You don’t have to be an avid consumer of televised legal dramas to know that law is a high-stakes business. (Though it certainly doesn’t hurt.) The outcome of a case can turn on a few careless words, a misfiled document or the whims of an unreliable jury. But some of the world’s most famous law firms have proven adept at getting their way in court and at the negotiating table, whether due to the raw skill of their in-house legal talent or by putting in longer hours than their adversaries. These are four of the most feared law firms working today, as recently profiled by Above the Law.
- Skadden Arps
Skadden Arps (full name: Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom) is more or less synonymous with “corporate law.” The New York City-based firm has 23 offices in 13 countries, nearly 2,000 highly qualified attorneys on its payroll, and annual revenues of more than $2 billion during the most recent fiscal year. When it comes to finding top-tier staff, Skadden has its pick of the litter: Most new hires graduate from Top 15 law schools like Harvard, Georgetown, Columbia and the University of Michigan.
- Kirkland & Ellis
Chicago-based Kirkland & Ellis definitely breaks the polite Midwestern mold. The firm has 12 offices and more than 1,500 attorneys, many of whom graduate from elite local law schools like Northwestern and the University of Chicago. Kirkland & Ellis earned more than $2 billion in revenues last year; for what it’s worth, its per-capita revenue exceeds even Skadden Arps’s. And with litigation accounting for nearly half of Kirkland’s billed hours, you know its lawyers know their way around the courtroom.
- Robbins Geller Rudman & Dowd
With 10 offices and hundreds of aggressive, sharp-minded attorneys on staff, Robbins Geller is the largest law firm dedicated specifically to corporate securities fraud. And according to Law360, a trusted resource, it’s the most feared plaintiff’s firm in any area of the law. Perhaps that’s because Robbins Geller is responsible for some of the largest securities fraud settlements and verdicts in history, including cases involving Enron and WorldCom — possibly the two most famous fraud cases of the 2000s — as well as banking giant HSBC. If you’re reporting a fraud or have been financially affected by one, experts agree that Robbins Geller is the firm to call.
- Jones Day
Jones Day is the elephant in the corporate law room. With 41 offices (and counting), 2,500 attorneys, 800 partners and nearly $2 billion in annual revenues, it’s a behemoth — even if its business isn’t quite as lucrative as the Skaddens and Kirklands of the world. Jones Day has won numerous accolades for its work; it perennially tops “client service” lists thanks to attorneys trained to go above and beyond for clients who pay top dollar, and its lawyers find themselves arguing cases at the Supreme Court more than nearly any other firm’s.
Not every law firm deserves to be viewed as “formidable,” “terrifying.” But there are also plenty of deserving law firms that didn’t quite make this list.
Bottom line: Before you hire a firm to represent you, thoroughly investigate its background to determine how far it has gone for past clients — and how far it might be willing to go for you. And if you’re ever named as a defendant, well, all you can do is hope you don’t find yourself across the courtroom from any of these formidable teams.