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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. In 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. 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 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.

From a business litigation perspective generally, 2017 was another busy year for most firms. Consumer class actions, antitrust, employment and IP disputes were among the hottest areas, while firms expect cybersecurity and data breach litigation to increase going forward as cyber-attacks grow in number and sophistication.

In the product liability, class action and mass tort areas, a landmark decision affected so-called ‘forum shopping’ practices; in the high-profile Bristol-Myers Squibb Co v Superior Court of California case, the US Supreme Court rejected plaintiffs’ attempts to bring in out-of-state claims by asserting that specific jurisdiction did not apply. This case has given defendants in a multitude of industries the opportunity to significantly limit the number of claims by challenging personal jurisdiction.

The ever-active pharmaceuticals and medical devices industry kept both plaintiff- and defense-side firms busy with litigation related to testosterone replacement therapy, hip implants and proton pump inhibitors (PPI); Burg Simpson Eldredge Hersh & Jardine, P.C. was appointed a member of the plaintiffs’ executive committee in the PPI MDL, while DLA Piper LLP (US) represents Pfizer, one of the manufacturers in question, in related litigation.

The consumer products sector saw a rise of false advertising-related claims, particularly in relation to food and beverage labeling surrounding the terms ‘healthy’ and ‘natural’. Toxic tort claims were increasingly being filed as environmental contamination rather than personal injury, and the most active areas continued to be talc and asbestos.

Market powerhouses in the automotive area, such as Bowman and Brooke LLP, Dykema Gossett PLLC and Norton Rose Fulbright US LLP, continued to represent original equipment manufacturers in litigation related to the Takata MDL. With the emergence of autonomous vehicles, a new topic that has started to generate interest from law firms and manufacturers is the liability aspect of such systems.

In the M&A litigation space, decisions taken in recent years by the Delaware Court of Chancery, notably in In re Trulia, Inc Stockholder Litigation, have pushed many cases seeking disclosure-only settlements out of the main US center for M&A litigation, leaving it to focus on the more serious and substantial cases. This has not, however, had the effect of reducing the overall rate of litigation following major corporate transactions, with up to 90% of M&A deals valued at more than $100m still likely to see an action brought. The location and nature of the cases has changed, with more filings in state and federal court outside Delaware, often under Section 14 of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934, which provides that corporate management may not solicit proxies by the use of deceptive or misleading statements. In addition, there has been a spike in appraisal cases that do not challenge the initial deal, but are instead post-closing actions that seek to increase the price per share paid by the acquirer. On the plaintiff side, firms such as Bernstein Litowitz Berger & Grossmann LLP, Grant & Eisenhofer P.A. and Labaton Sucharow LLP are regarded as more selective in the cases they bring and have a high level of respect from defense firms. On the defense side, there are many excellent national firms, including Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz, Sullivan & Cromwell LLP and Simpson Thacher & Bartlett LLP, while leading specialist firms in Delaware such as Richards, Layton & Finger, P.A. and Morris, Nichols, Arsht & Tunnell LLP play prominent roles in the biggest cases.

For many years, mortgage-backed securities (MBS) cases cast a long shadow over the securities litigation market, but as disputes stemming from the global financial crisis ebb away there is no dominant theme in the market. Some MBS cases are still being filed, now targeting trustees, but financial institutions are less in plaintiffs’ crosshairs than they have been for a long time. As a result, the focus is shifting to corporate issuers. With the US stock market so buoyant in 2017, fewer 10b-5 stock-drop class actions might have been expected, but there were more such cases filed than in the previous year as plaintiffs pursued smaller falls in share price to seek out potential wrongdoing. The life sciences market remained a key target, largely because falls in stock price can be driven by specific events, such as a failure to achieve approval for a new drug from the Food and Drug Administration. Another feature of the market was the rise in opt-out cases, where individual plaintiffs remove themselves from a class action in order to pursue claims on their own. Among the plaintiff firms, Bernstein Litowitz Berger & Grossmann LLP, Grant & Eisenhofer P.A., Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan, LLP and Robbins Geller Rudman & Dowd LLP are among those known for bringing substantive cases. There are many strong players on the defense side that combine litigation and regulatory enforcement expertise. Securities cases rarely go all the way to trial, but a defense firm’s willingness and ability to try cases has a bearing on its ability to secure favorable settlements.

Ever since the financial crisis of 2008, there has been a seemingly never-ending tsunami of litigation brought against financial institutions of all hues, alleging a dereliction in their duty to protect investors. In terms of both government investigations/enforcement actions and the private litigation which typically follows in its wake, the nation’s largest law firms have been kept extraordinarily busy. The primary and highest-profile types of disputes have related to losses suffered by investors purchasing toxic MBS. And while the vast majority of these cases have now been resolved or time barred as a result of an expiration of the limitation period, the cases brought against banks as trustees of these structured products remain closely watched, being as they are the last major uncertainty in investors’ litigation to recoup their vast losses. Therefore, in what was the first noteholder case against a trustee of residential mortgage-backed securities (RMBS) to go to trial, the judge’s vindication of Bank of New York Mellon (Western & Sothern Life Insurance Co et al v Bank of New York Mellon) was a massive victory and one that may well act as a bellwether in similar cases going forward.

Although the decision - made by a judge in an Ohio state court - does not bind the various other courts entertaining investor suits against MBS trustees, it is likely to discourage noteholders in other cases given Judge Martin’s general conclusion that the trustee only had the duties set forth in the contracts and not a wider fiduciary duty on behalf of the noteholders. It will be interesting to see the development of case law in this battleground between sophisticated institutional investors and bank trustees, but for the time being the decision is justification for trustees remaining resolute.

Outside of the structured finance field, regulators continued to scrutinize trading activity and remained 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 remained 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. Outside of the wholesale banking market, while the retail sector remained a fertile area for government investigations and private litigation - and indeed there have been some extremely high-profile cases in the market most notably relating to Wells Fargo’s sales practices - the recent installation of President Trump’s budget chief, Mick Mulvaney, as head of the industry watchdog Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) is likely to herald a substantial easing of regulatory scrutiny, particularly in light of Mulvaney’s and Trump’s very public criticism of the agency and its over-burdensome regulations.

Firms at the top of the financial services litigation 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.

Despite fears in 2017 that the incoming Trump administration would curtail government investigations, particularly into potential Foreign Corrupt Practices act (FCPA) violations and financial crime, enforcement continued, albeit at a slower rate than before - and further, cases are not now being settled on more favorable terms. High-profile posts at the Department of Justice (DOJ) and Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) had yet to be filled and ranks within the organizations were unusually depleted, but career professionals continued to keep the agencies running. The administration had signaled policy shifts, particularly with respect to drug and immigration enforcement, however many attorneys believed this is unlikely to have a significant bearing on the activities of white-collar practices. Where federal prosecutors had slowed down, state attorneys general were initiating their own criminal and quasi-criminal investigations.

The legacy of the Obama administration remained largely intact: the Yates memo continued to influence the direction of policy under Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who reaffirmed the priority given to individual responsibility for corporate crimes; the FCPA pilot program, which gives credit for the self-declaration of FCPA violations was extended; and the Dodd-Frank whistleblower program led to a noticeable increase in whistleblower cases. Lastly, international regulators became more proactive and cooperative in connection with corruption, bribery and money laundering - demonstrated most clearly by major investigations opened by government agencies in Brazil and Singapore.

This year, the rankings were split to reflect firms that excel in individual representations and those with substantial reputations for representing corporates. Lawyers at non-ranked firms worth mentioning are the industry respected Beth Wilkinson at Wilkinson Walsh + Eskovitz; Hueston Hennigan LLP’s John Hueston, who is attorney to William Koch; and Benjamin Brafman at Brafman & Associates - currently representing Harvey Weinstein in a number of ongoing investigations into his past conduct, and former attorney to Martin Shkreli.

In the appellate arena there were a number of talking points. With respect to the courts of appeals, a notable reported trend was that of trial lawyers increasingly venturing into appellate forums - as well as appeals specialists being parachuted into litigation to advise on appellate considerations as cases start to move in that direction. According to interviewees, clients are increasingly looking not for low-cost options, but options that will get them to where they want to be, and are apparently willing to pay more for the competitive edge.

With respect to the US Supreme Court, the long-term trends of market consolidation and fee pressures driving some lawyers to work virtually pro bono has meant that the highest-profile work is increasingly being handled by a shrinking pool of firms and individuals - many of which are Washington DC-based boutiques. The big move in the market was Christopher Landau joining Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan, LLP from Kirkland & Ellis LLP, while other notable developments included the conclusion of the first full year of Justice Neil Gorsuch.

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 represent non-US clients in US courts. Firms recognized in this area are noted for their handling of these complex cross-border matters. The market is dominated by truly international, full-service firms and by those US firms that have invested in a significant network of overseas offices. Those that have secured roles in some of the biggest international disputes in areas such as securities law or in major antitrust cases involving global corporates - emanating from events such as the VW diesel emissions scandal - have seen their reputations burnished the most. Niche firms that have an intense focus on work involving a particular region, such as South America, also have a strong showing in the ranking.

The rise in international litigation has not lessened the importance of international commercial arbitration, which continued to be relied upon heavily by global businesses to resolve disputes. As a result, arbitration is becoming specialized into different market segments, by industry and by region. For instance, IP is becoming an increasingly active area as clients look to protect their valuable IP rights.

Despite murmurings to the contrary, Investment treaty arbitration is still prevalent. Discussions at a governmental level may see tighter and more restrictive amendments to treaties, however law firms are confident that arbitration is still the best alternative to resolve disputes. Latin America, Asia and the Middle East remain hot-beds of arbitration disputes and many of the recommended law firms and boutiques are active in these regions. Going forward, it will be interesting to see what the fallout of the Trump administration’s imposition of tariffs on foreign imports will be.

For international trade lawyers, 2017 has been a very turbulent and unpredictable year, largely reflecting the skittish and uncertain direction of President Trump’s international trade policy. While at face value it exhibits the traits of the protectionism extoled throughout Trump’s presidential campaign (and there is no doubt, for example, that the Department of Commerce has been pursuing subsidized foreign imports with ever greater zeal), there is general uncertainty as to the future direction regarding sanctions policy with the likes of Iran and Russia, in addition to whether longstanding multilateral trade agreements such as the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) will fall by the wayside. However, with this uncertainty and change in the market comes an increased need for guidance and representation from lawyers in the field, on both the non-contentious and contentious fronts, and most lawyers interviewed spoke of an unprecedented volume of work in 2017.

The international trade ranking covers all aspects of the market from trade remedies and World Trade Organization (WTO) disputes, to economic sanctions and export controls compliance, as well as trade policy advice. The majority of the firms in the ranking have a presence in Washington DC, reflective 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, particularly in matters which have both 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.

Firms at the top of the ranking will have overarching expertise in all areas of international trade, from both a contentious as well as non-contentious perspective. However, those in some of the lower tiers will invariably have a narrower and more specialized focus, often informed, by the nature of their institutional client bases and other complementary areas of expertise. For example, both Davis Polk & Wardwell LLP and Sullivan & Cromwell LLP leverage their strong white-collar and financial services regulatory offerings to provide compelling advice to multinational corporates and financial institutions in sanctions and anti-corruption matters.

Other firms with a more narrow focus include Kirkland & Ellis LLP, which leverages the firm’s deep well of private equity clients, to receive a regular flow of national security clearance work on acquisitions or disposals which require clearance from the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS).

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