As general counsel at the largest U.S. corporations prepare for a sizable increase in litigation during 2022, finding the right fit when looking for a trial law firm will become a top priority. While many GCs have traditionally worked within their existing big law firm relationships to find representation, a growing number are seeking counsel from highly acclaimed first-chair attorneys in boutique trial firms accustomed to trying major cases before juries.
Jennifer L. Keller, co-founder of the Orange County, California based boutique litigation firm Keller/Anderle LLP, is one of America’s top trial lawyers and has represented a bevy of Fortune 500/1000 companies in a broad range of business litigation cases. Listed with Best Lawyers® since 2004, Keller’s sterling results, along with statewide and national awards and honors, place her among the profession’s elite.
Keller began her legal career in 1978, and eventually started her current practice in 1995 with colleague Kay Anderle, establishing what is now one of America’s most successful women-led firms.
During her 40 years as a trial lawyer, Keller’s has been called “the most gifted litigator with whom I have ever worked,” “the consummate trial lawyer,” “an incredible cross-examiner" and other accolades by current and former clients alike. The praise has been underscored by her trial results.
In 2009 Keller, already an icon of trial success, won California’s largest business jury verdict, with $350 million awarded to her client in Auerbach v. Daily. Following this, Keller would go on in 2011 to win the retrial of Mattel v. MGA (aka “Barbie v. Bratz”), a billion-dollar “bet the company” copyright infringement and trade secret misappropriation case.
With these verdicts under her belt, Keller would soon find herself representing Standard & Poors in United States v. The McGraw-Hill Companies, which eventually settled in 2015 for one billion dollars, or one-fifth of what the government had initially sought. In 2018, Keller won a defense jury verdict for MassMutual Life Insurance Co. in a bellwether class action trial in Los Angeles. Broadcast live on CVN, the case would eventually be named one of the Top Defense Verdicts of the year. Most recently, in 2021, Jennifer and her team represented CashCall, Inc. in a landmark legal malpractice case seeking nearly $1 billion in damages against an “AmLaw 100” international law firm. The case settled for a confidential sum on the eve of trial.
From her firm’s home base in the heart of Southern California, Keller spoke candidly about her experiences as a trial lawyer, the battle for high-profile cases between major firms and boutiques, and the rise of women within the historically male-dominated trial sector of the profession.
Lawyers at Keller/Anderle LLP. From left to right: Shaun A. Hoting, Reuben Camper Cahn, Jennifer L. Keller, Jay P. Barron, Stephanie K. Lind, Jeremy Stamelman, Nahal Kazemi, Kay Anderle, Gregory M. Sergi, Chase A. Scolnick, Anand Sambhwani
What motivated you to study law? Were there ever any other areas of law you studied or thought about pursuing?
I wanted to be a trial lawyer ever since I can remember. As a child I was mesmerized by Perry Mason, and in 7th grade I got into speech and debate. The die was cast! I never wanted to do any kind of transactional law and I’m convinced I would be very bad at it. I was interested in trying cases to juries, and have done that for over 40 years. The beauty of my firm is that we litigate every conceivable type of subject matter—commercial, IP, legal malpractice, bad faith, white collar.
Keller/Anderle is a boutique firm, but you go up against some of the country’s biggest firms in the courtroom. How do you prepare to take them on?
It doesn’t matter how big the firm is. What matters is the quality of the trial team. Our teams have far more experience preparing trials than most big firm lawyers do. Everyone contributes ideas. We approach every case from the start as if it will go to trial, and prep with that in mind. We examine each deposition for precisely what we want to achieve with it. We differentiate between “trial depos” where the witness won’t appear later in person, and issue-centric or discovery depos. Unless it’s a trial depo, we don’t expose all the devastating evidence we have; we save much of it for trial. We actually prefer litigating against major law firms because our people are battle-hardened and most of theirs are not. And judges like us because we know what to do in a courtroom.
Your firm has represented Fortune 500 companies. What are the advantages for these companies in choosing a boutique firm like yours over one of the larger firms?
Lack of trial experience is a growing problem at big law firms. When you hire Keller/Anderle you get attorneys with hundreds of jury trials among them, backed up by lawyers with sterling credentials who worked at the nation’s most prestigious law firms. So you get the best of both worlds. Many commercial litigation partners at big firms have had zero jury trials in their entire careers. Others had a few when they were AUSAs but maybe none in a decade or two.
Most don’t know how to pick a jury. They haven’t developed great cross-examination skills doing law and motions work. They don’t know what resonates with juries or how to talk to them. They can’t react quickly to evidentiary issues because they don’t routinely use the evidence code. You can only gain these skills doing trial after trial after trial. Jury trials; not bench trials and not arbitrations.
We don’t leverage first, second or third-years who need to bill big hours. In fact, we don’t even have associates except for our e-discovery attorneys. All of our lawyers are skilled and sophisticated.
Finally, in those big firms that do have experienced trial counsel for commercial cases, because those people are so rare, that lawyer may be sitting on top of a dozen or more major cases. He or she may not be involved in the day-to-day litigation and tactical decisions that will affect the trial of your company’s case. That’s not true at our firm. Lead counsel is involved at every stage, is completely conversant with all the details, makes the tactical decisions and shapes the narrative. Your case receives personal attention from the person who will try it.
The legal field still remains largely male. I read that around 62.6% of lawyers in the US are male. Was it always your goal to build a women-owned law firm? Can you tell the story of your firm’s inception?
I never thought about founding a woman-owned firm. It happened organically, because the other name partner and I are women. In the same way, we didn’t set out to create a diverse firm – it happened organically, as great lawyers sought us out and we sought them. When I practiced criminal defense, the best trial lawyer in the Orange County DA’s office, in my opinion, was Kay Anderle. We were adversaries. When her then-husband was elected DA, it became apparent that she couldn’t stay in that office, and I persuaded her to join me. As we transitioned into intellectual property and commercial litigation trials, her skill in putting cases together and creating trial narratives was key. She’s also a terrific businesswoman, so becoming the managing partner was a natural progression.
General counsel at major U.S. corporations are seeking diversity in their legal counsel. While you mention that you didn’t specifically seek to be diverse, Keller/Anderle certainly is – how does this help you in gaining entrance into Fortune 1000 companies?
It is true that Keller/Anderle is a certified women-owned business and is a member of the National Association of Minority and Women Owned Law Firms. And, yes, GCs checking out our roster of attorneys will quickly be impressed with the combination of incredible talent and diversity. We recognize that these facts can act as a door-opener to GCs who may not have previously heard much of our expertise. But beyond that introduction, our record and personal interactions with new clients are what help win new relationships.
How many Fortune 500 companies do you currently represent and what should they consider most before selecting a law firm to represent them?
We currently represent six or seven. If it’s a significant or high-stakes case, they should consider how many jury trials as lead counsel the proposed lead attorney has tried, how recently and what the results have been. That question should be asked and a list of trials produced no matter how many accolades the lawyer has won, because I’ve seen lawyers who’ve never tried a case in 40 years get “bet-the-company” awards. Hiring a bona fide, first-chair, winning jury trial lawyer says you believe in your case and will go the distance. Even if settlement is your goal, having a lead who is a major threat will facilitate that. Fear is a great motivator. A “conference room lawyer” is not a threat.
Next, I would ask about bench strength. How many jury trials has the second chair had, in what role and when? And what are the backgrounds of the other proposed team members? Who will be responsible for the law-and-motion end of the case? How many junior associates will be staffing the case as opposed to more experienced lawyers?
You represent both plaintiffs and defendants, large companies and individuals. How do you approach each new case to give the best representation?
First, we make sure we want the case: We think it’s meritorious and like the client or client representative. We see if the client can afford the litigation, is willing to fund it to the necessary extent and identify alternative sources like insurance or litigation funding. We fashion a fee structure that makes sense both for the client and our firm, whether hourly, contingency or hybrid. We ascertain what success would look like to the client. It could be a trial victory, a quick settlement, a low or high media profile or a shot across the bow of infringing competitors. Whatever it is, we start working toward that goal, staffing the case with a lead counsel and team best suited to that type of case, client and outcome. We try to learn everything we can about the client’s business and what brought things to this point, and establish a rapport so we can forge a team that includes the client in all key decisions.
The last year and a half have drastically changed to scope of nearly everything in the legal world. How has the pandemic changed your firm’s work as well as your casework and courtroom strategy? What are some of the most notable issues that you have helped your clients through over the past year?
Like everyone else, we’ve learned to work remotely. Remote depositions and mediations have become standard. They have their advantages and can save the client a lot of money. We had already equipped our attorneys to work remotely, so the process of moving everything to remote was pretty seamless. We don’t have new associates so there’s no one to train or integrate into the firm. Most oral arguments moved to Zoom, as have depositions and mediations. Some of our trial teams have continued to meet in person, outdoors, once a week or so. Now that everyone in the firm is double vaccinated, we feel more comfortable allowing people to go into the office. The main problem is that our jury trials have backed up.
We resolved a huge legal malpractice case on the eve of trial for our plaintiff client against an AmLaw 100 firm. We won two summary judgment motions in two different jurisdictions for a Fortune 50 client, saving the client potentially $100 million. We had a second demurrer granted without leave to amend for our client, an AmLaw 100 law firm accused of legal malpractice in a high-stakes case. We succeeded in removing Kevin Spacey’s New York case to federal court and got one plaintiff dismissed with prejudice when he refused to plead non-anonymously. We achieved a significant settlement for a multi-office insurance brokerage that had been forced by one of its carriers to illegally redline. We have done some other great work behind the scenes keeping clients out of litigation that I sadly can’t go into.
Contact Keller/Anderle LLP today at 949.476.8700 or find them online.