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John Keker Named Top San Francisco Lawyer

San Francisco

As the saying goes, it takes one to know one. We canvassed scores of lawyers, judges, headhunters and other legal observers for their picks. Here are the 25 lawyers whose names came up the most often and with the most enthusiasm.The Top 10 are going to cost you - ballpark, $500 an hour.

1. John Keker: Trial Lawyer

Call around and ask lawyers and judges at random: Who's the best lawyer in town? The answers are almost always the same:

"Well, there's Keker, of course."

"You mean other than Keker? Well..."

"John Keker. He's gotta be No. 1."

And so he is.

John Keker, 59, is a trial lawyer. Not a criminal lawyer or a corporate lawyer or any other label you try to give him. He does trials. That's it.

And don't even think of calling him a "litigator."

"Litigators are people who sit around in a conference room," says Keker. "Trial lawyers go to court. That's what I do."

And in court, no one does it like him. He's smart. He's tough. And he will not back down.

"I consider myself reasonable but very aggressive," says Keker, whose office is filled with busts and paintings of Napoleon. "Aggressive means you don't beat around the bush. You push hard for it. You don't make it easy for witnesses and judges to thwart you."

One veteran criminal defense attorney calls Keker "utterly fearless." But then, Keker was a Marine platoon leader during the Vietnam War. His left elbow was shot off.

After combat, he agrees, "performance anxiety is no big deal."

These days, Keker - who in 1978 founded the 50-lawyer firm of Keker & Van Nest - is handling the defense of Andrew Fastow, the former chief financial officer of Enron. His most prominent national case was his prosecution of Oliver North during the Iran-Contra scandal.

Certainly he must have felt some performance anxiety during that case, what with the whole country watching?

Nah, he says. "That was fun for me."