Clients Name the 33 Most Feared Firms in Litigation

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Humans are born with 2 fears: the fear of falling and the fear of loud noises. All other fears are learned. You can agree with this or not. But one thing is true. Top legal decision makers learned to fear a select group of law firms—and don’t want to see them on the other side of the table.

Specifically, GCs point to 33 firms they don’t want to encounter. The top reasons:

Killer Instinct

With equal parts tenacity, sheer will, smarts, and intuition—combined with confidence, savvy, conviction, and the nerve to go for the jugular—these cutting-edge law firms bring the killer instinct clients want right now.

Thrive on Complexity

Uncertainty is at an all-time high. Clients face a surge in complex litigation as matters get bigger and focus on untested and thorny issues. Some firms offer options. The most feared firms offer clear direction—with conviction—and dive into the fray. They win—and simplify life for clients.  

The Bench Is as Good as the Starters

Clients want strong, smart, and scalable teams. Clients know any seemingly benign matter can get out of hand—quickly. The most feared firms uniformly bring in high-level, top performers who can swiftly scale and operate as a team.

Read the Tea Leaves

The BTI Fearsome Foursome spot trends and patterns with less information than most. They rely on their experience, their peers, and their keen ability to integrate seemingly disparate facts and events.

There is more to being Fearsome—but this year, these 4 reasons above prevail.

Of the 33 law firms feared in litigation, 4 stand out as the absolute most feared:

The BTI Fearsome Foursome

Kirkland & Ellis
Latham & Watkins
Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan

We note Kirkland and Quinn are the only firms included in the BTI Fearsome Foursome all 10 years BTI has published the report.

10 firms are right behind the Fearsome Foursome—ready to take them on. Please join me in congratulating:

The BTI Awesome Opponents

Boies Schiller Flexner                                                  Morgan Lewis
Fish & Richardson                                                        Morrison & Foerster
Gibson Dunn                                                                Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz
Jones Day                                                                    Wheeler Trigg O’Donnell
McKool Smith                                                               Williams & Connolly

19 firms are part of the Fearsome Foursome Honor Roll:

Bartlit Beck                                                Ice Miller
Choate, Hall & Stewart                                                Manko, Gold, Katcher & Fox
Covington                                                     Much
Cravath, Swaine & Moore                                           Norton Rose Fulbright
Crowell & Moring                                                        Reed Smith                                             
Davis Polk                                                     Robbins Geller Rudman & Dowd
Dechert                                                             Susman Godfrey
Dentons                                                              Weil
Duane Morris                                                             WilmerHale                                                 
Hogan Lovells

Being Fearsome is a big differentiator—especially in the face of record uncertainty. The more Fearsome your firm, the more you stand out to clients and to the other side. The Fearsome firms have nothing to fear.

Learn more about how your firm can take advantage of new client expectations and spending changes for 2020—and what your firm can do to put these trends to work for your immediate benefit:

  • Changes in client expectations causing them to consider fewer law firms than last year

  • When and where spending is going up in 17 industries—and where it’s headed down

  • New hiring requirements

  • 7 tactics to land new business in 7 areas of litigation

  • And so much more…

in the new BTI Litigation Outlook 2020: Changes, Trends and Opportunities for Law Firms. Available now.


Clients Name New Firm to Fearsome Foursome, 10 New Awesome Opponents

Dentons Adds Fear to the Global Network

Creating a global network and linking up with Chinese law firms was just not enough. Dentons is adding a dose of fear as the firm earns a coveted spot on the BTI Fearsome Foursome. This makes 2 important points:

  1. Being aggressive to the extreme makes your law firm fearsome.

  2. Fear can be fleeting as we see 1 new firm join the 2017 Fearsome Foursome.

At the same time, being fearsome can be a cultural phenomenon: Jones Day, Kirkland & Ellis and Skadden have remained the most fearsome over the last 5 years of tracking.

Overall, clients see 70 law firms as substantially more fearsome than most—accounting for about 11% of all law firms serving large companies. A total of 11 firms managed to become more fearsome. These newly fearsome firms are:

  • Dentons (as discussed above)

  • Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld

  • Cadwalader, Wickersham & Taft

  • Cravath, Swaine & Moore

  • Davis Polk & Wardwell

  • Fish & Richardson

  • K&L Gates

  • Latham & Watkins

  • Morgan Lewis

  • Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman

  • White & Case

Except for Dentons, these firms moving up in ferocity jumped into the BTI Awesome Opponents (click for full list of BTI Awesome Opponents) this year. The Awesome Opponents nip at the heels of the Fearsome Foursome.

Making a Firm Fearsome

Clients talk about 3 reasons the Fearsome Foursome standout:

  1. These firms are especially savvy at pulling together multiple strategies to reach their goal—opponents sense this broad strategic approach.

  2. Aggressive and unrelenting approach—the Fearsome Foursome don’t take a breath and don’t stop. Opponents know they are in for 24/7 litigation made up of a stream of both new and continuing approaches.

  3. An ability to predict the future—top legal decision makers talk about how the most feared firms have an uncanny ability to anticipate what will happen next and ensure they are ready to respond well in advance.

A law firm’s ability to instill fear is emerging as a clear differentiator. Corporate counsel are on the lookout for more fearsome firms as complex and Bet-the-Company litigation has grown. Be sure to join us next week as we discuss the continued growth in Bet-the-Company work highlighted in our newly released BTI Litigation Outlook 2017.

Fear as a Differentiator—The BTI Fearsome Foursome

Few law firms embrace fear as a differentiator. Yet corporate counsel do. In fact, corporate counsel identify 4 firms more fearsome than all others—the BTI Fearsome Foursome.

Fear is healthy in the right dosage—it helps you stay out of danger. The same can be said for the Fearsome Foursome. Corporate counsel believe the Fearsome Foursome make other law firms change their tactics and approach. Clients see opposing counsel spend time and money adjusting their strategies when facing the Fearsome Foursome.

The Fearsome Foursome managed to stake out a real source of differentiation in a tough market. 3 of the Fearsome Foursome are also among the best client service performers—proving you can treat clients better than others while still instilling fear in opponents.

Demand for Fearsome Firms Grows

New BTI research shows a big increase in bet-the-company work—compelling clients to seek out more fearsome firms.

The defining behaviors separating the fearsome firms from all others include:

  • Conviction.
    Not the kind you see in court. The Fearsome Foursome put every ounce of their heart, soul and psychic energy into the matter at hand—and believe just as strongly they will prevail.
  • Accessing the Firm-wide Brain Trust.
    Tapping every relevant source of intellectual capital to help. No lone rangers here. The Fearsome Foursome seek out various inputs, viewpoints and scenarios and bring each and all to bear. Clients say the can feel the horsepower of these collective minds at work.
  • Strategize and Implement. Even as You Go.
    Clients say it is the rare person who can do both. So finding a firm where large groups of partners can makes others pause. Clients know the strategy can change as you go—this frustrates some firms but exhilarates the Fearsome Foursome.

Please join us in congratulating the 2016 Fearsome Foursome:

Jones Day
Kirkland & Ellis
Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan
Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom

Just behind the Fearsome Foursome, clients recognize 13 law firms as Awesome Opponents—the firms who show growing strength in their ability to instill fear. In addition, legal decision makers say they want to steer clear of another 40 firms during disputes.

The 13 Awesome Opponents:

Altshuler Berzon
Baker & McKenzie
Baker Botts
Boies, Schiller & Flexner
Foley & Lardner
Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher
Greenberg Traurig
Hogan Lovells
Jenner & Block
Morrison & Foerster
Paul, Weiss
Vinson & Elkins
Williams & Connolly

Check out each of the most feared law firms and those gaining in ferocity in our 5th annual series on trends in the litigation market: BTI Litigation Outlook 2016.

The 4 Most Feared Litigation Firms and 6 Firms They Fear

We have nothing to fear, except the Fearsome Foursome. 4 law firms have the striking ability to make opponents take pause; wondering if moving forward is worth the fight. Clients change their litigation strategies before a case starts when they know they will face any one of the Fearsome Foursome. These firms strike fear in clients—and law firms alike—when seen on the other side.

There are more differences than similarities between each of the 4 firms bestowed this honor by corporate counsel, but 3 characteristics are present throughout:

  1. Execution. Much is made of the innovative, no-holds-barred litigation strategies law firms discuss, but client say few firms are effective at turning a strategy into reality. Each of the Fearsome Foursome instills fear by having the wits to formulate strategies and the will to make them happen.
  2. Commitment. These firms are all in. The Fearsome Foursome firms demonstrate an unbridled commitment to act in their clients’ interest. Opponents know the other side is ready to bring down the entire firm on this one case—in fact, a Fearsome Foursome firm is eager to do so.
  3. AGGRESSIVE. Assertive, dogmatic or domineering. Word choice typically depends on which side of the table a Fearsome Foursome firm is sitting. The outcome is the same: these firms will take risks other firms don’t.


The 2015 Fearsome Foursome firms are: 

Jones Day
Kirkland & Ellis
Quinn Emanuel


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