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The 10 most innovative individuals in the North American legal sector are once again an impressive group, as they have been in the four-year history of the US Innovative Lawyers report.

But the judges had little trouble picking just one of them to win the award for most innovative individual – itself an innovation for the report this year.

Roberta Kaplan, a partner at Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison, has been involved in some of the most important legal developments of recent years.

First among these was her pro bono representation of Edith Windsor, in her successful challenge of the Defense of Marriage Act before the US Supreme Court.

This case, which has led to a vast expansion in the number of US states recognising equal rights for same-sex marriages, will surely be a landmark in US legal and constitutional history, studied by law students for generations to come. On its own, it would have been enough to ensure that Ms Kaplan won the award.

She earned particular credit for arguing the case herself before the Supreme Court, when many thought she should have handed it to a lawyer with specialist experience.

But there is more: her involvement in the legal development of the “ sharing economy”, representing Hailo, the online taxi hailing company, and Airbnb, the peer-to-peer accommodation specialist, mark her out as a true lawyer of our time.

The other candidates impressed, too.

Tara Lee, chair of DLA Piper’s cross-border litigation practice, was commended for her international outlook in helping African countries counter “vulture funds”.

Josh Rosenkranz, head of the Supreme Court and appellate litigation practice at Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe, was another finalist deeply involved in some of today’s defining legal issues.

He represented Facebook in helping to fight off claims against it from Mark Zuckerberg’s Harvard classmates who claimed to have invented the idea.

He has also represented Apple in its defence of the patents on its touchscreens.


Roberta A. Kaplan, American litigator and partner in the litigation department of Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison

Winner: Roberta A Kaplan
Partner, Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison

Roberta Kaplan has represented a broad range of high-profile clients such as insurer AIG, the Minnesota Vikings football team and financial institution JPMorgan. She has taken on internal investigations, international arbitration, securities litigation, white-collar crime and regulatory defence.

She has been recognised as one of the most influential litigators in the US. She has published numerous articles about commercial and criminal litigation, and more recently on the regulation of the sharing economy, an area where she has won a number of important victories for clients such as Hailo and Airbnb.

In June 2013, she won one of the most significant civil rights cases in US history, United States v Windsor. She took on the case of Edith Windsor, a widow forced to pay estate tax after her partner of 44 years passed away because the Defense of Marriage Act (Doma) did not recognise their marriage as legitimate.

In a landmark Supreme Court ruling, she established the fact that gay people have the same rights as everyone else, effectively invalidating Doma. More than 32 states and the District of Columbia now allow gay couples to marry. Ms Kaplan’s work is recognised in the Social Responsibility rankings of this year’s FT North America Innovative Lawyers report.

 . . . 

Paul T Denis
Partner and deputy chair, global litigation team, Dechert

Using insights gained from his tenure in the antitrust division of the Department of Justice and extensive private sector experience, Paul Denis has become a regular feature in FT Innovative Lawyers reports for clearing seemingly impossible antitrust hurdles.

His speciality is guiding complex and sensitive mergers, acquisitions and joint ventures to full clearance.

It is not just his technical knowledge that helps Mr Denis achieve these results. Antitrust lawyers cannot operate in a vacuum, they need deep market knowledge and boardroom expertise. Mr Denis has these strengths, plus public policy insight and strong litigation experience.

His skills were brought to bear in the US Airways-American Airlines merger by addressing the DoJ’s concerns about competition, and the OfficeMax-Office Depot merger, where his focus on pricing practices eliminated the need to challenge the precedent of FTC v Staples.

 . . . 

Stephen Fraidin
Partner, Kirkland & Ellis

Few lawyers work on deals that call for novel structures. Fewer still expect those structures to endure beyond the deal they were designed to serve.

Stephen Fraidin has added many new tricks to the dealmaker’s repertoire.

He led the team that in 2010 devised the “Burger King structure”, a dual-track acquisition that uses a tender offer supported by a traditional long-form merger. This became a template for about 20 transactions, until a change in Delaware law made it redundant last year.

Then in 2013, he came up with the “ketchup clause”, a provision allowing buyers extra time to secure financing before a reverse break-up fee became payable.

This facilitated Berkshire Hathaway and 3G Capital Management’s acquisition of HJ Heinz.

This year, Mr Fraidin has moved a deal forward by using contingent value rights (CVRs) to replicate indemnification for the first time, helping protect his client from post-acquisition liabilities.

Mr Fraidin’s record of innovation goes back to the 1970s, when he worked on
the first successful hostile exchange offer while representing Humana in its acquisition of American Medicorp.

He began his career at Fried Frank, where he was mentored by veteran lawyer Arthur Fleischer.

At a time when mergers and acquisitions law did not exist as a distinct category of practice, Mr Fraidin was a pioneer who helped develop the techniques of the specialist M&A deal lawyer.

 . . . 

Donald G Gray
Partner, Blake Cassels & Graydon

A leader in all things to do with aviation law, Donald Gray frequently advises aircraft manufacturers and financiers, works with national and international airlines, and helps inform industry regulators.

Once general counsel of an international charter airline, Mr Gray has been involved as legal adviser in every significant Canadian airline bankruptcy for 25 years.

In 2001, Mr Gray was on the Canadian delegation to talks on the Cape Town Convention and instrumental in having the treaty ratified and implemented in Canada a decade later.

In 2013, he persuaded investment banks that this gave lenders the protection to extend enhanced equipment trust certificates (EETCs) to non-US airlines. This resulted in Air Canada’s successful EETC fundraising, which has since been copied by others. By widening access to US capital at competitive rates, this is an enduring contribution to the industry.

 . . . 

Tara M Lee
Global chair, cross-border litigation practice, DLA Piper

It is hardly routine for lawyers to travel in bulletproof vests through war zone checkpoints to their interviews, but Tara Lee has been doing this for more than half a decade.

As the chair of DLA Piper’s cross-border litigation arm she handles high-profile work at home, and visits places other lawyers will not go, including Baghdad, Kabul, Congo and Somalia.

Ms Lee has claimed a market in sovereign immunity cases, while using her top-end litigation skills to level the playing field in favour of some of the world’s poorest countries and people against vulture funds, which invest in weak securities.

In 2014, Ms Lee and her team obtained a reversal of a $90m vulture fund judgment against the Democratic Republic of Congo, which has had a chilling effect on the market.

 . . . 

Scott D Rechtschaffen
Chief knowledge officer, Littler Mendelson

In 2000, Scott Rechtschaffen was asked to devise a knowledge management strategy for Littler. Since then, he has created one of the largest such departments of any US law firm, with a team that builds products, creates content and has transformed the way clients access legal services.

Mr Rechtschaffen has shifted the firm towards delivering client-facing products through a suite of products including Littler GPS, Littler PolicySmart and Littler CaseSmart, which provides a platform that gives clients real-time access to their cases, as well as to data-driven insights.

Mr Rechtschaffen also writes extensively on knowledge management.

 . . . 

Alison S Ressler
Partner, Sullivan & Cromwell

Alison Ressler, an authority on mergers and acquisitions, corporate governance and capital markets, has taken the lead on some of the most talked-about deals in recent memory.

She advised on the sale of Barclays Global Investors to BlackRock, advised Skype during its acquisition by Microsoft, and was special adviser to Christopher Cole during the sale of Cole Real Estates to American Realty Capital.

When she moved to Los Angeles in 1984 as a junior associate, no Sullivan & Cromwell lawyer had ever been made partner without first spending time in the New York office. Ms Ressler was the first and in 2003 became the first woman to sit on Sullivan & Cromwell’s management committee.

She serves as co-head of its global private equity group and is responsible for the firm’s practice in California.

Ms Ressler has spent her career leading by example. Her work on such high-profile deals, her role as leader in the firm and the respect she has earned have had significant influence on women in the profession.

 . . . 

Joshua Rosenkranz
Partner, Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe

Josh Rosenkranz has argued more than 170 appeals in state and federal appellate courts and served as attorney of record in about 1,500 other appeals. He is known as the “defibrillator” for his ability to revive lawsuits on appeal after previous losses.

In this year’s report, Mr Rosenkranz has been recognised for his work in Oracle v Google, where he came up with a metaphor to help the federal circuit court understand the value of a particular piece of code in a very technical programming case – a bold strategy that required a rigorous rationale.

He is a keen public policy advocate, looking for ways to shake up legislation, government agencies, the White House and the press.

 . . . 

Michael A Rosenthal
Partner, Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher

As co-chair of Gibson Dunn’s business restructuring group, Michael Rosenthal has overseen some of the most complex reorganisations of recent years. His clients range from investment banks to media companies and healthcare providers.

Last year, Mr Rosenthal played a lead role in the restructuring of Arcapita Bank, the first sharia-compliant institution and Gulf company to emerge from a US bankruptcy.

During the financial crisis, Mr Rosenthal helped several public companies involved in the restructuring of Lehman and its affiliates, advising on spin-offs, loan restructurings and securitisations.

He is also an expert on restructuring issues related to companies with asbestos and other mass tort liability, and has advised the trustees of some of the largest asbestos settlement trusts.

 . . . 

Joshua Walker
Counsel, Simpson Thacher

Joshua Walker is a leading intellectual property counsel who applies his experience in complex intellectual property issues for Silicon Valley. He has for 20 years designed legal databases and analytics tools to accelerate the application of evidence-based reasoning to IP litigation.

In his work merging law and technology, Mr Walker deploys interdisciplinary teams and academic cross-pollination to ensure attorneys adopt innovations.

Mr Walker was inspired to work with technology in his early career as an analyst for the International War Crimes Tribunal. With limited resources, he helped develop a system for analysing more than 2m documents to raise conviction rates.

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