The following is an excerpt from Practice Perspectives: Vault's Guide to Legal Practice Areas.
Kevin J. Orsini, Partner—Litigation
Kevin J. Orsini is a partner in Cravath’s Litigation department and serves as co-chair of the firm’s Business Development group. His clients have included Alcoa, American Express, Barnes & Noble, Goldman Sachs, IBM, JPMorgan Chase, Mylan, Occidental Petroleum, Palantir, PG&E, Time Warner, Viacom, and Xerox. Kevin’s broad trial practice focuses on complex antitrust litigation, mergers and acquisitions litigation, securities litigation, and other commercial disputes.
Kevin was named one of seven outstanding competition lawyers under 40 in the nation by Law360 in 2016. He was also named a Rising Star by New York Law Journal and Super Lawyers. Kevin has been recognized by The Legal 500 United States for his work in antitrust litigation, M&A litigation, and securities litigation. In 2018, Lawdragon named him one of “500 Leading Lawyers in America.”
Kevin received a B.A., summa cum laude, from George Washington University in 2000, where he was elected to Phi Beta Kappa, and a J.D., cum laude, from New York University School of Law in 2003. He joined Cravath in 2003 and became a partner in 2011.
Kevin is the father of two young children and a resident of Chappaqua, NY.
Describe your practice area and what it entails.
My broad trial practice focuses on handling the most significant and complicated issues facing my clients, regardless of the type of law or industry. That includes working on some of the biggest Delaware corporate M&A disputes, trying two of the biggest antitrust lawsuits brought by the government in the last two decades, and representing PG&E in one of the largest—if not the largest—single mass tort actions in history.
What types of clients do you represent?
I have represented a huge variety of clients—including PG&E, the largest utility in California; companies like Time Warner (now Warner Media) and Viacom at the forefront of the media industry; financial services companies, such as American Express, Goldman Sachs, and JPMorgan Chase; and leading tech companies like IBM, Facebook, and Palantir.
What types of cases/deals do you work on?
This past year, I was trial counsel for client Time Warner in a six-week antitrust trial filed by the Department of Justice to block Time Warner’s $108.7 billion acquisition by AT&T. (Cravath’s M&A team represented Time Warner in the acquisition itself.) It was the government’s first challenge to a vertical merger in decades; after our win, the government declined to seek a stay, and the merger moved forward. I also worked on the Cravath team that won a pivotal victory before the U.S. Supreme Court on behalf of American Express, defeating a government antitrust suit over merchant acceptance rules. I’m now also representing PG&E as lead trial counsel in claims filed against the company arising out of the Northern California wildfires.
How did you choose this practice area?
My goal when I initially entered law school did not even involve practicing law—I planned on becoming an FBI agent. Once I was in law school, though, I was surprised to find it was the first time in my life I really enjoyed what I was studying (maybe not something every law student would say). By the time I joined Cravath as an associate, I was sure that I would leave after a few years to join the U.S. Attorney’s Office. Sixteen years later, I can’t imagine working anywhere else. Cravath allows me a platform to take on any kind of case for any client whenever I want. What I really love about practicing litigation here is that I can take on the most complicated cases, dealing with the most cutting-edge issues, on behalf of America’s most important companies. No case or client is ever the same, and I do not have any limitations to narrow my focus on a certain area of litigation or a particular industry. On any given day, I can be serving as trial counsel for Time Warner protecting an $85 billion merger from an antitrust action and be up late at night taking phone calls around lawsuits dealing with wildfires in California.
What is a typical day like and/or what are some common tasks you perform?
For a litigator, there really is no typical day. Some days, I’m taking and defending depositions or drafting and revising briefs and motions, and other days, I’m arguing before a state’s highest court or speaking to a company’s board. To the degree it is possible to talk about a standard day, it is safe to say we are in constant communication with our clients. At Cravath, I work closely with associates and other partners on all aspects of our cases.
Of course, some days are truly exceptional. There is little professionally that can compare to the day last June when we heard the U.S. Supreme Court had ruled in favor of our client American Express, which had trusted our approach and avoided settling the case over the course of nearly a decade.
What training, classes, experience, or skills development would you recommend to someone who wishes to enter your practice area?
The best advice I can offer a law student—or really anyone considering professional development—is to do something you find interesting. That will lead you to the practice area you are best at and will enjoy working in for decades to come. It will also allow you to best develop the skills you need to be an effective lawyer—the ability to think practically and creatively. Especially when you are summering or considering your plans as an associate, don’t chase the shiniest object; make sure you are getting real experience and taking on real responsibilities in the area you most genuinely enjoy.
What do you like best about your practice area?
Here at Cravath, companies consistently come to us with their most high-profile and complicated litigation needs. Representing companies like American Express, PG&E, and Time Warner in recent years has been incredibly rewarding in that our clients trust us to handle matters of supreme importance to their business. It is a privilege to have that kind of responsibility and trust from our clients.
What misconceptions exist about your practice area?
Every great lawyer wants to try lots of cases, but it’s not always in the client’s best interest to take a case to trial. It is imperative to understand your client’s perspective and goals, and that means figuring out what potential approaches are available and confirming when the client benefits from you fighting in the courts to the end and when it is better to find a different solution. That said, we do view ourselves first and foremost as trial lawyers, and as far as preparation is concerned, we view every case as one that will potentially go to trial.
What kinds of experience can summer associates gain in this practice area at your firm?
Summer associates at Cravath function in all respects as full associates and are given the same opportunities to handle responsibilities of significance to our firm and clients. In every one of the past five summers, I’ve brought summer associates to trial, and they have played key roles in every step of the process. I’ll never forget one occasion when I had a preliminary injunction case that included six depositions in a day. Three summer associates and I together handled all of them. As I handled the depositions in one room, they were in the office next door prepping the witnesses aligned with the case strategy they helped design.
What do you feel are the benefits of taking a generalist approach in litigation versus pursuing a more specialized practice?
Training “generalist” lawyers is a core part of Cravath’s system. Being a generalist does not preclude being as much an expert as anyone in one particular area. What it does mean is that you have the experience, understanding, and flexibility to handle any issue that a client may face. As a Cravath associate, you rotate among partners to gain a broad set of litigation skills, so you can not only pivot easily between issues, but also understand each issue in the larger context necessary to make the best possible decision for your client and its business priorities.