Marc E. Kasowitz of Kasowitz, Benson, Torres & Friedman.

(Photo: Rick Kopstein/ALM)

 

It looks like Marc Kasowitz will go down in history as President Donald Trump’s lawyer. But while America is just getting to know him, the same can’t be said for his fellow elite litigators, especially in New York.

Now reportedly poised to lead the president’s outside legal team amid expanding Russia investigations, Kasowitz has long had a reputation as a hard-nosed trial lawyer, with a hands-on approach to running and growing the firm he co-founded in 1993, now known as Kasowitz Benson Torres. (A spokeswoman for Kasowitz’s firm didn’t respond to a request to confirm his assignment or comment on his role.)

Kasowitz has done plenty of work for Trump in the past, including during the 2016 presidential campaign. But much of that involved protecting Trump’s reputation and business interests—a far cry from the white-collar and national security questions likely to plague the president in the months ahead.

Instead, Kasowitz brings to his new role a deep background in financial institution and tobacco litigation, as well as experience leading an Am Law 200 firm that he helped to build from the ground up.

Scrappy Beginnings

Kasowitz spent his early years in New Haven, Connecticut, the son of a scrap metal business owner. A childhood friend told The American Lawyer in 1997 that Kasowitz was “a real scrapper and a real hustler” when he played high school basketball, a side of his personality that stayed with him. Later, while working at Rosenman & Colin and playing on its basketball team, Kasowitz wound up in a fistfight with a member of an opposing team. Kasowitz defended himself, claiming that his foe had provoked him with a kick: “I took all appropriate measures to defend myself until my teammates interceded,” Kasowitz said after the incident, according to the magazine.

Defending Big Tobacco

Kasowitz grew a reputation as a feisty litigator with his representation of cigarette manufacturer Liggett Group Inc. in the mid-1990s. The work for Liggett included hashing out a settlement in the massive tobacco class action Castano v. American Tobacco.

He later ruffled the tobacco industry’s feathers with an aggressive strategy to lead Liggett to additional settlements. Breaking ranks with a joint defense effort, Liggett agreed to turn over business documents to plaintiffs lawyers and state attorneys general, a move that helped save the company millions of dollars, according to a 2004 profile.

Growing His Firm

In the years that followed, Kasowitz continued to represent longstanding clients such as Celanese Corp., which he had brought with him from Mayer Brown when he left to form his own firm with co-founders Daniel Benson, Hector Torres and W. Bruce Hoff Jr. (Hoff left within three years for Altheimer & Gray.)

Long known for keeping close control over his firm, Kasowitz steered it through the recession without the layoffs that hit many other large firms. In recent years, however, the firm has had mixed financial results and has seen its head count shrink, with some prominent partners decamping for rival firms.

Taking on the Banks

In the wake of the recession, Kasowitz was one of just a handful of large firms spearheading litigation against some of powerful banks at the center of the subprime meltdown.

He had a string of success representing insurer MBIA Inc. in financial crisis litigation against the likes of Bank of America Corp., France’s Societe Generale SA and others, which pursued fraud claims after MBIA underwent a $5 billion restructuring in 2009.

Siding With Government

In addition to private litigation tied to the recession, Kasowitz and his firm also represented the government conservator for mortgage finance giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac in one of the largest efforts to hold banks financially accountable for the crisis. Those cases, in which Kasowitz represented the Federal Housing and Finance Agency against several of the world’s largest banks, led to a series of settlements and netted his firm some $77 million in fees. (Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan handled the bulk of the FHFA cases, which led to a combined $19 billion in settlements.)

Kasowitz also has some intra-government dispute experience in New York state. In 2013, he represented the New York Assembly in fighting subpoenas from the Moreland Commission, a panel appointed by New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo to investigate public corruption. State lawmakers claimed the commission’s subpoenas were unconstitutionally overbroad and designed to harass and intimidate them.

—Additional reporting by Christine Simmons

Scott Flaherty can be reached at sflaherty@alm.com. On Twitter: @sflaherty18.