2021 Year In Review

WASHINGTON — In 2021, despite ongoing pandemic-related delays and challenges, the Wilkinson Stekloff team continued to litigate with the intensity and success that has cemented our reputation as the leading trial boutique in the country.

In a year where trials remained scarce, WS tried two high-profile cases in 2021: 

  • WS served as lead trial counsel for Altria Group, Inc. in an adversarial administrative proceeding before the FTC. The FTC alleged that Altria and JLI violated antitrust laws through Altria’s purchase of a minority interest in JLI. At trial, Founding Partner Beth Wilkinson handled opening statements and examined multiple high-profile witnesses, including Altria’s current and former CEO, Altria’s general counsel, and both sides’ economic experts. WS Partner Moira Penza examined Altria’s scientists, and WS Partner James Rosenthal played a central role in strategy and legal briefing.
  • After a single day of deliberation in October 2021, a jury delivered the first-ever verdict for Monsanto in litigation over whether the herbicide Roundup causes Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma. Founding Partner Brian Stekloff first-chaired the trial in Clark v. Monsanto, which was also the first case involving a child plaintiff; then-associate Cali Cope-Kasten examined several witnesses, and Partner Kieran Gostin advised on all aspects of trial strategy. Clark was the fourth case in this mass tort to go to trial; the three previous trials resulted in verdicts against Monsanto ranging from $81 million to over $2 billion. 

WS also served as lead counsel in some of 2021’s biggest and most closely followed cases: 

  • In November 2021, the WS team secured a pre-trial victory in Northrup v. Covidien, a case involving claimed injuries from Medtronic’s hernia mesh, by obtaining key admissions from Plaintiff’s expert that were quoted extensively in the Court’s opinion dismissing the case. Brian Stekloff led the WS team handling the case, joined by Partner Ralia Polechronis. In this California federal case, Judge Pregersonruled that all of Plaintiff’s expert’s opinions were inadmissible under Daubert and that Plaintiff’s claims could not proceed in the absence of admissible expert support. Originally set to go to trial in May 2022, the case was dismissed in its entirety.
  • Along with Brian StekloffBeth Wilkinson oversees Medtronic’s trial strategy in all of its hernia mesh cases. Earlier this year, the team secured, on the eve of trial, a voluntary dismissal with prejudice in another matter, Jorden v. Covidien (N.D. Cal.), after filing Daubert and summary judgment motions that remained pending at the time of dismissal.
  • Led by Rakesh Kilaru and Beth Wilkinson, WS represents the NCAA in a putative antitrust class action lawsuit brought by current and former student-athletes under the Sherman Act. Plaintiffs are challenging NCAA rules that prohibit or limit student-athletes from receiving compensation for the commercial use of their name, image, and likeness (NIL). Plaintiffs are seeking a permanent injunction and likely significant monetary damages. 
  • Led by Beth WilkinsonBrian Stekloff, and Kosta Stojilkovic, the WS team represents Glenmark Pharmaceuticals Inc., USA in defending criminal antitrust charges brought against the company by the Department of Justice (DOJ). This past August, on emergency motions practice by the WS team, the Judge ordered the DOJ to cease contacting Glenmark executives in India and barred those executives from being interviewed against their will. 
  • Led by Beth Wilkinson and Brian Stekloff, along with Jeremy Barber and Rakesh Kilaru, the WS team represents the NFL in a putative class action lawsuit challenging the NFL’s multibillion-dollar exclusive distributorship arrangement with DIRECTV for Sunday Ticket. The WS team persuaded the federal court in Los Angeles to dismiss all of Plaintiffs’ claims, with prejudice, because the challenged arrangement not only fails to violate the antitrust laws, but actually promotes consumer welfare by increasing the availability of live televised NFL games. The Ninth Circuit subsequently reversed the Central District of California’s opinion, and the U.S. Supreme Court denied a petition for certiorari, thus remanding the case back to the district court. WS is now leading all aspects of the representation; the parties are currently in the midst of discovery, with class certification proceedings to follow in mid-2022.

In addition to bet-the-company and other high-profile cases, the firm has handled almost 50 pro bono matters since its 2016 founding, with young lawyers winning these trials in leadership roles as well. Just before the Christmas holiday, Associates Sarah Neuman and Alison Zoschak delivered a victory in Arlington Immigration Court in Virginia for an immigrant seeking asylum from the ongoing armed conflict in Cameroon. Their client, an English-speaking teacher from Cameroon, was repeatedly detained and tortured by the Cameroonian government and also received a death threat from the separatist fighters who oppose that same government. Engaging two expert witnesses and obtaining several fact-witness affidavits in support of their client’s asylum claim, Sarah and Alison filed a brief and hundreds of pages of supporting materials ahead of the hearing where the case was argued. Ultimately, the Immigration Judge granted their client’s asylum application and the government waived its right to appeal. 

Rather than building a pyramid with a few first-chair trial lawyers on top and a structure of interchangeable junior litigators below, the firm is committed to recruiting exclusively top-tier talent and developing every attorney as a leading trial lawyer. WS views it as critical not just to hire outstanding attorneys but to give them meaningful trial experience and client exposure, and the vast majority of WS associates have already worked on at least one trial—including Cali Cope-Kasten’s role as trial counsel in the major Roundup victory. 

The firm’s trial-focused mindset also informs its ongoing commitment to diversity. In late 2021, WS welcomed eight new associates to the team — the largest and most diverse class in the firm’s history. The diverse new class has garnered attention in the legal media, most recently from Law360

These successes and new hires led to multiple accolades for WS and its attorneys, including: 

  • Chambers recognized WS as a 2021 “Outstanding Firm for Furthering Diversity and Inclusion.”
  • Beth Wilkinson was chosen for Benchmark Litigation’s elite group of the 10 leading women litigators who stand out from its iconic Top 250 Women in Litigation 2021 List. Beth was also recognized as a 2021 Power Player by Sports Business Journal.
  • Partners Kieran Gostin, Rakesh Kilaru, and Moira Penza were named to Benchmark Litigation’s 2021 40 & Under Hot List.
  • Bloomberg Law recognized Partners Moira Penza and Rakesh Kilaru in They’ve Got Next: The 40 Under 40.
  • Rakesh Kilaru was named a Law360 Rising Star for Sports and Betting.
  • Moira Penza was named to Crain’s New York Business’ 40 under 40 List, as well as to City & State’s Law Power 100 List.
  • Moira Penza and Ralia Polechronis were named Notable Women in Law by Crain’s New York Business.
  • Beth Wilkinson, Brian Stekloff, and Kosta Stojilkovic were named to Lawdragon 500 Leading Lawyers in America List.
  • Vault.com selected the firm among the top five midsize law firms in the country for diversity and pro bono work, as well as one of the top three midsize law firms for compensation and selectivity. 
  • The Legal Aid Society of the District of Columbia recognized WS for its contribution to the 2021 Making Justice Real Campaign, an annual fundraiser to support Legal Aid’s mission to provide legal services to people living in poverty in DC. 

WS is grateful to our clients who rely on us to handle their toughest cases. The firm is proud to have delivered for these clients, securing bellwether wins at trial and on the eve of trial in multiple cases across the country. 

As 2022 begins, WS is set to proceed with even more high-stakes trial work, outpacing its already notable productivity in this exceptionally competitive area of work. In keeping with this commitment to excellence, the firm recently announced that Cali Cope-Kasten has been promoted to partner, and Max Warren and Hayter Whitman have been promoted to counsel. All three attorneys have been with WS since our founding and have played a key role in numerous, high-stakes trials and other cases throughout their careers.