Most Highly Regarded Firms: Illinois 2006 - Environment

The research for this chapter identifies 36 highly rated environment experts from 18 firms. The practice of environment law is, however, diverse, with experts offering advice to clients on transactional, litigation and regulatory matters.

On the transactional side, among other things, practitioners will be able to offer advice relating to the environmental risk associated with a transaction, the structuring of deals to allocate risk, environmental due diligence and parent successor liability. Others focus on regulation and compliance obligations as well as strategic planning. A number of those we include also have a specific focus on litigation involving toxic tort defence, superfund cases, the defence of enforcement actions, claims against insurance carriers and government investigations. Nevertheless it is apparent that no matter what the specialisation, Illinois contains some of the nation’s most respected environmental practitioners. 

When Who’s Who Legal asked respondents which firm (aside from their own) they most admired for environmental work, a number of outfits, boutique and full-service, were suggested. Based on these recommendations and the high level of nominations for individual lawyers, Mayer Brown Rowe & Maw LLP emerges as Illinois’s premier environmental outfit. John Berghoff leads this “broadly experienced, professional group”, which sees five of its lawyers in the chapter – more than any other firm. An experienced litigator, Berghoff was recommended for his toxic tort litigation and his work on behalf of the railroad and downstream oil industries. “Very strong” Russell Eggert was also consistently recommended with one respondent remarking: “He is one of the best overall environmental lawyers I have dealt with.” Eggert serves as Caterpillar’s primary external lawyer for environmental matters and consequently has ongoing work in both the EU and the US. The past year has also seen him involved in a toxic tort class action which lasted three weeks at trial. Timothy Bishop is similarly well regarded and his practice has a significant US Supreme Court focus. Bishop is rated as “an outstanding appellant lawyer” and his clients include the American Farm Bureau. Michael Rissman is “bright and to the point” and the inclusion of Thomas Skinner completes the firm’s contingent. Skinner joined Mayer Brown in April 2006 following a distinguished career at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) as both director of Region V and head of the agency’s national compliance programme. One respondent noted: “Skinner’s recruitment will add further depth to what was already a formidable team.” 

Jenner & Block LLP was praised as “one of the leading firms in Illinois for environmental work”. Jenner “has historically had a strong environmental group” and boasts four highly rated partners in this publication. Robert Graham founded, and currently serves as chair, of the environmental, energy and natural resources law practice and was recommended as “one of the founders of environment law in Illinois”. His long-standing association with the practice area led one respondent to remark: “I don’t know if there were any environment lawyers before him.” James Vroman co-chairs the practice and is rated as “one of the best environment litigators in the city [Chicago]”. Vroman’s recent work has included representing Commonwealth Edison and Nicor in the remediation and restoration of Barrie Park and the residential neighbourhood around it situated in Oak Park. Both companies had inherited the liabilities from a former manufactured gas plant (MGP) that had ceased to operate in the late 1920s and had been turned into a park in the 1950s. When residue from the former MGP site was discovered approximately eight years ago Edison and Nicor enrolled the site into the Illinois Site Remediation Program and it became the largest site ever dealt with under the Program. Vroman also represents the Chicago Housing Authority as well as the Alliance for the Great Lakes – the latter on a pro-bono basis. The “first-tier” Bill Forcade is “a strong air quality lawyer” and from 1983 to 1993 he served as one of seven members of the Illinois Pollution Control Board. His government experience coupled with his scientific background as a research chemist is said to give him a unique insight into the field. The “phenomenal” Lynn Grayson also boasts a “strong government resume” and prior to joining the firm she served as chief legal counsel for the Illinois Emergency Services and Disaster Agency and the State Emergency Response Commission. Grayson emerges as one of the practice area’s leading lights and was variously described as “phenomenal”, “outstanding” and “clearly a leader”. 

Alongside Mayer Brown and Jenner & Block, Sidley Austin LLP is regarded as “one of the top full service firms in the environmental field”. Robert Olian heads the Chicago office’s environmental practice group and is recognised as “one of the finest big case superfund lawyers around”. Andrew Schlickman was also recommended by some of the practice area’s leading lights. Recognised as a “thoughtful litigator”, recent highlights have included representing a Fortune 100 company in connection with the Fox River PCB clean-up and natural resource damages site in north Wisconsin; representing another Fortune 100 company in connection with the Penobscot River, Maine mercury contamination issues, including the defence of an RCRA citizen suit brought by the Natural Resources Defense Council; and representing a defendant in a class-action involving property diminution and medical monitoring claims relating to the Ellsworth Industrial Park Superfund Site in Downers Grove, Illinois. Partner James Cahan is “well known internationally” and “particularly strong for air pollution matters”. Among other areas his practice encompasses the environmental aspects of bankruptcies and he acts as primary outside environmental counsel to a major automobile parts manufacturer in bankruptcy, regarding the resolution of over 40 environmental claims alleging US$100 million in liabilities, work which included negotiating global settlements with both federal and state claimants. Cahan also acts as primary outside counsel to a major Midwest utility considering the acquisition of a substantial ownership interest in a proposed new greenfield coal-fired electric generating plant. 

Aside from the aforementioned firms a number of other outfits are well represented in the final publication. Sonnenschein Nath & Rosenthal LLP is another “top-tier firm” led in the nominations by Jeffrey Fort. A former chair of the environmental law committee of the Chicago Bar Association, Fort is praised as “competent, professional and always exceptionally well prepared”. Sonnenschein’s two other nominees have strong government credentials – both Renee Cipriano and Mary Gade are former directors of the Illinois EPA. Naturally Cipriano “knows the ins and outs of policy and legislation” and is said to be “good for lobbying”. Gade is similarly well regarded and her inclusion makes the firm one of the most respected in the state for environment work. 

A background in government appears to be a recurring theme in the environment bar and Eleni Kouimelis of Winston & Strawn LLP continues the trend. Before joining the firm Kouimelis served as assistant regional counsel with USEPA and she is recommended as “an exceptional trial lawyer”. Jennifer Nijman was recommended to researchers as “an accomplished and excellent lawyer” and “one of the very finest in the field”. Nijman served as president of the Chicago Bar Association from 2002 to 2003 and currently works for clients such as Northwestern Memorial Hospital, Culligan International Company and Waste Management. Nijman was praised as “very professional and someone who always does her homework” and consequently emerges as one of the chapter’s most highly nominated individuals. The experienced James Russell adds further weight to Winston’s already formidable environment team. In the last year Russell has litigated as a plaintiff in federal court in Amsted Industries Incorporated v California Department of Toxic Substance Control and supervised a large project for Honda of America Manufacturing relating to Honda’s consideration of a potential new automobile assembly plant site in Fithian. 

Michael Ohm heads the environmental law practice at Bell Boyd & Lloyd LLC and sources remarked on his brownfields work on behalf of industrial developers. The firm’s practice was bolstered by the 2005 recruitment of Francis Lyons, a former regional administrator of the US EPA, Region V. Lyons was lauded as “very knowledgeable and someone who does a great job for his clients” and his move is said to have “given the firm a high profile in the area”. James Harrington of McGuireWoods LLP is “widely respected” within the field and is one of two highly rated nominees practising in the firm’s Chicago office. Harrington has worked in the past with heavy industry and is recognised as “one of the fathers of the practice area” and “one of the deans of environmental law”. The “very capable” David Rieser is a “good, service orientated lawyer” and he joins Harrington in the final publication. 

Baker & McKenzie LLP is something of an anomaly in the research: many respondents commented on the strength of its international as opposed to Illinois-based practice. John Watson heads the North American practice group and recently joined the firm from Gardner Carton & Douglas LLP. Clients include United Airlines on an international basis as well as Brunswick corporation, BF Goodrich and Motorola. Watson also represents The National Brownfields Association. “Strategic thinker” David Hackett manages and chairs the firm’s international environmental group in addition to serving as managing partner for the North American region. Hackett was consistently recommended during the course of the research. 

Seyfarth Shaw LLP is another firm with two nominees in the final publication. The “thoughtful” Andrew Perellis heads the firm’s Chicago office and “has acted on some sophisticated matters”, according to a source. Recent work has included counselling companies regarding estimation and reporting of environmental obligations under securities laws in light of the Sarbanes- Oxley Act and recent interpretations of accounting standards (FASB 143 and FIN 47), as well as the defence of various clients against administrative enforcement actions involving alleged violations of the Clean Air Act, release reporting, and failure to obtain construction permits. Eric Boyd joins Perellis in this publication. Among other highlights, Boyd has recently been assisting a chemical manufacturing client in negotiating a settlement of NSR/NSPS issues for eight plants across the US. He has also been representing a manufacturer in relation to state and federal air and odour enforcements. 

The “smaller, personalised feel” of Karaganis White & Magel Ltd was noted and the firm comes highly recommended as a “premier environmental boutique” with a focus on complex litigation and counselling. One respondent remarked: “If you are looking for a boutique firm in Illinois then they are it.” Joseph Karaganis is an “exceptional litigator” who is “first-rate for noise pollution work”, a statement based on his work on behalf of suburbs to the north-west of Chicago fighting the runway expansion at O’Hare Airport. The “terrific” Bruce White is “one of the very best in the state”. An “exceptionally bright lawyer”, he is said to be “a good environmental master of ceremonies who gives good meetings”. 

A number of firms in this chapter that stand out because of individual environment practitioners. Schiff Hardin LLP is one such example. Sheldon Zabel chairs the firm’s environment group and emerges from the research as the most highly nominated practitioner in the state. Respondents were unanimously effusive in their praise with one describing him as “the dean of the Chicago environmental bar”. Zabel is reputedly “willing to take on cases no matter what the size” and offers “muscular defence”. The past year has seen him petitioning USEPA for reconsideration of its Clean Air Interstate Rule (CAIR); appealing the CAIR to the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia; successfully obtaining a preliminary injunction against the Illinois Pollution Control Board (IPCB) to prevent it from using a ‘fast track’ rulemaking authority to adopt mercury emission standards applicable to coal-fired power plants; participating in the pending IPCB rulemaking proceeding to impose stringent mercury emission standards on such plants; and appealing title V permits issued by the Illinois EPA to 13 coal-fired power plants owned by four separate entities. 

Susan Franzetti is held in similarly high regard and set up her own firm following her departure from Sonnenschein. Respondents remarked that the strength of Franzetti’s new practice lies in the fact that she offers hands-on advice at affordable rates while still providing the service clients have come to expect from many of the larger firms. Concentrating on the core areas of water pollution, solid and hazardous waste, superfund and property remediation and environment litigation, Franzetti is “bright and focused on decision making”. One competitor noted he would “refer work to her in a minute” if he were conflicted out of a matter. Harvey Sheldon of Hinshaw & Culbertson LLP was also consistently endorsed. In the early 1970s he served as chief of the Illinois Attorney General’s Environmental Enforcement Division and consequently he “knows the field back to front”. Sheldon has built up a strong reputation with one respondent referring to him as the “senior statesman of the Illinois environment bar”. Louis Rundio represents McDermott Will & Emery LLP in the chapter. With a focus on hazardous substance liability he is said to be a “very tough minded and exceptional superfund lawyer”. Michael Elam is DLA Piper LLP’s sole representative and like many others has a background in the US EPA. Elam comes highly recommended, among other things, for his brownfields work. Fredric Andes was also consistently recommended to researchers. Andes leads the water team at Barnes & Thornburg LLP and his practice has a strong emphasis on Clean Water Act matters particularly in relation to the Great Lakes. 

Although the majority of nominated practitioners hail from Chicago, there are two lawyers based in Springfield who received sufficient nominations for inclusion. Katherine Hodge of Hodge Dwyer & Zeman was recommended as “one of the most knowledgeable [lawyers] regarding regulation and legislation of state government – a valuable resource for those looking for advice in Springfield”. Hodge is said to have “all the connections anybody could have” and she “benefits from her geographical location”. The “first-rate” Fred Prillaman of Mohan Alewelt Prillaman & Adami also comes highly recommended as an experienced practitioner with a strong environmental background.

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Nominees have been selected based upon comprehensive, independent survey work with both general counsel and private practice lawyers worldwide. Only specialists who have met independent international research criteria are listed.

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