Schiff Hardin LLP handled a flood of high-profile work this year, with the firm taking on the investigations of sexual misconduct in Illinois schools and government while protecting the rights of Muhammad Ali and collecting more than $600 million in damages for the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp.
The attention the firm drew for its handling of the investigations over the last year added government and internal investigations to Schiff Hardin’s expertise, which also includes mergers and acquisitions and entertainment law. The firm’s wins in such a wide variety of practice areas landed it a spot among Law360’s 2018 Illinois Powerhouses.
The 180 attorneys in Schiff Hardin’s two Illinois offices handle cases nationwide, but many of the firm’s most lasting relationships are in the Windy City. That’s because Schiff Hardin, with more than 150 years in Chicago, is among the longest continually operating law firms in the city’s robust legal industry, according to the firm.
“We represented families and generations, as businesses are passed down,” said Schiff Hardin partner Steve Isaacs, who leads the firm’s mergers and acquisitions and private equity practice groups.
“We’re looking for the long-standing relationship, which provides them a lot of efficiencies,” Isaacs said.
In one example, Schiff Hardin partner Fred Sperling, who leads the sports, media and entertainment practice group, has represented basketball legend Michael Jordan for years. After Sperling won a $9 million jury verdict for Jordan in a right of publicity case a few years ago, more celebrities turned to the firm for help with similar issues, said managing partner Marci Eisenstein.
Muhammad Ali’s family hired Schiff Hardin in October after Fox Broadcasting Co. aired a video ahead of the 2017 Super Bowl that featured his image and story, filing a suit in Illinois claiming the business holding Ali’s right of publicity had not agreed to the use.
The suit was later moved to California, where it settled for an undisclosed amount in July.
Sperling is also representing the entity that owns the intellectual property rights for Brazilian soccer star Pelé, considered by many to be one of the greatest players of all time, in litigation against Samsung. The suit accuses the Korean electronics company of using a Pelé lookalike to sell televisions.
That suit is still ongoing, according to court records.
Schiff Hardin's extensive experience doing estate planning for high net worth individuals has also brought in other celebrity cases, Eisenstein said.
“It all dovetails very nicely with Fred’s work in representing and protecting celebrities’ rights of privacy,” she said.
But it isn’t just celebrities who reaped the benefits of Schiff Hardin’s work this year, as the firm represented the FDIC in some groundbreaking litigation filed against PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP following the housing crisis.
The suit accused PwC of failing to spot a fraud scheme that led to the collapse of Colonial Bank. In December, an Alabama federal judge sided with the FDIC, which was acting as receiver for Colonial, saying PwC was negligent when its auditors reviewed the bank’s finances.
And in July, the judge ordered PwC to pay the FDIC $625 million — exactly the amount the regulator sought.
Schiff Hardin also has a long history in transactions, which allowed the firm to take on some significant deals in the last year, Isaacs said.
In June, the firm advised health-care-focused private equity firm Altaris Capital Partners LLC in the $1.1 billion take-private acquisition of technology company Analogic Corp.
That deal came on the heels of Schiff Hardin’s work advising Illinois-based H.D. Smith, the nation’s largest privately held pharmacy wholesaler, as the company was acquired by AmerisourceBergen for $815 million.
Schiff Hardin has been building out its M&A team in response to what Isaacs says is increased activity in that space — particularly in the Midwest. The firm’s ability to keep clients for the long haul has contributed to its success in earning that business, Isaacs said.
“We understand our clients, we are able to just be more timely and efficient in handling their transactional needs,” he said.
Although the firm saw a lot of success in practice areas where it has long had a foothold, this last year presented opportunities for new growth as well.
Maggie Hickey, the former executive inspector general for the state of Illinois, joined the firm in April to lead its white collar defense and government investigations practice. Right away, she was selected to lead an investigation into the Chicago Public Schools' policies on sexual misconduct against students, which led to a report released in mid-August.
Known as the Hickey Report, the investigation’s conclusion that the school system had repeatedly failed to protect students was the subject of intense news coverage.
But before she was done with the school system investigation, Hickey was called on to look at sexual misconduct in the Illinois House of Representatives. That investigation is still in progress.
Following Hickey’s hiring, Eisenstein said the firm is planning to continue to add to its government investigations group.
“Certainly government investigations and internal investigations is a burgeoning area for us,” Eisenstein said. “We can expect to continue to invest in this area.”
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This article is reprinted with permission from Law360, August 31, 2018, www.Law360.com.