While some law firms may find the combination of being aggressive in the courtroom and emphasizing family values at the office to be incompatible with each other, Kessler Topaz Meltzer & Check believes that is the key to its success as a class action securities litigation firm.
And the firm’s clients agree.
Sue Weber, the former county controller for the Erie County Employees’ Retirement System, said she immediately noticed that the firm’s attorneys achieved the proper balance between doggedly pursuing a case and not sacrificing their family values. Weber’s pension fund was represented by Kessler Topaz in In re BankAtlantic Securities Litigation, which is currently on appeal.
“I attended the trial and was impressed with how hard the firm’s attorneys worked,” Weber said. “They also impressed me because they were so family oriented. Their family values are reflected in their work and vice versa.”
Robert Gaumer, general counsel for the Alameda County Employees’ Retirement System, was also impressed with Kessler Topaz’s attorneys. Gaumer has worked with the firm on several securities cases, including Operative Plasters and Cement Masons International Association Local 262 Annuity Fund v. Lehman Brothers Holdings.
Kessler Topaz negotiated a $517 million settlement for its clients in the case. The settlement is currently awaiting court approval.
“I thought they were very aggressive, but I was also impressed with their accessibility,” Gaumer said. “Usually when I call a law firm, people tell me I need to talk to someone else. The Kessler Topaz attorneys provided plenty of knowledgeable answers to my questions.”
David Kessler, a partner at Kessler Topaz, has seen the firm grow from six attorneys in 1996 to 113 attorneys today. He believes the firm works hard to be uncompromising in the courtroom while still retaining its principles.
“We work to keep the small law firm culture,” Kessler said. “We want to keep a family atmosphere around here, but we understand that the work product comes first.”
“We want to make sure people have an enjoyable experience here,” he continued. “It is not stuffy or old school, but we are very professional in the work product we produce. As you grow, that is something that becomes harder and harder to do.”
The combination produced stunning results for the firm’s clients in 2011. In October, the firm, along with its Delaware co-counsel, Prickett Jones & Elliott, earned a $1.3 billion judgment for its clients in In re Southern Peru Copper Corp. Derivative Litigation. The judgment is the largest damages amount ever awarded by the Delaware Court of Chancery and was on appeal before the Delaware Supreme Court as of press time.
Kessler Topaz and its co-counsel also recovered $352 million for its clients, several international investors, in the Royal Dutch Shell European Shareholder Litigation. The case was decided last year by the Dutch Enterprise Court.
In addition to those victories, the firm settled five separate cases last year that totaled roughly $1.5 billion. The highest individual settlement negotiated last year by Kessler Topaz was $627 million, which the firm negotiated on behalf of the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Association in In re Wachovia Preferred Securities and Bond/Notes Litgation.
“We are proud of our results,” Kessler said. “Cases depend on facts and when you recover substantial sums, you are talking about real money to the institutional investors we represent.”
“While they are institutional clients, they are managing the money of police officers, firefighters and everyday people,” Kessler said. “Every day folks get back the kind of money they’ve written off as a bad investment decision when, in fact, fraud was involved.”
The attorneys at Kessler Topaz typically take their cases on a contingency basis, which is unusual in the high-stakes world of shareholder litigation. As a result, the firm dedicates a great amount of time and resources to evaluating and developing cases and only recommends litigation to clients when it makes sense.
“They don’t want to take every case to trial,” Gaumer said. “They pick and choose wisely.”
Lee D. Rudy, a partner at Kessler Topaz, agreed that the firm’s selectiveness has contributed to its success.
“We see ourselves as a firm that is fairly selective in the cases we choose to prosecute,” he said. “But the cases that we do go into, we litigate them hard. We’ve been gratified with the results of some of the cases we’ve selected in recent years.”
But Kessler added that the firm’s practice of selectively pursuing cases on contingency does put pressure on attorneys
“We are self-starters,” Kessler said. “We only make money when we win and there is a motivation to win as much as possible here.”
However, despite the motivation and pressure to win, the firm recognizes that its commitment to family values will always be the hallmark of its success.
“The Kessler Topaz attorneys were a cut above,” Weber said. “They operated with a great deal of integrity. We can’t be thinking that just because someone is an attorney, their actions reflect integrity, but I found that to be the case with these attorneys.” •