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Steven Taylor Takes the Wheel of a Firm That Likes the “Risk and Reward” of Trying Cases

Of Counsel
June 2013

Often it’s the big-name mega firms that tackle the most complex, bet-the-company cases—and for good reason. After all, these firms usually have vast resources, deep talent, and rich experience. That’s why clients seek them out when they need help with litigation that carries crucial consequences.

But increasingly, it seems, clients are turning to litigation boutiques to handle such weighty matters. And none may be better at litigation than the 78-attorney partnership of Keker & Van Nest, which is based in San Francisco but tries cases across the country.

Take a trip to its web site and you’ll see attorney profiles that contain a litany of awards and news reports that mention the work they’ve done for the types of top-shelf clients that any firm would be proud to represent. The accolades Keker & Van Nest have received are glowing and impressive and include this one from Chambers USA: “Regarded as a fearsome litigation outfit, the firm excels at taking on cases for individuals and corporations that require a robust and uncompromising approach.”

For several years the firm was adroitly led by managing partner Christopher Kearney but in January, Steven Taylor took over in this leadership role, and it seems he’s got the rock-solid trust of his partners, including co-founder John Keker.

“Steve Taylor is the next generation of leadership at Keker & Van Nest,” Keker says. “We had a terrific managing partner in Chris Kearney, and now we’re fortunate to have Steve. He’s a leader, big thinker and planner. The only regret I have is that his duties will keep him from being as involved in the cases he had handled; he’s a great trial lawyer and team player on a litigation team. So we miss him there but we get him in management and he’s already doing a terrific job.”

Recently, Of Counsel talked to Taylor about his career, some of his cases, his rise to the managing partner position, and other topics. The following excerpts are from that interview.

Steve Taylor:  We want to continue to be the top-flight trial law firm that we are—both on the local and national levels.

We are called when the stakes are the highest and trials are the nearest and people have the biggest to lose. One of the things that I’m so impressed by with the attorneys here is that every one of us has a desire and passion for what we’re doing and we take on the hardest cases even if they aren’t always the ones that are in the press—although a lot of them are. If you look at the last two years, 80 percent of our partners have been to trial.

So we don’t just say we like to go try cases; we actually do try cases. That success breeds upon itself. It’s hard because there are not as many trials out there as there used to be.

Within the legal community, both with the courts and the clients, most people tend to want to settle. And any time a client can get what they want out of a settlement it’s better than putting it up to a jury. But if you asked everybody, we’d tell you we like the risk and the reward of being in front of a jury or judge and getting to put forward our case.

One of our keys to success is our unique culture, which binds us. We are very driven but we’re also very collegial. We have lunches every Tuesdays and Thursdays; all of the attorneys get together for lunch just so everyone sees each other. It’s a place where everyone knows one another and gets along very well. We have an extraordinary group of very diverse people. Diversity is very important to us. I think 20 percent of our partners are minority partners and 25 percent are women. The associate numbers are actually higher than those numbers on both fronts and our diversity makes us a better place. I’ve been very happy to be a part of this firm and I’m proud to be its managing partner.

To read the complete interview, please download the attached pdf.

About Steve Taylor
Mr. Taylor’s experience runs the gamut of civil and criminal cases. He has extensive experience representing both companies and individuals in high-stakes disputes, often involving multiple parties and related actions. His cases have involved intellectual property matters, partnership disputes, breach of fiduciary duty, securities fraud and insider trading investigations, professional malpractice actions, and alleged violations of Section 337 of the Tariff Act.