued in California,” Quinn said. “We want to get to the point where we are on the short list for any major case in the United States.”
Quinn Emanuel Urquhart Oliver & Hedges Founded: Jan. 1, 1986, by John Quinn, Eric Emanuel, Phyllis Kupferstein, David Quinto No. of lawyers: 192 No. of partners: 55 2002 revenue: $106 million 2002 profits per partner: $1 million Headquarters: Los Angeles Offices: San Francisco, Redwood Shores, San Diego, Palm Springs, New York Major clients: Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, AOL Time Warner Inc., Avery Dennison Corp., Hughes Electronics Corp., IBM Corp., Lockheed Martin Corp., Mattel Inc., Ralph M. Parsons Corp., Walt Disney Co.

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