The 2009 Criminal Trial of W.R. Grace & Company was perhaps the biggest corporate roll of the litigation dice in the last two years. A loss for Grace would have been dire. The company and several Grace executives were essentially accused of covering up their complicity in the asbestos-related deaths of dozens of residents of Libby, Montana, where Grace once operated a vermiculite mine. A conviction could have meant prison for the executives and a crippling fine for the company.

The odds of an acquittal in Montana–where years of news stories about the tragedy in Libby had tarred Grace–seemed low. But with prosecutors refusing to budge on a plea deal, Grace and its executives had no choice but to go to trial. Kirkland & Ellis’s David Bernick and Laurence Urgenson coordinated the efforts of the enormous defense team, which included lawyers from Weil, Gotshal & Manges; O’Melveny & Myers; and Mayer Brown. “The issues,” says Bernick, who took the lead at trial, “were: How do you defend [Grace's history in Libby] without minimizing the tragedy? And how do you get the jury to focus on the weaknesses of the government’s theories as opposed to just going with the flow?”

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