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Wilkinson Stekloff

The following is an excerpt from Practice Perspectives: Vault's Guide to Legal Practice Areas.

Pirzada Ahmad and Caroline Li, Associates—Litigation

Pirzada is an associate at Wilkinson Stekloff and graduate of Yale Law School. He was a member of the Wilkinson Stekloff trial team that secured a groundbreaking victory for Microsoft, defeating the FTC’s efforts to enjoin its $69 billion acquisition of Activision Blizzard and winning the second-biggest merger trial in American history. He also represents a major chemical manufacturer in the Aqueous Film-Forming Foams (AFFF) Products Liability MDL, considered the most significant PFAS litigation in the country, as well as the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) in the House antitrust litigation.

Caroline is an associate at Wilkinson Stekloff.  After graduating from Harvard Law School, she clerked in the Eastern District of New York. Since joining the firm in 2021, she has worked on cases in all stages of litigation including fact discovery, expert discovery, class certification, dispositive motions practice, and trial, including as part of the team that secured the first verdict in favor of Monsanto in the Roundup litigation. She currently represents the National Football League and 32 member teams in an antitrust class action lawsuit scheduled for trial in February 2024.

Describe your practice area and what it entails.

Pirzada: We are trial lawyers. Our firm does not have individualized practice groups broken down by subject matter, and our cases tend to be bet-the-company and high-stakes matters that have a relatively high likelihood of making it to trial. We are focused on trial strategy throughout the litigation, probably more so than litigation practices whose cases do not typically go to trial.

What types of clients do you represent?

Pirzada: The firm represents a wide variety of clients including large companies (Altria, Bayer, Microsoft, Glenmark, Cargill, Medtronic, Plaid, Allergan, and Georgia Pacific), sports associations (the NFL and NCAA), and pro bono clients. The pro bono cases are some of the most rewarding. Our client list is always changing as we get retained for new high-stakes and high-profile matters.

What types of cases/deals do you work on?

Caroline: We work on cases headed toward trial, and there is no single subject matter we focus on.  The firm is willing to take any case to trial, but has most recently tried antitrust, class action, criminal, products liability, and sports-related cases before judges, juries, and the FTC. Everybody at the firm floats between these areas and is exposed to all aspects of trial litigation.

How did you choose this practice area?

Pirzada: Frankly, trial work sounded like and is a lot of fun. While I did enjoy legal writing and research and discovery, the core of BigLaw litigation for a junior associate, I wanted to also prep witnesses, develop courtroom strategy, be in those courtrooms (often!), and learn how to connect with both judges and juries. Trial litigation is fast paced, interactive, and high stakes. It turned out to be exactly what I was looking for, and I’m excited to continue to learn from and with the best trial lawyers in the country.

Caroline: I always wanted to work in litigation, but during law school, did not appreciate the difference between a general litigation practice and one that is trial-focused. The latter began to feel more exciting during my district clerkship—I enjoyed the fast pace, the strategic storytelling, and how high stakes the work felt. I started looking for a firm that would give associates trial experience and substantive opportunities amidst challenging work. Wilkinson Stekloff was the perfect fit.

What is a typical day like and/or what are some common tasks you perform?

Caroline: Even though we always approach our work with an eye towards trial, the work is so varied that there is no “typical day.” Earlier on in a case, we might be fact gathering by interviewing witnesses, conducting depositions, or building issue modules. Then we might start working with experts to develop their reports, drafting dispositive motions and trial-related briefs, or testing our narratives to see what theories work best before a jury. Getting to trial, of course, is the most exciting part. We’ll work on voir dire, prepare opening statements, develop direct and cross examinations, and prepare our witnesses to testify. The entire team collaborates to analyze the evidence coming in and react quickly to new developments.

What training, classes, experience, or skills development would you recommend to someone who wishes to enter your practice area?

Pirzada: For law students, direct services clinics provide great experience generally but particularly if you want to be a trial lawyer. Direct services require client interaction and management, fact development, quick thinking, and creativity—all core tenets of trial work that are a bit different from the focus of most law school education. If you’re a private practice attorney, I would similarly recommend direct services pro bono work. In terms of classes, courses centered on trial strategy, depositions/examinations, and openings/closings taught by practitioners would be the most useful, including those offered by both law schools and CLE programs.

Caroline: So much of trial work centers around effectively communicating a narrative, and it’s never too early to start honing those skills—whether through taking an advanced legal writing class, reading briefs, or observing others. I learn so much just from watching trial lawyers in action, especially given how varied their styles of advocacy can be. Seeing examples of what works (and what doesn’t!) helps you figure out what kind of advocate you want to be.

What is the most challenging aspect of practicing in this area?

Caroline: Going to trial is very demanding because of the sheer amount of work it takes to put on an effective case. Everything must be prepared meticulously to ensure we are jury-ready; work product from outlines to exhibit lists to demonstratives are endlessly iterated. Life at trial is fast-paced and constantly changing, so every member on the team must think on their feet and adapt quickly. But being at trial is also the most rewarding aspect of this job for the same reason. It’s so fulfilling to build storylines and solve problems together, and it's all very fun—especially when we win!

What are some typical tasks that a junior lawyer would perform in this practice area?

Pirzada: At Wilkinson Stekloff, there isn’t really a division between junior and more senior associates. Associates work on all aspects of trial litigation, including leading preps for sophisticated fact and expert witnesses, preparing closing and opening arguments, developing and refining trial strategy with partners, drafting pretrial filings and dispositive briefs, taking depositions, conducting second-level discovery (we rarely do first-level doc review), communicating with opposing and co-counsel, and presenting to clients.

What are some typical career paths for lawyers in this practice area?

Pirzada: Trial work is conducive to all sorts of career paths involving strategic decision-making, advocacy, and social interaction. In law, trial lawyers have gone on to federal and state prosecutor and public defender roles, plaintiff-side firms, direct services, public interest litigation, in-house positions, federal government appointments, and federal and state judiciaries. Outside of law, trial lawyers have gone on to many business-oriented roles where their decision-making and communication skills are more relevant than their legal knowledge.

How is practicing litigation in a boutique different from practicing in a large law firm?

Caroline: Simply by nature of our size, teams are smaller than they might be at a large law firm and the team is involved in the matter from start to finish. This means that all associates, regardless of experience, hit the ground running as soon as they join a case. They are entrusted and expected to take ownership over substantive responsibilities, participate in strategy, and interact with clients. Also because of our size and how much we collaborate—especially when we go to trial together—everyone on the team becomes very close, which fosters a space where we can all learn and grow together.