Robert Long, who leads Covington & Burling’s appellate and U.S. Supreme Court practice, remembers getting the call from the U.S. Supreme Court to participate as an amicus curiae in U.S. Department of Health and Human Services v. Florida, one of the challenges to the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. “Came out of the blue,” recalled Long, who has argued 17 cases in the high court.

He was the first lawyer up in March during the landmark three-day hearing, taking a position the U.S. Justice Department had earlier abandoned — that challenges to the Obama administration’s hallmark legislation were premature until someone is sanctioned for violating the law’s mandate to buy health insurance. “It was a great honor to be asked to participate, and to even be the leadoff hitter,” Long said.

However that case ends, Covington attorneys have prevailed in manifold big-ticket disputes. Last summer, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit ruled for the National Football League in a labor dispute with the players’ union in which the timely start of the season was in jeopardy.

Representing the NFL, Covington litigation partner Gregg Levy was on the team that convinced the appeals court to overturn a trial judge’s ruling that barred a work lockout. Levy described the appellate ruling as a critical moment in the collective-bargaining negotiations. (Bancroft partner Paul Clement argued for the NFL on appeal against Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher partner Theodore Olson, who represented the players.)

“The prospect that the league would be able to sustain the lockout later into the summer was really the key pressure point on the players during the negotiations,” said Levy, principal outside counsel for the NFL for more than 15 years.

“Everything in this case was focused on the appellate strategy,” Levy said. The NFL “didn’t lose confidence in the process and the result we told them was likely to emerge over time.”

On the criminal front, Covington partner Alan Vinegrad in August notched a victory along with counsel for four co-defendants before the Second Circuit in securing a new trial for Robert Graham, former senior vice president and assistant general counsel of General Re Corp., in an alleged $500 million accounting fraud. (The retrial is pending.) “It’s not every day that a court is going to throw out convictions after trial in a two-month case,” Vinegrad said. “It’s always an uphill ­battle.” — Mike Scarcella