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September 12, 2008 11:55 AM

LITIGATOR OF THE WEEK: Patrick Coughlin

Posted by Ed Shanahan

It's probably too early to judge the success of Coughlin Stoia Geller Rudman & Robbins sans Lerach. It's only been a year since the flamboyant class action maestro retired from the firm en route to prison, and many of Coughlin Stoia's big cases were initiated when Lerach was still at the firm.

But any predictions that the firm wouldn't survive Lerach's departure have proven to be wildly off the mark. At least so far. In these early post-Lerach days, Coughlin Stoia is on an impressive run, capped by Monday's news that a Texas federal district court judge had approved attorneys' fees of $688 million in the Enron securities class action, in which plaintiffs counsel recovered a record-setting $7.2 billion for shareholders. (Coughlin Stoia will split the money with 15 other firms.) The feat impressed even Sean Coffey of rival plaintiffs firm Bernstein Litowitz Berger & Grossmann.

"[Coughlin Stoia] are rivals and competitors, but they clearly earned that fee," Coffey told The Am Law Daily. "They worked for seven years without being paid and my hat is off to them."

Yesterday, we touched base with Coughlin, who argued the key Enron issues before district court judge Melinda Harmon and the Fifth Circuit. We asked him about the state of his firm, which he told us hasn't changed much since Lerach left: There are still about 170 lawyers, 15 forensic accountants, and three investigators--which, Coughlin said, makes his shop four times the size of its biggest competitor. He downplayed the impact of the Enron fees, pointing out that the lawyers at Coughlin Stoia have a long history with the ebb and flow of money in these sorts of megacases.

"Cases just take years and years," he said. "We understand it's going to take a while. But it certainly helps to be well-capitalized." Translation for all of you securities class action defendants out there: Don't expect quick settlements with Coughlin Stoia.

In a week when we reported that Bill Lerach was in trouble at Lompoc and Mel Weiss (before heading to prison) messed up oral arguments in a Merck class action, we thought it only fitting to give Litigator of the Week honors to a plaintiffs lawyer who seems intent on returning securities class actions to their glory days.
--Andrew Longstreth

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