In the cover story of the 2007 issue of Northern California Super Lawyers Magazine, we sat down with the man who once bested Al Davis, former owner of the Raiders: business litigator Robert A. Van Nest. He shared why “world-class litigator” and “decent guy” don’t have to be mutually exclusive concepts. An excerpt:
According to Van Nest, success as a trial lawyer requires three qualities: the willingness to work tremendously hard; the ability to think on your feet; and the ability to separate the wheat from the chaff.
“Trials happen quickly,” he says. “You have to be able to immediately grasp the implications of what happens in court and respond to it. The best way to do that is prepare in advance. … In any trial, just a few factors decide the outcome. You have to be able to distinguish what matters from what doesn’t.”
Just as important, he says, is a developed focus that enables you to zero in on the key elements and not be distracted by irrelevancies.
As he puts it, “In any trial, just a few factors decide the outcome. You have to be able to distinguish what matters from what doesn’t.” That became particularly important in the suit against Al Davis, the majority owner of the Oakland Raiders. In 2005 Van Nest and Stacey Wexler, a partner in the firm, won what one news report termed a “rare legal victory” against Davis, whose aggressive, even bombastic, response to any attempt to thwart his will tends to steamroll opponents. The claim was for hundreds of millions of dollars.
Van Nest and Wexler represented the heirs to the football team’s founders, who claimed the contract Davis signed entitled them to recognition as limited partners in the franchise and gave them a right to examine the books.
The suit generated heated and sensationalized media coverage, fueled by rehashes of past controversies involving Davis, various local governments and the Raiders’ fan base. It was, in short, a media circus. But the Keker & Van Nest partners prevailed by resolutely keeping the proceedings focused on the terms of the contract rather than on motives, feuds and personalities.