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The Legal 500 Hall of Fame highlights individuals who have received constant praise by their clients for continued excellence. The Hall of Fame highlights, to clients, the law firm partners who are at the pinnacle of the profession. Starting with the United States, the criteria for entry is to have been recognised by The Legal 500 as one of the elite leading lawyers for six consecutive years. Fewer than 500 partners across the entire United States have made it into the inaugural list. These partners are highlighted below and throughout the editorial.

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United States > Dispute resolution > Overview > Law firm and leading lawyer rankings

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Our dispute resolution chapter is one of the largest chapters in the guide, reflecting the fact that the successful resolution of disputes is among the most important concerns in running a business. Disputes can come in so many shapes and sizes, and are so hotly contested, that most lawyers and law firms operating in this field typically demonstrate specialisms in certain areas; this is reflected in our array of sections, from general commercial disputes and appellate work to financial services litigation and white-collar criminal defense.

Despite murmurings of a general slowdown in the US commercial litigation market, most firms reported a buoyant year in 2016. Consumer class action lawsuits accounted for a high proportion of the litigation, a trend that looks set to continue throughout 2017 and beyond. Other areas of activity included antitrust litigation and disputes arising out of data breaches.

Some firms reported an increased willingness among companies to litigate their most significant disputes. The potential speed, efficiency and anonymity of arbitration proceedings makes them particularly attractive in sensitive cases, leading to an uptick in this form of dispute resolution.

Trial capabilities are of crucial importance to law firms wishing to excel in the competitive and crowded US litigation environment. Much of the most important work, however, goes on behind closed doors, meaning that the ability to negotiate and reach a favorable settlement is also viewed as critical by clients.

Political turbulence, including the presidential election, the expired US Supreme Court nomination of Merrick Garland and attorneys from the Obama administration returning to private practice, all helped shape the appellate landscape in 2016. Following Justice Scalia’s unexpected passing, the US Supreme Court entered a period of uncertainty. The eight justices’ reluctance to hear cases that could result in a 4-4 split decision - meaning the lower court’s judgment would stand - was particularly noticeable in politically sensitive matters, and this was reflected in the small number of constitutional cases that reached the docket. Fisher v University of Texas and Zubik v Burwell were among the most discussed cases heard by the US Supreme Court in 2016, dealing with issues of affirmative action in university admissions and the exemption from providing contraceptive coverage by religious employers under the Affordable Care Act. There continues to be a steady flow of financial services and intellectual property appeals.

General litigators are gradually becoming more active in the appellate courts. The growing dichotomy between courts of appeals and supreme courts drives an increasing specialization in the Supreme Court bar, with cases gravitating towards a smaller number of expert firms. Appellate practitioners are increasingly expected to develop skills that cut across jurisdictions and substantive areas of law on top of the ability to not only shape a flawless argument on the point of law, but also deliver it in front of the panel.

In firm news, Paul Smith left Jenner & Block LLP to take up a teaching role at Georgetown University Law Centre and a vice president position at the Campaign Legal Center. Kirkland & Ellis LLP acquired appellate boutique Bancroft led by the renowned Paul Clement.

In the white-collar crime space, 2016 saw the continuation of many trends that were in evidence in 2015. Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) investigations and prosecutions remain a major source of work and, if anything, the willingness of regulators to cooperate with each other both within and across borders has increased. At the end of 2016, the Department of Justice (DOJ) announced it was posting a new attorney position in London: a reflection of the need for further cooperation with the United Kingdom’s Financial Conduct Authority and Serious Fraud Office. A number of major, headline-grabbing investigations have continued to keep lawyers busy, notably Operation Car Wash (an investigation into alleged money laundering and corruption at the Brazilian state-controlled oil company, Petrobras) and investigations into the automotive industry and international soccer.

The Yates Memo continues to divide opinion long after its September 2015 publication. Many attorneys maintain that it was a codification of existing policy, while others claim to have noticed a marked increase in the energy directed towards prosecuting individuals. It remains to be seen whether any convictions will arise from the shift in focus, but there seems to be a consensus that clients have taken heed of the memo and that individuals are increasingly eager to hire counsel. New Attorney General Jeff Sessions has expressed the belief that corporate officers who commit crimes are more deserving of punishment than stockholders, so it is likely that the spirit of the Yates Memo will be upheld despite the dismissal of Sally Yates in January 2017. There has been no let-up in False Claims Act (FCA) investigations and, for many white-collar lawyers outside of the major financial sector hubs, FCA cases now account for a sizable portion of work.

Many firms have benefitted from a spate of departures from government positions. Mary Jo White returned to Debevoise & Plimpton LLP in January 2017 after serving as chair of the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC). John Gleeson joined the same firm in March 2016 after serving as a judge in the Eastern District of New York. The US Attorney’s Office in that district lost Darren Laverne to Kramer Levin Naftalis & Frankel LLP and Daniel Silver to Clifford Chance. Daniel Stein, Michael Levy and Carolina Fomos joined Mayer Brown, Sidley Austin LLP and Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman LLP respectively after departing the US Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York. Former US Attorney for the Eastern District of California Benjamin Wagner moved to Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher LLP. Daniel Dominguez rejoined Latham & Watkins LLP in November 2015 after a stint as associate counsel to the President in the Office of the White House Counsel.

Other noteworthy lateral hires included David Kelley’s January 2015 move to Dechert LLP from Cahill Gordon & Reindel LLP, and former Cadwalader, Wickersham & Taft LLP partner Adam Lurie’s move to Linklaters LLP in February 2016. Bracewell LLP, Cohen & Gresser and White & Case LLP have all expanded their teams significantly through strategic lateral hires.

Although eight years have elapsed since the onset of the financial crisis, there remains a good deal of private litigation flowing that - as well as government investigations and enforcement actions - keep many of the law firms in the ranking busy. With regard to residential mortgage-backed-securities (RMBS) litigation, there remains a constant tension between the plaintiffs and the defendants bar regarding expiration of limitation periods, and thereby the ability to bring claims. Indeed, while much of the primary wave of litigation brought against the sponsors of these structured products has passed, (affirmed by the New York Court of Appeals case of Ace Securities Corp v DB Structured Products, which upheld previous rulings that the contractual statute of limitations that governs loan and securitization sellers’ roles runs its course six years after issuance) there continues to be a significant amount of so called ‘putback’ cases (whereby sponsors are required to repurchase loans that violate representations and warranties regarding the quality of the loans) as well as litigation brought against the trustees of the RMBS alleging that they failed to adequately protect investors’ interests. In both these types of claims there remains some uncertainty as to when the limitation period is said to have begun, thereby leaving the door ajar for the plaintiffs’ bar to bring cases.

Outside of the structured finance field, regulators continue to scrutinize trading activity and remain attuned to potential market manipulation abuses with regard to various financial benchmarks. Although government investigations and follow-on litigation relating to rate setting of the London Interbank Offered Rate (Libor) and the foreign exchange (forex) market have largely come to an end, there still remains an appetite among regulators to cast a watchful eye on other antitrust activity in the financial markets, whether it be in relation to other financial benchmarks or for collusion within, for example, the credit default swap (CDS) market. The retail sector also remains a very fertile ground for regulatory investigations and enforcement actions and since its inception in 2010, the Consumer Finance Protection Bureau (CFPB) has doggedly sought to protect the public from predatory and dangerous practices, ranging from the regulation of payday lenders to ensuring a much more transparent, fair and competitive market in the mortgage space.

Firms at the top of the ranking demonstrate a strong and overarching capability across a wide variety of disputes affecting the industry, and have the expertise to handle both the government enforcement action/investigation and the private litigation that invariably follows. Although firms are active throughout the US, New York remains the primary location for this work.

As international arbitration is often seen as an attractive alternative to litigation, and the amount of proceedings are increasing, many firms are adding, or bolstering their presence in the market. Many US firms with an international presence denote arbitration as a key specialism, while smaller boutiques and specialist firms also offer in-depth expertise in the field, as clients look to international arbitration as an increasingly attractive way to resolve disputes. As the slew of cases increases, firms also report an uptick in court litigation around arbitral awards as a way of enforcement.

Transparency is also a hot topic for international arbitration, and tension between confidentiality and openness continues; and there is particular scrutiny on investor-state disputes. As the new US administration outlines its plan to amend its international trade deals, market observers note that there may be significant changes to the way investor-state disputes are resolved.

As globalized businesses, the energy, oil and gas, and construction sectors often utilize arbitration as a method to resolve international commercial disputes, however the method is now used within a wider cross-section of industries; technology and life sciences are notable examples.

Increasing interconnectedness through globalization is fueling a rise in international litigation, meaning firms are often required to respond to filings in multiple jurisdictions simultaneously or to represent non-US clients in the US courts. Firms recognized in this area are noted for their handling of these complex cross-border matters. Teams typically demonstrate excellent knowledge of foreign jurisdictions and often work closely with colleagues in overseas offices - or alongside local law firms on the ground.

Hot areas include US government investigations, US civil and criminal proceedings (FCPA and SEC cases), anti-money laundering, shareholder derivative actions, cybersecurity, regulatory compliance, enforcement proceedings, fraud, trade issues and asset recovery.

International trade is a multifaceted and diverse practice area covering everything from trade remedies and WTO disputes, to trade policy and economic sanctions compliance. The majority of the firms in the ranking have a presence in Washington DC, which is indicative of the need - when handling work that, in many cases, involves policy as much as pure legal work - to be close to the seat of government and the key regulators. Indeed, many of the leading firms for this practice area are staffed with numerous lawyers holding former high-ranking governmental positions, not only enabling them to have deeper insights into the ‘mood music’ on the Hill but also affording them significant credibility before the agencies. While not essential, an international footprint can also be of significant benefit to clients, on for example, matters which have an EU and US regulatory component. Certainly for WTO litigation, a Geneva office provides a significant advantage, as does an office in Brussels in relation to EU trade policy matters.

Sanctions work continues to be a booming area and with the ever more draconian fines meted out by regulators for violations, the importance of ensuring strong compliance measures are in place cannot be overstated. The loosening of sanctions upon Cuba and Iran continues to account for a significant amount of work for many of the firms in the ranking as they counsel clients seeking to enter and operate in those countries. Firms have also already been picking up work on behalf of clients seeking advice on the implications to the international trade market of the recent election of the protectionist-minded President Trump.

Those firms at the top the ranking have an overarching capability across all facets of international trade, however, other firms in the ranking will often have a more narrow area of specialism, for example, on trade remedies matters, or providing the necessary input on major international M&A to ensure the deals secure clearance from the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS). Just as China is one of the key protagonists with regard to anti-dumping and countervailing duty trade remedy cases, it is also the country that CFIUS has placed most scrutiny on with regard to M&A transactions. With Chinese investments in the US reaching a record $18.4bn in the first half of 2016, it has eclipsed the UK as the country with the most transactions under review by CFIUS. However, unlike the UK, which is viewed much more favorably as a result of closely aligned core values as well as similar views on key issues such as data privacy, intellectual property and military alliance, China is viewed with a much more heightened degree of skepticism by the Committee. Those firms which have a strong pipeline of major M&A mandates, often driven by an active cadre of private equity clients, benefit from a head start in picking up this CFIUS clearance work.

The once high proportion of $100m-plus public M&A deals that resulted in litigation has fallen significantly, largely thanks to the Delaware Court of Chancery’s decision in In re Trulia, Inc Stockholder Litigation, which marked a clampdown on disclosure-only settlements. Once 95% of such deals saw litigation, but that figure has fallen to below 60%. Some cases have moved away from Delaware and gone to state and federal courts in other jurisdictions, but decisions in those courts, such as In re Walgreen Company Stockholder Litigation, increasingly suggest that similar standards will be more widely adopted. There has, however, been a sharp increase in appraisal cases challenging the value of deals and attempting to get shareholders a higher price for their stock in acquired companies.

Defense litigation often goes to the firm that handled the original transaction, so unsurprisingly large New York-headquartered and/or national firms such as Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz, Sullivan & Cromwell LLP and Kirkland & Ellis LLP are prominent players. The need for local counsel in the main corporate litigation hub of Delaware brings specialist firms such as Richards, Layton & Finger, P.A. and Morris, Nichols, Arsht & Tunnell LLP into the frame also. Among the plaintiff bar there is a select group involved in many of the most high-profile cases, including Bernstein Litowitz Berger & Grossmann LLP and Grant & Eisenhofer P.A..

Work in the product liability sphere has largely remained the same as it was in 2016, although firms have noted an increase in medical device and late entry asbestos claims in the pharmaceutical and toxic tort arenas, respectively.

The ongoing Essure birth control implant litigation against Bayer and burgeoning Stryker hip implant lawsuits arising from a 2016 recall are two recent cases to note. Johnson & Johnson was dealt a heavy blow at the end of 2016 when The Lanier Law Firm obtained a federal jury verdict of more than $1bn for six plaintiffs in the high-profile Pinnacle hip implant litigation. However, a US judge ordered approximately $500m of punitive damages to be cut in January 2017.

Within toxic tort, the Michigan Attorney General’s multi-defendant lawsuit regarding the ongoing Flint Water Crisis has drawn significant attention; Mayer Brown represents Veolia on the defense side, while Napoli Shkolnik PLLC is acting for various plaintiffs.

In addition to the ongoing Takata airbag MDL, the automotive industry has been seeing a significant increase in litigation concerning the Volkswagen emissions fraud MDL. Kirkland & Ellis LLP is one of a number of firms acting for Volkswagen, while Lieff Cabraser Heimann & Bernstein, LLP, Motley Rice LLC and Simmons Hanly Conroy are on the plaintiff side, with Joseph Rice of Motley Rice LLC and Jayne Conroy of Simmons Hanly Conroy serving on the Plaintiffs’ Steering Committee.

Following the installation of the Trump administration, firms have noted a great deal of uncertainty concerning potential deregulation in terms of FDA and EPA enforcement. However, many also predict an aggressive rise in environmental protection enforcement in blue states, such as California.

Financial crisis-related litigation continues to recede, although some large mortgage-backed securities cases are still to be concluded and there are some new cases against trustees for failing to act to ensure the safety of purchasers. There is a slight reduction in litigation against investment banks, though cases arising from alleged manipulation of financial benchmarks such as Libor continue. The technology, life sciences and insurance sectors have seen an uptick in securities litigation. A healthy stock market means there are fewer 10b-5 stock-drop class actions but there are more IPO cases based on the Section 11 of the 1933 Act. Large investors are also choosing to pursue separate claims in opt-out cases by excluding themselves from the class in class actions.

The Southern District of New York and the Ninth Circuit in California are the main hubs for securities litigation, although there is plenty of work in other jurisdictions, which favors firms with a national presence. Cases are coming through in which defense firms succeed in motions to dismiss using the interpretation of the groundbreaking Omnicare case that set new standards for evaluating whether optimistic statements are misleading. It is still rare for securities cases to go to trial, but a defense firm’s willingness and ability to take matters all the way can be a decisive factor in securing favorable settlements.

The overall upward trajectory in litigation was good news in general for trial lawyers, but the number of cases going to trial versus reaching settlement is dependent on the industry sector. Although the majority of trial attorneys consider themselves generalists, most do develop sector expertise, whether it be securities and financial services, life sciences, pharmaceuticals, sports and/or technology. Trending areas included antitrust, white-collar crime and a variety of intellectual property matters, including test cases for the newly enacted Defend Trade Secrets Act. Product liability litigation was also on the rise, with multiple class action trials happening across the country. A growing market for energy litigation, particularly in Texas, has been driven by rising oil prices, with an increasing number of contractual disputes following the conclusion of transactional work.

Leading trial lawyers possess the ability to tell a convincing story and demonstrate not only impeccable technical skills, such as advocacy and reasoning, but immaculate preparation and presentation of the line of argument to a jury, skills that distinguish the group from general litigators and appellate specialists. Our rankings consider the scope of individuals’ practices as well as the level of adaptability across industry sectors. This elite group of attorneys consistently demonstrate work of the highest quality and enjoy nationwide reputations.

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