February 24, 2024

Practice of law: best practice in legal work

Practice of law: best practice in legal work

The six sets of case studies showcased here feature examples of the most innovative work and legal services that lawyers have developed for clients.

The case studies were researched, compiled and ranked by RSGI. “Winner” indicates that the organisation won an FT Innovative Lawyers North America award for 2022.


Sustainability

WINNER: Shearman & Sterling and Ropes & Gray
Originality: 9; Leadership: 7; Impact: 9; Total: 25
The firms advised global environmental group The Nature Conservancy in helping negotiate a “debt-for-nature swap” between Belize and its creditors. The deal restructured Belize’s $553mn distressed sovereign debt and secured payments for future marine conservation. The refinancing involved writing down Belize’s sovereign debt by $250mn and directed $4mn a year to the funding of sea protection over the next two decades. The model is being copied in a deal with Barbados that re-engineers part of its sovereign debt to support ocean protection.

Standout

Hogan Lovells
O: 8; L: 7; I: 8; Total: 23
The firm advised Canada and the country’s solar panel manufacturers in the second state-against-state dispute under the 2020 US-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA). An adjudication ruled that tariffs imposed on US imports of Canadian solar panels violated the terms of the trade agreement. The US and Canada have since agreed to stop tariffs being reimposed unless the imported solar panels’ potential wattage exceeds defined amounts.

Kramer Levin Naftalis & Frankel
O: 7; L: 8; I: 7; Total: 22
The firm continues to help pioneer the securitisation of solar loans and revenues for commercial, industrial and public sector properties, encouraging the take-up of renewable energy. In May, it advised on a $403mn transaction that securitised loans used to install solar panels and related energy storage systems.

Schulte Roth & Zabel
O: 8; L: 7; I: 7; Total: 22
Engine No 1, an activist investment firm, worked with the law firm to urge oil and gas corporation Exxon to focus on decarbonisation as a business strategy. When Exxon initially rejected this, the firm advised on the proxy battle that secured three seats on Exxon’s board in 2021.

Commended

Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman
O: 6; L: 7; I: 7; Total: 20
The firm’s Energy Industry Group advised on nuclear, clean hydrogen, and nuclear hydrogen projects, and maintains a publicly available map of relevant global ventures.

Ropes & Gray
O: 7; L: 6; I: 7; Total: 20
The firm advised online payments company Stripe in creating a fund for carbon dioxide removal technologies.

King & Spalding
O: 6; L: 6; I: 7; Total: 19
The firm acted as legal adviser for Hy Stor Energy’s Clean Hydrogen Hub in Mississippi, helping negotiate a new tax credits regime for the project.

Eversheds Sutherland
O: 7; L: 6; I: 5; Total: 18
The firm advised private investment firm Starwood Energy on financing and avoiding regulatory breaches in its closure of New Jersey’s last two coal-fired power plants.

Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer
O: 5; L: 7; I: 6; Total: 18
The firm advised power generation company ContourGlobal on Caribbean projects designed to maximise use of renewable energy.


Enabling business resilience

WINNER: Orrick
Originality: 8; Leadership: 9; Impact: 9; Total: 26
In 2021, the deadly Storm Uri knocked out much of Texas’s power grid. The resulting energy cuts and shortages caused prices to spike and Ercot, the state’s electrical grid operator, demanded the utilities pay their power bills immediately. The firm represented an association of 76 energy companies to lobby for, and draft, new legislation allowing the securitisation of billions in debt so that repayments due could be spread over two decades. This averted the danger of huge bills being immediately passed on.

Standout

Dechert
O: 7; L: 9; I: 8; Total: 24
In June, the US Supreme Court’s reversal of Roe vs Wade — the ruling that had enshrined the constitutional right to abortion for nearly 50 years — created concern that state law enforcers could subpoena user records from fertility tracking apps to investigate whether a woman might have had an abortion. The firm advised app operator Flo on developing an “anonymous mode” that adheres to data preservation obligations while preventing the passing of any personally identifiable information to authorities.

Commended

Dentons
O: 6; L: 7; I: 7; Total: 20
The firm structured the first co-op bond securitisation in Texas for Rayburn Country Electric to help smooth out bills to customers after Storm Uri caused huge spikes in the cost of supply.

Sidley Austin
O: 6; L: 7; I: 6; Total: 19
The firm is guiding fintech clients as they adapt to changing securities and commodities regulations. For example, they advised the Boston Security Token Exchange (BSTX) — the first US blockchain-based stock exchange to receive SEC approval. The exchange hopes to launch next year.

Weil, Gotshal & Manges
O: 6; L: 6; I: 6; Total: 18
The firm included a governance structure to deal with conflicts of interest in the sale of casino operator MGM Resorts International and real estate investment trust MGM Growth Properties to VICI Properties — another investor in casinos.


Market firsts

WINNER: Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati
Originality: 9; Leadership: 8; Impact: 8; Total: 25
The firm is one of the founding members of the Open Cap Table Coalition, which set out to create a universal format for sharing data on shareholders in private companies. The project required industry-wide collaboration as the standard will only succeed if adopted by relevant law firms, companies and financiers. Launched in June 2022, the open-source format has been endorsed by the majority of leading US law firms.

Standout

Cravath, Swaine & Moore
O: 8; L: 8; I: 8; Total: 24
Media company MGM, now owned by Amazon, licensed hundreds of films and TV series to run on rival platforms to Starz, in an alleged violation of their exclusive licensing agreement. On behalf of Starz, the firm managed to overturn a conflicting previous court ruling and blocked attempts by MGM to use statutes of limitations to restrict the possible scale of any damages arising from the claims. The case has since been settled for an undisclosed amount.

Morrison Foerster
O: 7; L: 8; I: 8; Total: 23
The firm was retained by Ukraine’s presidential office to provide advice to US and other governments on imposing sanctions against Russia. It aimed to advise on all aspects of sanctions policy, including what Russian responses might be.

Commended

Holland & Knight
O: 8; L: 7; I: 6; Total: 21
In January, cryptocurrency exchange LCX discovered that nearly $8mn in assets had been stolen from one of its “hot wallets”. The location of $1.3mn was identified but the holder was anonymous. So the law firm created a digital token that contained the court motion to freeze assets which, when clicked, would signal receipt.

Latham & Watkins
O: 7; L: 7; I: 6; Total: 20
Online platform The Sandbox uses non-fungible tokens related to celebrity skateboarder Tony Hawk, right, in its virtual skateboard park. The law firm developed a structure for the use of these 3D NFTs.

Cadwalader, Wickersham & Taft
O: 6; L: 7; I: 6; Total: 19
The real estate finance practice advised on the refinancing of New York’s One Vanderbilt skyscraper. This was the largest fixed-rate securitisation of a single building.

Cravath, Swaine & Moore
O: 6; L: 7; I: 6; Total: 19
Instrument supplier Thermo Fisher Scientific agreed to buy clinical research business PPD for $17.4bn last year. The lawyers structured the deal to allow for flexibility as it progressed.

Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman
O: 8; L: 7; I: 4; Total: 19
The firm helped obtain regulatory approval to allow Nasdaq to move its options market, Nasdaq MRX, to the cloud.


Dispute resolution

WINNER: Sidley Austin
Originality: 8; Leadership: 8; Impact: 8; Total: 24
The firm represented many clients in a co-ordinated defence strategy for insurers facing claims following business interruption caused by Covid-19 restrictions. The lawyers successfully defended 24 lawsuits and 10 putative class actions by focusing their arguments on the specific language around “direct physical loss” used in relevant insurance policies — and whether the virus had strictly caused this.

Standout

Selendy Gay Elsberg
O: 8; L: 7; I: 8; Total: 23
After the US Congress launched a programme to pay off the student loans of public servants in 2007, some 98 per cent of applications for the debt relief were denied. The firm settled two class actions. One was against student loan servicer Navient for its handling of student loan inquiries; the other was against the Department of Education for the previous administration’s mismanagement of the programme. As a result, eight teachers had their student debt paid off, which opened the door for others to achieve settlements. New standards for the administration of applications for debt relief have been instituted.

Commended

Latham & Watkins
O: 7; L: 7; I: 7; Total: 21
The firm persuaded the Supreme Court to reject Chinese electronics manufacturer Luxshare’s request
for discovery from its client ZF Automotive US, the car parts maker.

Walden Macht & Haran
O: 6; L: 8; I: 7; Total: 21
The firm represented Ronald Streck, a whistleblower against pharmaceutical group Eli Lilly, in a series of successful False Claims Act lawsuits. Collectively, Streck’s lawsuits have recovered more than $350mn for the US Medicaid programme from leading drugs companies.

Dechert
O: 6; L: 8; I: 6; Total: 20
JPMorgan Chase, the finance and banking group, had been sued more than 30 times in lawsuits alleging breaches of the Telephone Consumer Protection Act. Dechert’s lawyers used the “unclean hands” defence to establish that the lawsuits were in bad faith.

Dentons
O: 6; L: 6; I: 7; Total: 19
Lawyers defended clients, including the New York Stock Exchange, against claims that they unfairly allowed high-frequency traders to trade stock faster and at better prices than other customers. In March, a federal judge rejected what could have been the largest class action lawsuit ever proposed.


WINNER: Debevoise & Plimpton
Originality: 7; Leadership: 9; Impact: 8; Total: 24
The Debevoise Data Portal helps clients protect against, and respond to, breaches in cyber security. The subscription service, launched in October 2021, gives clients access to a regularly updated system to reflect changes in breach notification laws and regulatory guidance, and enables users to better understand their own exposures to various cyber and artificial intelligence risks.

Standout

Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld
O: 7, L: 8, I: 7; Total: 22
The firm’s interactive platform, Overruled, enables users to search for and analyse US sanctions and export control enforcement, interrogate guidance offered by regulators, and calculate estimated penalties for suspected violations. The compliance tool, launched internally in 2021, has since been used by more than 200 clients to assess the impact of sanctions against Russia. The platform is set for full launch in 2023.

Commended

Baker McKenzie
O: 6; L: 8; I: 6; Total: 20
Baker McKenzie’s machine learning practice group, launched in 2021, has taken on more projects exploiting artificial intelligence. Among these was an analysis of global research into the impact of child detention and separation, which has been offered to campaign groups in the field.

Norton Rose Fulbright
O: 7; L: 7; I: 6; Total: 20
The firm has rolled out client access to Proxy, the legal workflow management platform, and also introduced a risk-sharing retainer model to clients for charging fees.


Environmental, social and governance

WINNER: Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison
Originality: 8; Leadership: 9; Innovation: 8; Total: 25
The firm conducts audits of civil rights and racial equality action for clients, looking at questions such as the degree to which diversity policies are effective and enforceable. This helps to pre-empt the legal and business risks of inaction while also defending against the recent growth of shareholder and legal challenges to diversity initiatives.

Standout

White & Case
O: 8; L: 8; I: 8; Total: 24
Morningstar, an investment research company, was accused by several campaign groups of potential anti-Israel bias in its ESG ratings related to human rights. So it hired the law firm to conduct an independent investigation. A report concluded there was no systemic bias at the company. It recommended how such ratings should be objective, transparent and consistent, and has been publicly released so its rubric can be replicated.

DLA Piper
O: 9; L: 9; I: 5; Total: 23
The firm uses Toko, its digital asset creation engine, to support ESG-related services for clients. Toko’s decentralised storage makes it flexible and suitable for collaborative work.

It has been used for projects including the generation of carbon credits, tracking location data for measuring carbon footprints, and the digital tracking of raw materials in their journey through the supply chain.

Morrison Foerster
O: 7; L: 8; I: 8; Total: 23
Its ESG steering committee worked on the formation of the California Rebuilding Fund, the state-backed lender launched in response to Covid disruption that provides loans to businesses in deprived areas of the state.

Commended

Reed Smith
O: 7; L: 7; I: 7; Total: 21
The firm’s ESG practice advised Aristata Capital on its litigation fund, designed to pursue claims against commercial groups causing environmental or social harm.

Ropes & Gray
O: 6; L: 7; I: 8; Total: 21
The ESG practice at the firm has created a service for clients to track differences and changes in laws across US jurisdictions.

Goodwin Procter
O: 6; L: 7; I: 6; Total: 19
Danielle Reyes, co-chair of the firm’s ESG and impact investing group, has established best practice for private equity firms developing strategies in the field.