Law Firm Success Rates

Inspired by the NCAA basketball tournament, this post stages a competition among law firms whose members have argued cases before the Supreme Court over the past six terms (2008-09 through 2013-14).  The selection committee ruled that eligibility for the competition required a firm’s participation in at least five oral arguments—excluding a handful of cases that resulted either in 3-3 per curiam outcomes or decisions that did not clearly favor one side or the other.[1] 

To be sure, partisans of individual firms might insist that the results be viewed with various considerations in mind.  Thus an argument could be made that pro bono cases—often involving criminal issues with a comparatively low chance of a successful outcome—should not be allowed to affect a firm’s record.  For instance, two of the cases in Quarles & Brady’s collection of 12 are of this sort, and if they had been omitted, the firm’s success rate would have jumped from 50% to 60%.  Others might contend that personal-injury firms—paid only if they win—are more likely to limit their appearances in the Supreme Court to cases in which they anticipate a favorable result.  This seems plausible and might suggest that personal-injury firms ought to be grouped apart from the rest.  However, such a conclusion would also suggest that the success rate of personal-injury firms should exceed that of the remainder of the field, which proved not to be the case.  As a result, all firms are competing in a single division.

The first table details each firm’s results individually.  Here, for example, one finds that Michael Best & Friedrich prevailed in 31% (4 out of 13) of the cases in which it presented oral arguments, while Foley & Lardner secured a favorable result in 56% (5 out of 9).

Law Firms Participating in Five or More Oral Arguments from 2008-9 through 2013-14

Law Firm % of Successful Outcomes[2]
Axley Brynelson 7/12=58%
Cannon and Dunphy 4/7=57%
Crivello Carlson 4/5=80%
Foley & Lardner 5/9=56%    
Godfrey & Kahn 11/14=79%    
Habush Habush & Rottier 4/7=57%        
Kasdorf, Lewis & Swietlik 3/5=60%
Michael Best & Friedrich 4/13=31%
Quarles & Brady 6/12=50%
Stafford Rosenbaum 4/6=67%
von Briesen & Roper 3/10=30%
Whyte Hirschboeck Dudek 3/10=30%

The second table focuses on the outcomes of the subset of cases in which the 12 firms delivered oral arguments against each other.

Law Firm Wins and Losses (opponents in parentheses)
Axley Brynelson one loss (Godfrey)
Cannon and Dunphy one loss (Foley)
Crivello Carlson No oral arguments against other firms in the field
Foley & Lardner one loss (Habush) and one win (Cannon & Dunphy)
Godfrey & Kahn one loss (Habush) and one win (Cannon & Dunphy)
Habush Habush & Rottier two losses (Kasdorf and Whyte) and one win (Foley)
Kasdorf, Lewis & Swietlik one win (Habush)
Michael Best & Friedrich one loss (Stafford Rosenbaum)
Quarles & Brady one loss (Stafford Rosenbaum)
Stafford Rosenbaum two wins (Michael Best and Quarles)
von Briesen & Roper one loss (Godfrey) and one win (Whyte)
Whyte Hirschboeck Dudek one loss (von Briesen) and one win (Habush)

[1] When a firm prevailed on certain issues but not others, the case is counted here if it seems clear that the firm won or lost on the issues of greatest importance—a subjective call required in only a small number of cases.

[2] In addition to four 3-3 per curiam decisions, the following cases are excluded from consideration.  Bostco LLC v. Milwaukee Metro. Sewerage District; Northern Air Services v. Link; and Notz v. Everett Smith Group, Ltd.—all Foley & Lardner cases in which the outcome was not overwhelmingly favorable or unfavorable for Foley’s clients—and Marlowe v. IDS Property Casualty Insurance Co., in which the decision was unfavorable for the individual insurance company, IDS (a victory for Habush), but also satisfactory for the insurance industry in general, represented by Godfrey in an amicus brief.

About Alan Ball

Alan Ball is a Professor of History at Marquette University in Milwaukee, WI.

SCOWstats offers numerical analysis of the voting by Wisconsin Supreme Court justices on diverse issues over the past 93 years.

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