The American Lawyer's Newsmakers of 2013

, The American Lawyer

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Change is good—at least that's what we're told. Last year was a good one to test this proposition, as a slew of lawyers found themselves in new, sometimes unexpected roles—and made news while doing so. Debevoise & Plimpton's white-collar defense superstar Mary Jo White switched sides. Jones Day bankruptcy partner Kevyn Orr got a big new job. Former plaintiffs-side heavyweight John "Sean" Coffey landed a couple of new jobs. U.S. district judge Jed Rakoff and other American lawyers wound up on a Russian list of human rights violators—probably more of a badge of honor than anything else. Having flamed out as a politician, John Edwards went back to work as a lawyer.

Some things didn’t change. Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison’s Brad Karp defended the National Football League; Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale and Dorr’s William Lee was there for the iPhone—and Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher’s Theodore Olson seemed to be everywhere.

After seven years of litigation with publishers and The Authors Guild, Durie Tangri’s Daralyn Durie finally closed the book on a legal challenge to the Google Books project, convincing a federal judge that Google’s efforts to digitize millions of out-of-print books is a fair use of authors’ copyrighted material.

Two U.S. senators­ with Am Law 100 ties—Sidley Austin alum Mike Lee of Utah and former Morgan, Lewis & Bockius partner R. Ted Cruz of Texas­—masterminded the federal government’s 16-day shutdown last fall. (Did we really need more fodder for lawyer jokes?)

Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale and Dorr’s William Lee has been Apple’s chief outside defender against Samsung’s attempts to enjoin iPhone and iPad sales. But he got to play offense in a San Jose courtroom, where he helped colleagues at Morrison & Foerster retry portions of a damages case against Samsung—bringing Apple’s recovery to about $930 million.

Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher’s Theodore Olson, a regular on our annual list of newsmakers, had another busy year with key roles in overturning California’s anti–Gay Marriage Prop 8, advising BP in a challenge to the terms of a multibillion-dollar settlement, and representing hedge funds seeking to force Argentina to pay up on its bad debt.

As director of enforcement for the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission during the corporate governance scandals of the early 2000s, Stephen Cutler pushed companies hard to improve compliance. Cutler was on the other side in 2013 as JPMorgan Chase’s general counsel, guiding the bank through multiple high-stakes regulatory investigations. Cutler and outside counsel Sullivan & Cromwell negotiated a $13 billion settlement with the U.S. Department of Justice last fall.

Brad Karp of Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison, representing the National Football League, and Christopher Seeger of Seeger Weiss, representing 4,500 former NFL players, faced off in litigation over claims that the league concealed the risks of brain damage resulting from concussions. The suit settled in August for $765 million.

Facing a 211-game suspension for allegedly taking performance-enhancing substances, A-Rod played hardball, tapping Reed Smith’s James McCarroll and Tacopina Seigel & Turano’s Joseph Tacopina to fight the penalty.

After John “Sean” Coffey saw the litigation funder that he cofounded close up shop, he joined the defense team for former Goldman Sachs trader Fabrice “Fabulous Fab” Tourre—who was convicted in August of securities fraud. Here’s hoping Coffey’s next venture goes better: chair of Kramer Levin Naftalis & Frankel’s complex litigation practice.

When Weil, Gotshal & Manges laid off 60 associates and 110 staffers in June, executive partner Barry Wolf cited Citi Private Bank data on declining partner billables and said that Weil was adjusting to the “new normal.” Consultants predicted similar cutbacks at other firms—but at year’s end, with no major lawyer layoffs reported, Weil’s peer firms seemed to be sticking to the old normal.

Mary Jo White left Debevoise & Plimpton to become chair of the SEC—and announced that the agency would now seek admissions in settling some fraud charges. Wall Street leaders would neither admit nor deny being irked—but JPMorgan Chase fessed up to violating securities laws as part of the settlement over its handling of the $6.2 billion London Whale trading loss.

After the U.S. government barred 18 Russians from entering the United States, citing human rights violations, Russia retaliated with a stay-out-of-Russia list. Among the lawyers named were former Bush administration lawyer John Yoo; U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara; his predecessor Michael Garcia, now a partner at Kirkland & Ellis; and U.S. District Judge Jed Rakoff.

As Detroit’s emergency manager, Kevyn Orr steered the Motor City into Chapter 9 bankruptcy for major repairs—with the help of his former firm, Jones Day. Amid controversy over an alleged conflict of interest in the firm’s hiring, Jones Day lawyers won a groundbreaking ruling that Detroit can cut public pensions to restructure its debt.

Eighteen months after jurors acquitted him of one campaign finance fraud count and deadlocked on five other charges, former presidential candidate John Edwards hung out a shingle, saying he didn’t expect his own criminal trial to affect his practice. “What I know is that juries do the right thing over and over and over,” Edwards said.

In a year full of law firm mergers, some of the biggest potential combos never actually happened. Fresh from tying the knot with France–based Salans and Canada’s Fraser Milner Casgrain, Dentons global chief executive Elliott Portnoy courted McKenna Long & Alridge—but the union didn’t get enough votes from McKenna partners to move forward.

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