DLA Piper partner Stan Panikowski acknowledged that people don’t consider his firm a "traditional hub of appellate practice." He’s fine with that. The firm’s strategy, he said, is to handle cases "throughout their entire lifespan," from prelitigation through appeals.

"You don’t lose anything in translation," said Pani­kowski, co-leader of DLA Piper’s appellate practice. "There’s no risk in dropping the baton."

In fact, the firm had a standout year for appeals. In a pair of toxic tort cases, DLA helped Exxon Mobil Corp. secure the largest reversal of monetary damages on record — more than $1.65 billion — in the Maryland high court.

More than 700 residents and business owners in Jacksonville, Md., had sued after about 26,000 gallons of gasoline leaked from an Exxon station in 2006. The court held that people may recover for future medical monitoring and fear of future disease, but found that almost none of the plaintiffs had shown sufficient exposure to toxins. In its February decision, the court also reversed a fraud finding and environmental damage claims, the latter on ground that the plaintiffs hadn’t show actual contamination of their properties.

Partner John Griffith, who worked on the appeals, said the case established "important rules for toxic tort cases and will have a significant impact on cases in Maryland and elsewhere."

DLA Piper began its representation at trial in one of the cases (Exxon Mobil v. Albright) and joined the appeal in the other (Exxon Mobil v. Ford). McGuireWoods was co-counsel on both appeals.

Another big win came in June 2012, when the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit cleared the way for the development of Central New York Oil and Gas Co.’s 39-mile natural gas pipeline in Pennsylvania, smoothing exploitation of the Marcellus Shale formation.

DLA Piper’s appellate practice has no ­geographic headquarters — its 30 or so attorneys are sprinkled throughout the firm’s offices and practice groups, said Panikowski, of San Diego. A common characteristic is that they also have strong trial knowledge.

Appeals team co-leader Courtney Saleski exemplifies the "well-rounded" DLA Piper appellate lawyer, Panikowski said. A former clerk to the late Chief Justice William Rehnquist, Saleski did trial and appellate work as an assistant U.S. attorney. "You won’t find an appellate lawyer here who doesn’t understand trials, and that’s very important to us," said Saleski, who started in the Philadelphia office in January.