The Legal 500

Steptoe & Johnson LLP

1330 CONNECTICUT AVENUE, NW, WASHINGTON DC 20036, USA

United States

Top-tier recommendations

Recommendations


United States: Finance

Within Corporate restructuring (including bankruptcy), tier 6

Steptoe & Johnson LLP’s group is co-chaired by Washington DC-based Filiberto Agusti and Robbin Itkin. The firm is well known for its expertise in contentious bankruptcy proceedings and it represented PSEG in its attempt to enjoin the restructuring of Dynegy, on the grounds that the proposed restructuring breached Dynegy duties to PSEG. It was also instructed by the Allied Pilots Association to advise it as a labor union and creditor in the American Airlines bankruptcy.

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Within Not-for-profit, Steptoe & Johnson LLP is a second tier firm,

Split across Washington DC, Los Angeles, Phoenix and New York, Steptoe & Johnson LLP’s ‘excellent’ full-service practice is particularly strong in advising private associations. At its head, ‘terrific technical operator’, Suzanne Ross McDowell is a ‘top lawyer in the tax-exempt organization field’ and is ‘thoughtful, analytical and able to distil and present complex tax concepts in a way that is easy to understand’; she also has a ‘wonderful stable of clients’. McDowell is providing ongoing corporate governance advice to United Way Worldwide (UWW), the largest public charity in the US, as well as assisting it with charitable-giving and tax issues relating to fundraising activities including disaster relief and employer-sponsored assistance funds. Other advice to UWW has related to ERISA matters and tax rules for deferred compensation. Co-chair and certified public accountant Catherine Wilkinson is also highly recommended. Wilkinson represented the National Park Foundation (NPF) when Michelle Obama assigned interests in her book about White House gardens over to it. American Institute of Physics, US Pharmacopeial Convention, HIMSS, GMAC and The Nature Conservancy are also clients.

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United States: Industry focus

Within Energy: litigation, Steptoe & Johnson LLP is a second tier firm,

Steptoe & Johnson LLP is ‘excellent value for money’ on the litigation side. In 2013 it was active in a range of TAPS-related work for ConocoPhillips, including assisting the company in securing FERC approval for an agreement between the owners of the pipeline regarding the sharing of annual running costs, which stand at over $1bn, and acting in an appeal against two parties who opposed the deal. The practice was also busy representing the Seaway Crude Pipeline Company in several matters before the FERC; the main case involves an application for authority to allow a change to the rates of transporting crude oil from the company’s base in Oklahoma to the Gulf coast. It was to be based on the market, which led to several parties filing a protest against the application, which was initially upheld by FERC, however the agency has since granted a rehearing of its order and Seaway’s appeal is on hold pending the decision. The firm handled other pipeline work for a variety of clients, such as Enbridge Pipelines and Sunoco, primarily on requests to the FERC for new and expanded lines in the US. Steve Brose heads the 14-partner team from Washington DC, where Steven Reed, David Raskin and Richard Roberts are also recommended.

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Within Energy: regulatory, Steptoe & Johnson LLP is a second tier firm,

Steptoe & Johnson LLP’s transmission practice is widely renowned, and it has broad experience representing companies before Congress, the FERC and state agencies. The firm is advising Southern California Edison (SCE) in the fallout from the California energy crisis of 2000-01; a team led by Richard Roberts and Jane Ryan in Washington DC is assisting it in leading a coalition of California utilities and agencies to pursue the recovery (through litigation) and settlement of billions of dollars in overcharges suffered from other power sellers during the crisis and have so far obtained settlements for SCE of approximately $5bn. The firm has also been advising various oil pipeline companies on open seasons for new or expanded pipelines, including requesting and securing FERC declaratory orders approving innovative rate and service terms for those projects; Steven Brose, Steven Reed, Daniel Poyner and Joseph Hicks are all noted for their pipeline work and have been instrumental in advising Seaway Crude Pipeline Company LLC on various regulatory matters before the FERC. David Raskin and Caroline Gaudet are advising Tres Amigas, a proposed electric ‘superstation’ that will connect the three separate electric grids in the US at one location using new HVDC technology, as lead outside counsel for a number of regulatory matters, and in 2013, the firm represented it in litigation involving access to the transmission grid in New Mexico, successfully convincing the FERC to rule in the company’s favor.

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Within Insurance: advice to insurers, Steptoe & Johnson LLP is a second tier firm,

Steptoe & Johnson LLP’s insurance and reinsurance practice is ‘outstanding in all categories’, including personal injury, finance, asbestos and environmental claims, and notably specializes in commercial insurance coverage litigation. The group has proven itself to be ‘very proficient in complex high-value coverage disputes’, such as Hudson’s $100m dispute with New Jersey Transit, which made a claim for losses incurred in 2012 by Hurricane Sandy. Practice head Harry Lee is ‘very strong’ and is representing USF&G (now a subsidiary of Travelers) as co-defendant against a fraud action filed by over 10,000 asbestos claimants against a number of McCormick Asbestos’ insurers. The practice is handling a rising number of fraud cases, with another example including Phoenix-based Floyd Bienstock and Bruce Converse’s representation of Travelers in one of a series of putative class actions wherein automobile insurers are accused of using a software system to underpay by 20% bodily injury insurance claims. The group continues to defend Hartford and New England Reinsurance Corporation in concussion-related mass torts filed against insurers by over 3,000 former NFL players. Ruth Kochenderfer was promoted to the partnership in January 2013 and Frank Winston and Antonia Ianello are also recommended; all three are based in Washington DC.

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United States: Intellectual property

Within Patent litigation: International Trade Commission, tier 4

Steptoe & Johnson LLP is recognized as a regular player in ITC patent litigation proceedings, taking both lead and co-counsel roles. Jamie Beaber has taken over the role of team leader from Charles Schill, who has a solid reputation and longstanding track record for handling ITC proceedings. The team acted for Motorola in a case brought by Immersion Corporation, which was subsequently settled. It also represented LG Electronics in a number of investigations, including as respondent to Industrial Technology Research Institute’s patent claims, which were found to be invalid on a remanded investigation. Another practice highlight was successfully representing Huawei in a case brought by Technology Properties Limited LLC, where it was ruled that the named respondents did not infringe asserted patent claims. Alice Kipel led for Dura Magnetics in obtaining an affirmation of a decision to terminate the client from an investigation brought by Hitachi Metals. Named attorneys are based in Washington DC.

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Within Trademarks: non-contentious (full coverage), tier 4

Steptoe & Johnson LLP assists clients in protecting, preserving and exploiting trademarks, and regularly advises on enforcement and defensive strategies, portfolio management, and trade dress issues. The four-partner team is led by Michelle Cooke in Los Angeles. In Washington DC, Rachel Hofstatter focuses on the acquisition, protection and enforcement of IP rights. The firm has an impressive mix of domestic and international clients, including Universal Studios Licensing and Silver Sunrise. Brian Winterfeldt recently left to join Katten Muchin Rosenman LLP.

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United States: Labor and employment

Within Employee benefits and executive compensation, Steptoe & Johnson LLP is a second tier firm,

Steptoe & Johnson LLP is ‘the “go-to” ERISA firm’. It has a broad benefits practice that covers Title I, Title II, Title IV, public plans, complex tax, transaction, and legislative matters, and also has a renowned fiduciary practice. The firm’s clients include the Allied Pilots Association, California Public Employees’ Retirement System and the National Electrical Benefit Fund. Melanie Nussdorf ‘understands financial products better than many business people and has a tremendous understanding of how financial services firms and financial products operate.’ Don Wellington in Los Angeles is ‘smart, pragmatic and solution oriented’, Edward Mackiewicz’s ‘advice is always timely, well thought out and on target’; and Patrick Menasco ‘has mastered the calm, cool, and collected demeanor required to extract favorable terms from investment contract counterparties’. Anne Moran is also highly recommended. Unless specified, all lawyers named are based in Washington DC.

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Within ERISA litigation, Steptoe & Johnson LLP is a first tier firm,

Steptoe & Johnson LLP has handled complex matters under ERISA and related statutes including fiduciary responsibility, preemption, prohibited transactions, and retiree medical obligations. The team is ‘world class – as knowledgeable as they come’ and attorneys are a ‘pleasure to work with, have deep knowledge of the law and key strengths in litigation and counseling’ as well as providing ‘accurate predictions of what the courts and regulatory bodies might do in specific situations’. The firm successfully briefed and argued a motion to dismiss a putative consolidated class action brought against BP and fiduciaries of its defined contribution plans arising out of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. It is currently representing Morgan Stanley in a putative nationwide ERISA class action brought by a 401(k) plan sponsor/fiduciary in the US District Court for the Southern District of New York; and is representing CalPERS in a class action challenge to the Defense Of Marriage Act (DOMA) and a federal tax statute, which, when put together, bar same-sex spouses and domestic partners from state long-term care plans. Practice head Paul Ondrasik is ‘a tremendous ERISA litigator’ who is ‘very practical and makes sure decisions are not driven by emotion’; his ‘soothing personality enables him to convey complex issues in understandable ways, both to executives and to in-house counsel and means he resonates with judges’. The team includes Morgan Hodgson, who has specialist knowledge of electronic discovery issues, Eric Serron and Edward Mackiewicz, who is ‘head and shoulders above his peers’. All named attorneys are based in Washington DC.

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United States: Litigation

Within International trade, Steptoe & Johnson LLP is a first tier firm,

One of the leading US firms for complex international trade issues’, Steptoe & Johnson LLP provides ‘a consistently excellent level of service’ and has ‘a deep bench with a strong established network’, including ‘excellent legal contacts in China’; clients ‘highly value its counsel’, which is ‘well worth its rates’. The team continues to blaze a trail in trade disputes between the US and China, and acts across the spectrum of matters including export controls, economic sanctions and CFIUS. New mandates from US companies on trade matters involving China included countervailing investigations, and trade policy and merger review issues, and it also represented MeadWestvaco in an anti-dumping case. Pre-eminent in the WTO arena, its recent work includes representing the government of Argentina in a dispute over its import regime, and it strengthened its Latin American practice with the hire of seasoned Brazilian trade litigator Pablo Bentes. The team also successfully represented USEC before the International Trade Commission in the anti-dumping sunset review on low enriched uranium from France. Susan Esserman heads the Washington DC-based team, which also includes Stewart Baker; the ‘best-in-class’ Mark Moran; the ‘pragmatic’ Edward Krauland; of counsel Gregory McCue; and Richard Cunningham, who is considered a ‘statesman in US trade circles’.

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Within Leading trial lawyers Leading trial lawyers

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Within Product liability and mass tort defense: toxic tort, Steptoe & Johnson LLP is a third tier firm,

The ‘cost-effective’ group at Steptoe & Johnson LLP is valued for its ‘exceptional skill and service’. Practice head Lawrence Riff, who is based in the firm’s Los Angeles office, is ‘a very skilled and practical trial lawyer’, ‘great with juries’ and valued for his ability in trying complex cases. The firm serves as co-lead counsel in advising the defendant in Smith v Monsanto Co, et al., in allegations that the client’s PCBs caused plaintiffs’ cancer.

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Within White-collar criminal defense, tier 4

Steptoe & Johnson LLP’s ‘pre-eminent white-collar group’ has built up a solid reputation through its involvement in high-profile cases and its team of ‘smart’ and ‘creative’ lawyers. Its place in the market was further cemented by two notable new additions to the team in 2013: Jason Weinstein joined the Washington DC office following his tenure at the DOJ’s criminal division, and former US Attorney for the District of Arizona Paul Charlton joined the Phoenix office. The ‘very thorough’ and ‘dedicated’ team’s recent mandates include acting for Michael Lynch, the former CEO of Autonomy Corporation, in an investigation into alleged accounting irregularities, and negotiating a plea agreement for an individual charged in the DOJ’s criminal antitrust investigation into the auto-parts industry. It also assisted Lebanese Canadian Bank in reaching a settlement with the government over alleged OFAC sanction violations and money laundering. The names to note are ‘rising superstar’ Brian Heberlig, ‘top trial lawyer’ Reid Weingarten, who is a ‘terrific courtroom advocate’ as well as a ‘wise, experienced counsellor’, and New York-based Evan Barr, who receives plaudits for his ‘excellent analytical skills’ and ability to ‘effectively apply the substantive knowledge he has acquired through many years of practice to the practical needs of his clients’. Named partners are based in Washington DC unless otherwise stated.

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United States: Media, technology and telecoms

Within Telecoms and broadcast: regulatory, Steptoe & Johnson LLP is a second tier firm,

Steptoe & Johnson LLP’s ‘outstanding’ practice, led by Pantelis Michalopoulos in Washington DC ‘provides top-quality legal advice and business support’ to US and international clients, handling cutting-edge regulatory issues, strategic transactions and major disputes. It has particular expertise in satellite matters, representing longstanding client DISH Network in its unsolicited $25bn bid for Sprint, its $6bn tender offer for Clearwire, and its $2.2bn bid for LightSquared in bankruptcy; while stand-alone regulatory matters included successfully representing the same client in the plug-and-play appeal before the DC Circuit and in the ongoing net neutrality dispute at the FCC. Michalopoulos successfully represented EchoStar in the plug-and-play appeal, and the team continues to assist EchoStar with filing FCC applications to launch and operate new satellite EchoStar 16; it is also advising EchoStar and Hughes Network Systems on relocating satellites to launch DTH services in Brazil. Other work included representing the Open Internet Coalition on a DC Circuit appeal relating to the FCC’s open internet rules. Clients express the ‘utmost confidence’ in Alfred Mamlet and recently elected partner Stephanie Roy, who are ‘precise, kind, helpful and knowledgeable’; the pair are currently advising OnAir on lobbying for FCC rule changes to permit airline passengers to use cell phones during flights. The team was strengthened by lateral hires Markham Erickson from Holch & Erickson LLPJason Weinstein from the DOJ and Stewart Baker from the Department of Homeland Security. Major clients include Netflix, Bloomberg, Inmarsat and Artel LLC.

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Within Telecoms and broadcast: transactional, Steptoe & Johnson LLP is a third tier firm,

Steptoe & Johnson LLP’s ‘outstanding’ transactional team provides ‘knowledgeable, timely advice that protect clients’ business interests’ to many household names within the wireline, wireless, media, and internet sectors. It has particular expertise in the satellite space, with practice head Pantelis Michalopoulos in Washington DC and his team advising DISH Network on several matters, including its $2.2bn bid for the assets of LightSquared. Michalopoulos and recently promoted partner Stephanie Roy again advised DISH Network on its unsolicited $25bn bid for Sprint Nextel, and in its $6bn tender offer for Clearwire Corporation. Roy and Alfred Mamlet are advising Artel on a $100m joint venture with Boeing to provide satellite services. The team was strengthened by lateral hires including Markham Erickson, whose clients include The Internet Association and the Open Internet Coalition, from Holch & Erickson LLP, Jason Weinstein from the DOJ and Stewart Baker from the Department of Homeland Security. Additional key firm clients include Inmarsat, Google, Netflix, AOL, Yahoo! and Bloomberg.

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United States: Tax

Within Domestic tax: East Coast, tier 4

Steptoe & Johnson LLP has an ‘impressive’ practice, with standout strength in the financial industry. The Washington DC-based practice is primarily known for its tax controversy work but also handles a consistent flow of primarily mid-market transactional work. The highly regarded Philip West heads the tax practice and is recognized as a key player in international tax matters. West and Gregory Kidder have provided ongoing advice to Puerto Rico Government Development Bank on a range of tax legislative issues. Robert Rizzi, former head of tax at O'Melveny & Myers LLP, joined the team in October 2013, bringing considerable corporate tax experience to the team. Mark Silverman is another name to note, and is an authority on tax planning and structuring.

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Within Domestic tax: West Coast, Steptoe & Johnson LLP is a third tier firm,

The West Coast center of Steptoe & Johnson LLP’s tax practice is Phoenix, where Pat Derdenger is co-head of tax, with Don Wellington his counterpart in Los Angeles. Derdenger focuses on SALT controversy, and his team has been active in cases involving the taxes the state can impose on land owned by and leased from Indian tribes. Wellington has been active assisting employers in navigating the tax issues surrounding the Affordable Care Act, and also advised California Public Employees’ Retirement System on its application for a favorable determination letter from the IRS, as well as helping the Allied Pilots Association in obtaining regulatory relief from the IRS permitting the Pilots Pension Plan to avoid a distress termination and loss of benefits to participants.

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Within International tax, tier 5

The ‘very strong’ team at Steptoe & Johnson LLP is noted for its ‘excellent’ response times, business acumen and industry knowledge. Philip West heads the group, which includes senior counsel Michael Durst, who served for several years as director of the IRS’ Advance Pricing Agreement Program. Work highlights included successfully obtaining a ruling from the IRS on the tax treatment of certain of The Walt Disney Company’s cross-border transactions. The firm is also representing the company in a competent authority proceeding and in respect to IRS audit issues. The team was bolstered by the arrival in October 2013 of Robert Rizzi, former head of tax at O'Melveny & Myers LLP. Associate Amanda Varma is also recommended. The attorneys named are all based in New York and Washington DC.

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Within Tax controversy, Steptoe & Johnson LLP is a third tier firm,

Steptoe & Johnson LLP is noted for its ‘high-quality service’, ‘excellent response times’ and ‘value for money’. Philip West heads the practice, which covers the full spectrum of tax controversy matters at both domestic and international level. Names to note include the ‘experienced and effective’ Mark Silverman; J Walker Johnson, who has ‘tremendous skill and knowledge’; and Arthur Bailey, who is a ‘superb strategist’ and an ‘excellent litigator’. Recent work includes acting for Honeywell International in eight property tax appeals in Arizona. Amanda Varma is also recommended. Matthew Lerner left the firm in January 2014 to co-head Sidley Austin LLP’s tax controversy practice. The attorneys named are all based in Washington DC.

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