Keker & Van Nest, a 49-lawyer firm based in San Francisco, won The American Lawyer’s first Litigation Boutique of the Year contest.

Keker & Van Nest, a 49-lawyer firm based in San Francisco, won The American Lawyer’s first Litigation Boutique of the Year contest.

Keker & Van Nest was cited for a series of litigation successes, including major cases in intellectual property, legal malpractice, and white-collar defense. In his report on the firm, senior reporter Paul Braverman wrote that “Keker & Van Nest lawyers handle cases of national importance . . . Not only do they win consistently, they do so while working in an environment that is a model for the legal industry in the areas of diversity and pro bono. Also, the partners like each other, or do a great job of disguising any animosity beneath a shower of banter and playful teasing.”

This competition was open to litigation specialty shops outside The Am Law 200. The magazine’s editors invited some firms to participate; others nominated themselves. The contest was extremely close. The final decision, made by a panel of American Lawyer staffers, was based on the firms’ written submissions and oral presentations, supplemented by reporting with firm clients, opponents, and observers. The contest covered the period between January 2003 through June 2004, which the finalists could augment during the final round of judging. All manner of litigation was covered, from pretrial settlements through appellate work.

The Keker firm won despite a high-profile defeat in the federal government’s prosecution of Frank Quattrone, the former high-flying investment banker at Credit Suisse First Boston. John Keker, the firm’s founder and marquee attraction, represented Quattrone and lost at trial (the first trial ended in a mistrial).

The finalists included:

# Susman Godfrey. This 62-lawyer firm divides its time between big-ticket plaintiffs cases and a docket of corporate defense work. According to firm lawyers, the former accounts for roughly 80 percent of their annual revenues. The firm is notable for its lawyers’ high-quality pedigrees, democratic governance structure, and willingness to place bets on cases that yield astonishing results.

# Bartlit Beck. This 48-lawyer firm spun off from Kirkland & Ellis a dozen years ago. Since then its partners have built on their national reputations. Philip Beck was George Bush’s trial counsel during the Florida recount before he saved Bayer from its near fatal, Baycol-induced coma; at 72, Fred Bartlit, Jr., still parachutes into hot trials from coast to coast.

# Beck Redden. Think of them like this: Exxon Mobil can hire almost any defense counsel it wants, and when the problem is big enough, the oil company turns to 64-year-old David Beck and his 33-lawyer firm. Beck and Joe Redden spun off from Fulbright & Jaworski in 1992, and have proceeded to build an elite corporate defense operation.

# Zuckerman Spaeder. At 93 lawyers, they’re the biggest in this group. Their practice spreads from white-collar defense-they successfully defended the Salt Lake City Olympic officials charged with bribery-to civil litigation-they’re the litigation muscle behind the remarkable advances made by the Oneida Indian Nation in upstate New York.

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