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There is more than one way to build a standout U.S. Supreme Court practice. It can take a village, or a single superstar. Case in point: the two firms that argued the most cases last term. On one hand is Jones Day, where five different lawyers argued a total of six cases last term, the most by any one firm. Washington, D.C., partner Glen Nager, who heads the firm’s issues and appeals practice, takes pride in the fact that the Supreme Court work was spread around; Nager, in fact, argued only one case. “We don’t have a single sun that everyone revolves around,” Nager says. And then there is Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale and Dorr, which argued five cases last term. Or to put it more simply, Seth Waxman argued five cases. The former solicitor general is now co-chair of Wilmer’s appellate and Supreme Court litigation group. “I don’t feel like a one-man show,” Waxman says. “It just happened.” Indeed, though Waxman clearly is Wilmer’s Supreme Court megastar, other Wilmer litigators have argued since Waxman arrived four years ago, and several were ready to argue other cases last term. But, says Waxman, those cases were denied review or the earlier-stage advocate decided to argue instead. Waxman was the only Wilmer advocate left standing before the Court. The heavy load did take its toll. Waxman had so much on his plate, and so many new clients knocking on his door, that in April and May he took no new clients. And in June he and his family flew to Tibet — no joke — to recharge. As he left home for the airport, Waxman says, he threw his BlackBerry on the living room sofa to make the vacation real. “It wouldn’t have done me much good in Tibet anyway,” he says. In mid-August, Waxman reported he was up to his ears in work again, but with no firm plans to argue a Supreme Court case this fall. Wishing on a star has been a tried-and-true formula for Supreme Court practices. But Jones Day is showing that its less centralized approach also works. After its six cases last term, Jones Day is gearing up for two more this fall, involving existing clients. But Nager made it clear that his section’s fortunes within the firm do not depend on how many cases it argues before the Court. “At Jones Day,” Nager says, “if we have fulfilled our objectives and don’t have a single Supreme Court argument, we’d be a raving success.” That’s a remarkable statement considering other firms lust for the increasingly rare and prestigious brass ring that Supreme Court advocacy has become. Not that Nager is a slouch in that department. He has argued 10 cases before the high court, and Jones Day partner Donald Ayer has argued 18 — including two last term. Both did tours in the solicitor general’s office. But, Nager adds, “I don’t aspire to do 20.” Don’t mistake that insouciance for lack of drive, though. “Supreme Court arguments are wonderful from a recruiting and marketing perspective,” says Traci Lovitt, a New York senior associate in Nager’s issues and appeals section. “But our bread-and-butter work is customer service from the ground up, and we have a very deep bench. A sophisticated client will understand that.” Clients also understand that, sometimes, staying out of the Supreme Court is the best way to go, which is why Nager can meet his section’s goals without clocking huge hours before the justices. Lovitt is someone you might expect to be at a different firm. The 1998 O’Connor clerk started her career at Jones Day, but left in 2004 for a yearlong stint at the solicitor general’s office. However, her commute between Washington and New York became “unsustainable,” she says. When she left the SG’s office earlier this year, she probably could have had her pick of firms. But, she says, “there was no question I was going back to Jones Day. The one time I had leverage, I didn’t use it.” Lovitt says she expects appellate arguments, including the Supreme Court, will come her way before long. Another lure for Lovitt was the fact that D.C. was not the sole center of Jones Day’s appellate universe. She says no other New York law office would offer the same possibility of Supreme Court work, but at Jones Day it is not unusual for non-D.C. partners or associates to argue their cases at the high court — instead of handing it off to a Washington bigfoot. That is why, Lovitt says, four high court law clerks from last term interviewed at Jones Day’s Los Angeles office. Nager also says an unusually large number of former Supreme Court clerks have expressed interest in Jones Day in recent months, and many of them are eyeing the firm’s non-D.C. offices. “After all, where else could you have created a Supreme Court practice out of Columbus, Ohio?” Nager asks. That’s a reference to one-time Jones Day partner Jeffrey Sutton, the firm’s last big Supreme Court star, who kept reeling in Supreme Court clients to his Columbus office before becoming a judge on the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals two years ago. And Sutton wasn’t the only Supreme Court luminary to pass through Jones Day. Long before that, a young hotshot by the name of Antonin Scalia worked in Jones Day’s home office in Cleveland, and in the 1970s and 1980s the late Harvard Law School dean and Solicitor General Erwin Griswold argued 11 cases while at Jones Day. Another respected Supreme Court heavyweight from the firm, Timothy Dyk, left for a seat on the Federal Circuit in 2000. But now, by all accounts, the lower candlepower approach suits Jones Day well. “It’s no accident that the name of our section is ‘issues and appeals,’ and Supreme Court is not in the name,” says Nager. “We look at who is the person who can best help the client, using a variety of options at all stages. That tends to prevent one person from arguing 30 cases at the Supreme Court.” Nager has recruited a range of talent for his section, from the scrappy Michael Carvin, who took a lead role on the Bush side of Bush v. Gore, to Noel Francisco, a recent hire out of the Bush White House counsel’s office and the U.S. Department of Justice. In fact, start-to-finish client service is the key to why Jones Day had so many arguments last term. Two involved longtime paying clients, Chevron USA Inc. and Saudi Basic Industries Corp., and the firm’s argument in a third case, Wilkinson v. Dotson, resulted from a longtime pro bono client in Ohio. “The firm has such a huge litigation practice that most of its Supreme Court cases are homegrown, generated by existing clients,” says one Jones Day defector who requested anonymity. “They’re not generating enough new business to make Supreme Court work a real profit center.” But the section isn’t just waiting for cases to bubble up from within. Three of last term’s cases involved new clients at the Supreme Court stage, including one in which Ayer reached out to lower court attorneys in Puerto Rico to snag an argument in Ortega v. Star-Kist Foods, Inc., winning an important procedural victory involving diversity jurisdiction. Nager acknowledges, though, that when big clients hold beauty contests in search of the lawyer with the most Supreme Court arguments on his or her resume, Jones Day may lose out. “We know we need to be in the game. It’s one of the services clients want,” Nager says. “But we have a series of objectives, and one of them is not to have a kingpin.” So far, so good.

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