Photo of Noah Heinz, Albert Pak, Amelia Frenkel and Jason Ethridge by Eli Meir Kaplan.
Four years ago, Seth Meyer was a fifth-year associate at Kirkland & Ellis who wasn’t necessarily looking to leave his comfortable seat on a defense-side track. But a new plaintiffs’ firm, Keller Lenkner LLC, caught his attention. “I was drawn by their vision—to build a legendary plaintiffs’ law firm,” he said. “I wanted to get in on the ground floor.”
Meyer was the first in a series of hires as Keller Lenkner grew into a national plaintiffs’ firm. Its recruiting efforts are akin to what one would expect from a leading AmLaw firm, as evidenced by its attorneys’ résumés that feature top law schools, federal-court clerkships, and some of the nation’s most prominent law firms.
“We deliberately hire attorneys with exceptional backgrounds and experience, because plaintiffs deserve the same level of representation as any corporation or deep-pocket defendant,” Managing Partner Travis Lenkner said. “We’re building a world-class team on the plaintiffs’ side that measures up to the ranks of Big Law.”
Beyond esteemed credentials, Keller Lenkner’s culture makes it a destination for its fast-growing bench of elite talent. The firm has carefully curated an environment that measures up to any defense-side practice, without a rigid structure that can stifle self-directed career building. For young lawyers who want greater responsibility and opportunities for leadership—yet expect the same level of excellence, prestigious casework, and reward—Keller Lenkner is the leading plaintiff-side platform.
“That’s what fascinated me when I first interviewed,” said Meyer, who was promoted to Partner last year. After graduating from the University of Virginia School of Law and clerking at the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit, Meyer admits to having defaulted to a well-trodden path: “You’ve got the grades to work at an AmLaw10 firm and you go there. You keep your head down and you stick around. But Keller Lenkner is creating a new option,” Meyer said.
“There’s a common career trajectory amongst law students coming from top-tier law schools. You graduate, you clerk, you go to a big defense firm,” Lenkner said. “We think there ought to be just as many opportunities for those young, bright lawyers to join the plaintiffs’ side. And we’re set on building a path to plaintiffs’ work that offers the same coveted benefits, without shortchanging the experience to work on exciting, intellectually engaging matters.”
And Keller Lenkner’s docket of cases certainly rises to the occasion. Facing off against tech giants like Amazon and huge conglomerates like 3M, the firm has launched high-profile antitrust, privacy, product-liability, and consumer-rights disputes and won precedent-setting victories that have garnered national attention. Keller Lenkner serves hundreds of thousands of clients in litigation and arbitration matters and acts as plaintiffs’ counsel in high-stakes class and public-enforcement actions.
“We pursue large, complex matters where our attorneys can play a significant role,” Lenkner said. “Plaintiffs’ attorneys have the initiative in the case. For every case a defense firm litigates, a plaintiffs’ firm filed it. And it takes creativity and unique innovation in legal strategy when you’re on offense as opposed to defense.”
The plaintiffs’ side is necessarily more enterprising, especially within the culture of Keller Lenkner, where entrepreneurialism is a founding value amidst a startup-like atmosphere. “We give support and opportunity to every attorney on our team, notwithstanding seniority,” said Partner Nicole Berg, who has helped lead Keller Lenkner’s product-liability practice since she joined the firm in its first year. “If you want something written, you take initiative to write it. You want to argue? The opportunity is there. Litigating here takes all of the skills you need to be a big defense lawyer, plus some.”
As in defense-side culture, Keller Lenkner is unrelenting in its dedication to excellence in litigation—a major reason why so many young attorneys feel confident in making the plaintiff-side jump. Associate Ashley Barriere joined in September 2020. Within just a few months, a federal district court appointed her to the Plaintiffs’ Steering Committee for multidistrict litigation over diabetes medications Onglyza and Kombiglyze.
Before joining Keller Lenkner, Barriere had clerked for federal district court Judge Eldon Fallon and practiced at Davis Polk & Wardwell in New York, representing Fortune 500 companies in litigation and investigations.
“With a white-shoe defense firm, there is a demand for excellence and attention to detail and a running down of legal arguments in a way that you don't find very often on the plaintiffs’ side,” Barriere said. “So when I found out about Keller Lenkner, it was my ideal situation: A firm composed of attorneys, most of whom have had federal clerkships or who also came from large defense firms and went to top-tier law schools. Here they are all on the plaintiffs’ side.”
The young lawyers at Keller Lenkner consider the well-credentialed team an important part of the culture. “It’s inspiring to know that you’re surrounded by the highest quality lawyers as your colleagues,” Washington, D.C. Associate Jason Ethridge said. “And being in D.C., where elite lawyers want to practice with proximity to government agencies, we’re positioned to recruit the best and brightest in the D.C. legal market.”
And when you consider Keller Lenkner’s caseload of nationally prominent matters, those credentials are crucial.
“We’re consistently going toe-to-toe with the best defense firms in the country,” Barriere said. “There is a bigger world beyond the defense side, and that doesn’t preclude you from working on really interesting, complex litigation.”
As Keller Lenkner has made a name for itself handling such litigation, its hiring needs have accelerated. Even during the COVID-19 pandemic, the firm onboarded staff at a blistering pace, more than tripling its headcount since March 2020.
Amongst the newest attorney hires is Brooke Clason Smith, who was litigating at Chicago’s Schiff Hardin when she interviewed with Keller Lenkner late last year.
“When I was in law school, there was sort of a preconceived notion about what a legal career looked like, and that didn’t include making the jump to the plaintiffs’ side,” Smith said of her time at the University of Chicago. “No one ever talks about plaintiffs’ work, so even though it ends up being work that I really liked, I would not have known that coming into my career at the outset.”
What Smith did know was that she wanted substantive work: “I didn’t want to be a cog in a wheel for five years before I got to write a brief.”
Attorneys at more traditional firms often crave a bit of disruption, she notes, and interviewing at Keller Lenkner, “it was clear that nobody here was afraid of disruption. And they had the wherewithal to make it happen in a way that was successful.”
Meyer concurred, saying the firm has cultivated an attitude of ownership and fearlessness and has proven itself repeatedly.
“That fearlessness permeates the way we practice, the way that we think about cases, the way that we think about litigation, the way that we think about our clients,” he said. “It’s ownership, in a way that I'd never felt before. And I think that’s fostered by the real-time mentorship I’ve received by attorneys at this firm. I can’t imagine a world where you get that at a traditional defense firm. We are exceptionally unique in our ability to provide that to young attorneys.”
A few months after Meyer joined Keller Lenkner, Marquel Reddish Longtin was looking to move from Kirkland to a smaller firm with the hopes of gaining more hands-on experience when she received an email from Partner Warren Postman.
“I hadn't even thought about working on the plaintiffs’ side in terms of moving to a small firm that did prestigious work,” said Longtin, whose accomplishments at Keller Lenkner include helping build its client management and communications teams to the scale needed for its caseload. She was promoted in January to lead those operations.
“I had just always felt there had to be more to the practice of law than sitting in your closed-door office and repurposing documents and strategies and following the playbook,” she added. “I didn't know exactly what it was that I was looking for until I interviewed. Then I realized that this was it.”
Associate Albert Pak had actively decided he enjoyed plaintiffs’ work during his tenure at Kellogg Hansen. He was not looking and had foreclosed any thoughts of going to a big firm. But then he heard Keller Lenkner was opening a Washington office.
“I believed in the thesis from the beginning, that there is a place for a firm like Keller Lenkner to thrive,” Pak said. “Because for whatever reason, the place to go into private practice after coming out of law school with the clerkship is a defense-side firm. And there's no reason why there ought not be just as well credentialed and diligent lawyers on the other side of the V.”
Pak said he also particularly enjoyed the opportunity of being a plaintiffs’ lawyer “at a place that is excellent and hardworking and cares about every minute detail in a way that can possibly be done.”
Like Pak, Amelia Frenkel had decided during her stints in Big Law that she most enjoyed plaintiff work. And she was struck by the ways Keller Lenkner was innovating in the legal space.
“The firm’s arbitration practice has given access to justice for thousands of plaintiffs who are barred from joining a class action because of an arbitration clause,” Frenkel explained of Keller Lenkner’s revolutionary ‘mass arbitration’ strategy. “Since law school, that area of law has always seemed so imbalanced to me. And I was very impressed with how Keller Lenkner has worked to level the playing field.”
After joining the firm, Frenkel was quickly met with the opportunity to flex her legal aptitude. “I never would have thought that in switching to the plaintiffs’ side of the bar, I would be working on a Supreme Court brief within a month or two of starting.”
“I don’t know of any associates anywhere doing more substantive work than we are,” Smith agreed. “I’m writing briefs every day. I’m arguing nearly every day in arbitration and in court.”
The firm excels at letting young lawyers try out the areas in which they’re most interested, said D.C. Associate Noah Heinz. He was eager to gain experience arguing in court, and it happened surprisingly fast. Within a year of joining the firm, Heinz argued two matters in multidistrict litigation over the heartburn drug Zantac, in which firm co-founder and Partner Ashley Keller oversees all law and briefing matters for the plaintiffs’ leadership committee.
“If you think of an interesting argument that you want to add to a brief or a new claim that you want to add in a case, you’ll get the support if it’s a good idea,” Heinz said. “When you come up with your own ideas and they actually make it in, it feels more like your own case than when you’re just implementing someone else’s instructions.”
Pak said that what has exceeded his expectations about Keller Lenkner was getting the responsibility to make high-level strategic decisions about how to best litigate a case.
“That was what I had seen in my prior work as the alluring feature of plaintiffs’ side work, that you get to learn by doing,” he said. “And Keller Lenkner rewards a self-starter mentality. No one here waits for instruction. We’re constantly thinking of ideas to improve litigation or to do things more efficiently. And there’s nothing more exciting.”
Don’t mistake that proactivity for siloed independence—the firm’s attorneys emphasize collaboration at every level. “Teamwork is a huge part of our culture here, regardless of whether you’re a senior partner or brand new to the firm,” Longtin said.
“I am always happy to jump in and support my team members, and I’m inspired to do that, because I know my team would do the same for me,” Pak agreed.
In working as a united team to build the new guard of the plaintiffs’ bar, the ultimate source of Keller Lenkner’s passion lies in its unwavering dedication to advocacy. “We need good plaintiff-side lawyers advocating for clients in a way that equally measures up to what you see on the defense side,” Smith said. “We make sure that happens for our clients. Everyone who comes here are people who care a lot about the work. And we don’t shortchange the quality for anything.”
To thrive at Keller Lenkner, it takes an eagerness to take ownership and to lead through excellence—deeply motivated by a passion for serving their clients, who are “just as important as any corporate defendant. More so even. The clients are really what drives us,” Berg said.
“No matter what skills you have, you need to be somebody who’s smart, hardworking, passionate about the job and the clients, and doesn’t need their hand held,” Berg explained. “You have to find your own way here. But we will give you the runway you need to take off.”