Most Highly Regarded Firms: Illinois 2006 - Aviation

The lawyers featured in this chapter are, according to our research, the most respected in the state for work relating to the aviation industry. Their practices differ considerably from firm to firm. For example, one might focus on the commercial side, offering advice on areas such as aircraft purchase, sale, leasing and financing, alliances and joint ventures, and airline start-ups. Another may, however, specialise in contentious liability matters such as those arising from major accidents.

One firm that has built up an enviable reputation on the finance side is Vedder Price Kaufman & Kammholz PC. One respondent remarked, “Vedder Price is one of the best in Illinois, if not the country.” The firm has four lawyers in this chapter – more than any other. Dean Gerber was the most highly nominated practitioner, garnering more votes than any other individual. Vedder Price acts as aircraft finance counsel to United Airlines and the “first-rate” Gerber worked extensively on the organisation’s restructuring. The last year has also seen him dedicating time working for clients such as MBIA Insurance Company, Bank of America and Lehman Brothers, all financiers involved in the Northwest Airlines and Delta Airlines bankruptcies. Gerber is also known for his work on behalf of the Export-Import Bank of the United States and recently he has been working on financings for airlines in Pakistan, the UAE, New Zealand, Chile, India and Panama. He is joined in the final chapter by the “top-tier” Geoffrey Kass who among other things was praised as “superb for structured finance” and has represented manufacturers, borrowers, lessees, lessors, equity participants and lenders on a wide variety of financings. His rail finance expertise is yet another string to his bow. Joshua Gentner represents airlines, lenders and lessors in various structured financings. Gentner is a “smart” lawyer who “takes his work seriously” according to one influential respondent and the last year saw him representing JetBlue in connection with their recent enhanced equipment trust certificates (EETCs) and lease financings. He also represented United Airlines in connection with the restructuring of its EETCs. Jonathan Bogaard helped to found Vedder Price’s equipment finance group and he completes the firm’s quartet. As a certified public accountant, he is said to be particularly strong on the tax aspects of leasing and equipment finance. Skadden Arps Slate Meagher & Flom LLP also has a strong practice on the finance side. Seth Jacobson was consistently recommended to researchers and works on sophisticated financing transactions for borrowers and lenders. Work within the aviation industry includes representing Citycorp USA and JPMorgan Chase Bank in connection with their proposed government-guaranteed US$2 billion financing for United Airlines. Jacobson also represented America West Holdings Corporation in various financing arrangements relating to its proposed merger with US Airways Group. Ann Pollock also has a strong reputation in the field, particularly for her tax and bankruptcy work and from 2002 to 2003 she was responsible for the restructuring of US Airways’ leased and debt-financed fleet. Mayer Brown Rowe & Maw LLP also fields two nominees for this chapter. Jonathan Kron was retained by one of the largest equity investors in the three major US airline bankruptcies and has also worked on the acquisition and disposition of equity interests in sizeable leveraged lease transactions. Ralph Dudziak joins Kron in the final chapter and was singled out for his work on operating leases. The “prominent” Arnold Gough practises in the Chicago office of Winston & Strawn LLP and was consistently recommended for his work on behalf of lessees and equity investors. Richard Klein is a member of the lease finance group at Chapman & Cutler LLP and his cross-border work was noted. Klein recently represented over 50 institutional investors and commercial banks in numerous cross-border financings involving approximately 50 US aircraft trusts and 125 commercial aircraft. Jurisdictions included Argentina, Australia, Canada, Hong Kong, Japan, New Zealand and the United Kingdom. 

Lord Bissell & Brook LLP has a significant presence on the contentious side of the industry and receives many of the most significant defence instructions. Gary Westerberg emerges as one of the most highly thought of practitioners in the chapter. He works for airlines, general aviation operators, product manufacturers and insurers on a wide range of matters. The “vastly experienced” Westerberg is representing a security company involved in a dispute over pre-board security screening for American Airlines Flight 11 on 9/11. He also has a significant products liability practice and serves as defence counsel for many manufacturers. Ann Taylor joins Westerberg in this chapter and was recommended for her complex litigation work, particularly relating to the insurance industry. Among other matters, Taylor is representing an airframe part and engine provider in litigations in Ohio, Texas and California relating to the February 2000 crash of Emery 17, a DC-8, at Rancho Cordova, California. Chris Barth completes Lord Bissell’s trio of highly nominated individuals and like Taylor he has an insurance focus. Barth’s clients include product manufacturers such as British Aerospace Systems, Saab Aircraft as well as operators and leasing companies such as Air Canada, Cathay Pacific Airways and Fleet Capital Credit. 

Adler Murphy & McQuillen is another firm with three highly rated nominees in our list. According to one respondent the “firm has received a significant number of instructions on general aviation concerning aviation-related litigation and is very well regarded.” Respected as an “excellent trial lawyer”, Michael McQuillen was endorsed by many of the industry’s leading lights. McQuillen is particularly well known for his representation of insurers, airlines and aircraft and product component manufacturers. Partner John Adler joins McQuillen in the final chapter and can boast an exceptional resume spanning back almost 45 years to when he began to specialise in aviation defence litigation. Adler was lauded as “one of the most experienced trial lawyers you are likely to meet.” In 2003, he tried a case in the Circuit Court of St Clair County, Belleville, Illinois that arose out of the collision between a United Express Beech 1900C aircraft and a King Air A90 at Quincy- Baldwin Field, Illinois. Kevin Murphy also acted in that case and joins Adler and McQuillen in the final chapter. With three highly rated individuals, the firm emerges as one of the main players in the state for contentious work. 

Kaplan von Ohlen & Massamillo LLC is another firm with a sterling reputation in the field. Larry Kaplan is known for his litigation defence work and recent selected matters include litigation in California state court regarding the total loss of a Federal Express MD-11 in Newark, New Jersey in July 1997 as well litigation in Illinois state court relating to the Palwaukee Airport crash on 30 January 2006 involving a Cessna 421B. Kaplan’s partner, Robert von Ohlen, was also consistently recommended and he acts as lead counsel to numerous air carriers on a wide range of issues. His product liability practice was also brought to the attention of researchers. Together he and Kaplan form part of what one respondent hailed as “an excellent team”. 

The “very good” Sheila Sundvall is Sidley Austin LLP’s representative in the aviation section. Respondents were quick to endorse her litigation defence practice and she emerges from the research with flying colours. Sundvall was praised as “an excellent litigator” and she has worked on issues arising out of major accidents such as United Airlines Flight 232 in Sioux City, Iowa (1989) and Garuda Indonesia Flight 421 in Indonesia 2002. Ms Sundvall has also represented defendants in high-profile accidents such as the 2001 Cessna crash in the Bahamas involving Aaliyah, the R&B artist. 

Jeffrey Morof of Bryan Cave LLP is another name that was consistently brought to the attention of researchers. Formerly based in Los Angeles, Morof moved to help set up the firm’s Chicago office and specialises in product liability litigation. Morof is currently representing an aircraft manufacturer in litigation arising out of the Federal Express MD-11 accident at Newark International Airport in 1997 and acted as lead counsel for the Guam International Airport Authority in litigation arising out of the Korean Air Flight 801 accident. David Adams represents Pfeiffer & Adams, which is composed of former partners and associates from Lord Bissell & Brook, in these pages. A wellknown name in the industry, Adams was consistently praised and comes recommended particularly for accident and insurance work.

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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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