We asked our readers to nominate firms with stellar records in appellate advocacy, and the response was overwhelming. We received dozens of nominations for firms that really have been shaking things up. We looked for firms that scored at least one significant appellate win since February 2007, plus an impressive legacy overall. A “significant win” meant prevailing before the U.S. Supreme Court, a federal circuit court or a state court of last resort when the financial stakes were high or an important legal principle was at stake. The firms on this list contributed in meaningful ways to the most important appeals of the year, whether through drafting the main briefs, presenting oral arguments or as friends of the court.
We were faced with a lot of tough choices in deciding our Appellate Hot List this year. Appellate victories usually are the fruit of collaborations, but we couldn’t list each firm that contributed to a specific outcome. Instad we’ve tried to highlight cases that had particular lessons to teach.
THE 2009 APPELLATE HOTLIST
The firms we honored this year are: Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld; Covington & Burling; Fish & Richardson; Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher; Irell & Manella; Jenner & Block; Jones Day: K&L Gates; Latham & Watkins; Mayer Brown; Morrison & Foerster; O’Melveny & Myers; Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe; Paul, Hastings, Janofsky & Walker; Robbins, Russell, Englert, Orseck, Untereiner & Sauber; Sidley Austin; Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom; Steptoe & Johnson; Vinson & Elkins; Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale and Dorr; and Winston & Strawn.
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Serendipity helped win a bellwether case
If a clutch of screenwriters were trying to craft a drama rich with national security issues, international significance and a serendipitous connection around which to bend the plot, they’d be hard-pressed to do better than the appellate victory in Boumediene v. Bush. The win, which was secured last June in a 5-4 decision by the U.S. Supreme Court, affirmed the right of habeas corpus for even so-called “enemy combatants” who are not U.S. citizens being held in military detention at the Guantánamo Bay Naval Base in Cuba. The effort on behalf of Bosnian citizen Lakhdar Boumediene and other detainees at Guantánamo involved more than 500 law firms around the country. Among them was WilmerHale, which since 2004 had donated $20 million in billable hours, and Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman, which became involved when a client’s habeas petition was consolidated on the appellate level.
Insight into court’s thinking paid off
A dispute for control of millions of dollars stolen by former Philippines President Ferdinand Marcos set the Republic of the Philippines at odds with thousands of its citizens who had been victims of torture and political reprisal by Marcos. And they had won a $2 billion judgment against the Marcos estate.
The issue Mayer Brown needed to get before the U.S. Supreme Court on behalf of the Philippine National Bank and the Philippine government was a little more esoteric.
Plenty of cooks make a tasty broth
With 231 lawyers, Los Angeles-based Irell & Manella doesn’t immediately spring to mind when one thinks of appellate powerhouses. Known for high-profile IP trials and appeals, its record also includes recent significant appellate wins in big First Amendment, contracts, executive power, environmental and equal-rights cases.
Last year’s Appellate Hot List