The National Law Journal selected 50 people who have made a difference in the fight for justice. While those recognized come at the litigation process from different angles, a common thread ties them together: each has shown a deep passion and perseverance in pursuit of their mission, having achieved remarkable successes along the way.
Historically, an improving economy has a slowing effect on litigation. Today, activity continues to climb despite the markets’ flirtation with record highs. From the Affordable Healthcare Act to a stricter regulatory environment, big data and privacy concerns to IP battles and product liability suits, among other contributors, the courts are busier than ever. All our honorees have a major stake in the ground and they are advocating strongly for their causes.
John Keker was wounded in Vietnam and retired from the Marine Corps looking for something to do. “Most adult work didn’t look too exciting. Becoming a trial lawyer was a way to take responsibility, take risks and earn a win or loss every time.” After law school he clerked for Chief Justice of the United States Earl Warren and then joined the federal public defender’s office before launching his own firm. “We did everything; a lot of criminal work at first, then we worked our way into all kinds of antitrust, securities, condemnation, copyright, patent cases and more. We handled everything except child abuse practically.”
As a well-rounded trial lawyer who has resisted specialization, Keker has handled some of the highest profile cases over the past few decades. He’s defended Black Panther Eldridge Cleaver, Werner Erhard (famous for est), Lance Armstrong and countless “tycoons, large corporations and lots of lawyers.” He is currently defending Standard & Poor’s in a $5 billion lawsuit filed by the U.S. government. “I’ve been fortunate to represent a wide variety of individuals and companies and try cases all over the country.” Keker even served as a prosecutor one time, in the case against Oliver North.
Keker is distressed at the trend toward the virtual extinction of jury trials in civil cases. “Only 1.2% of federal civil filings are going to a jury trial and 2.6% of federal criminal cases do. It’s way down from 20 years ago and even further down from when I started 45 years ago.” He also hopes the government “keeps talking tough and bringing wrongdoers to trial.”