For a firm founded a quarter-century ago by just two lawyers in their early 30s, Bickel & Brewer has had remarkable success building an outsized reputation.

The fledgling boutique ruffled enough feathers in Dallas after opening its doors in 1984 to quickly earn national media attention for “bare-knuckles” tactics and notoriety as a “Rambo” firm. More recently, a Wall Street Journal style columnist reported that Bickel & Brewer’s disdain for signs of weakness extends to its dress code: Even mailroom clerks are expected to sport a suit and tie.

Founding partners John Bickel II and William Brewer III embrace the firm’s Rambo-in-pinstripes image. Bickel brags that all the firm’s lawyers are current or former athletes. (Bickel played football and rugby, learning it was “more fun to hit people than to get hit.”) Brewer compares working for the firm to “going bungee jumping every day.”

But image alone didn’t build Bickel & Brewer into a 45-lawyer firm that’s currently juggling megacases against the likes of Transocean Ltd., Marriott International Inc. and Raytheon Co. To maintain an edge against their big-firm counterparts, the firm’s 11 partners pursued innovations such as outsourcing document work overseas and building in-house consulting and investigative groups. The firm doesn’t just want to compete with the best firms in the country. “We intend to be the best,” Brewer said.

“We aim to win every case,” Brewer said. “I rather wonder about lawyers who don’t make that claim.”

Unlike many boutiques, Bickel & Brewer doesn’t hew to a particular niche. The firm handles a mix of plaintiffs’ and defense-side commercial litigation and arbitrations, shareholder and corporate-governance disputes, white-collar defense work, intellectual property cases and regulatory and antitrust litigation out of Dallas and a growing New York office.

According to Brewer, the firm typically has 10 or 12 cases “running hot” in an average year. (Only 5% to 10% of the firm’s overall docket is Dallas-based, Brewer said.) Clients are rarely referred from other firms, he said. “The kinds of cases we take on are of such high importance that the most senior executives of the client are involved in choosing counsel and calling us directly,” Brewer said.

Right now, the hottest of the hot include the firm’s cases against energy companies Transocean, Halliburton Co. and M-I Swaco LLC on behalf of Florida property developer St. Joe Co. over the Gulf of Mexico oil spill. In March, Brewer scored a major victory when he convinced a Delaware federal judge to remand part of the half-billion-dollar litigation to state court, keeping it clear of federal multidistrict litigation over the spill and potentially speeding his client’s recovery.

The firm has built a nationwide hospitality-industry litigation practice, which currently includes a $200 million suit against Marriott on behalf of Miller Global Properties LLC, a real estate investment company. “At this point we’ve either represented or been adverse to pretty much everyone in the industry, partner James Renard said.

On the white-collar front, the firm currently represents at least one defendant in the U.S. Department of Justice’s hedge-fund insider-trading probe and is defending Texas tycoons Samuel and Charles Wyly against U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission allegations that the brothers hid $550 million through a network of trusts and shell companies.

Bickel & Brewer is also representing infrared camera maker FLIR Systems Inc. in patent and trade-secrets litigation with Raytheon; defending 3M Co. in a Delaware shareholder litigation over its December 2010 acquisition of Cogent Inc.; and (through its pro bono arm, Bickel & Brewer Storefront) fighting to uphold federal court decisions barring municipal ordinances that target illegal immigrants.

To handle that caseload effectively, Bickel & Brewer invested heavily early on in cutting-edge data imaging and retrieval and began outsourcing document-review work to Hyderabad, India, in the mid-1990s. It relies on in-house teams of economic consultants, investigators and public relations managers that now include 15 full-time professionals.

In order to attract ambitious, committed lawyers, Brewer said Bickel & Brewer has consistently aimed to pay the highest first-year associate salaries in the country. The firm currently pays $175,000, plus bonuses. First-year associates bill at $275 per hour, and the firm bills up to a top hourly rate of $1,250 for Bill Brewer himself. The firm does not disclose other firm financial information, such as annual revenue.

Before the two met, Brewer’s wife was turned away from Bickel & Brewer after an interview in the late 1990s because, Brewer said, “not everybody is suited to our type of practice.”

The firm experienced heavy associate turnover in its early years, before the firm’s reputation for intensity and long hours winnowed the applicant pool. A handful of partners have also left the firm over the years — including a senior partner whose departure resulted in a lawsuit over compensation and the shuttering of Bickel & Brewer’s erstwhile Chicago office. (The former partner, Robert Cummins, maintains that the split was amicable and that his financial dispute with the firm was resolved long ago.)

Current partners say that despite the hard-charging personalities that make up the firm, the partnership is like family. “I don’t know how many times I’ve been with Bill [Brewer] or [partner Michael Collins] or Jim [Renard] and heard them make an argument and I’ll just kind of glow,” Bickel said.

Brewer said the firm’s clients — including a stable of long-timers such as Starwood Hotels & Resorts and RSR Corp. — care about one thing: results.

“I don’t think clients come to Bickel & Brewer because our model is built differently,” Brewer said. “Clients come to Bickel & Brewer to win cases.”

David Bario can be contacted at dbario@alm.com.

BICKEL & BREWER IN FEDERAL DISTRICT COURTS
An analysis of the U.S. district courts where Bickel & Brewer has made an appearance as attorney of record since Jan. 1, 2008, reveals the range of cases, both in nature and geographically, that the firm has been involved in. Source: LexisNexis