December 01, 2019

‘When defendants see us on the other side, they know they’re in for a hard-fought and, if necessary, drawn-out battle.’

Welcome to an occasional spin-off of our “Litigation Leaders” series, “Across the ‘v,’” featuring the leaders of top plaintiffs-side firms.

We begin with Steven Toll, the managing partner of Cohen Milstein Sellers & Toll, who also serves as co-chair of the firm’s securities litigation and investor protection practice group.

Lit Daily: Tell us a little about yourself—beyond what’s in your law firm bio.

Steven Toll: As a law student, I never imagined I would become a plaintiffs’ securities class action lawyer—in part, because I was not familiar with class actions. I started out with the Federal Home Loan Bank Board, representing the government in cases brought against savings and loan executives. Eventually, I decided I wanted to move into private practice, and I was hired by Cohen Milstein, a firm that focused almost exclusively on plaintiffs’ class actions, which was starting to blossom at that time.

The firm has grown a great deal over my 40 years, but throughout it all, I’ve been able to do what I love: protect citizens, employees, shareholders, and small businesses against corporate malfeasance.

Outside of my role with Cohen Milstein, I enjoy being active in politics and supporting Democratic candidates nationwide and in Virginia, where I reside with my wife. I’ve also developed an interest in the entertainment field, and been involved with several movie and theater projects, including Hamilton, a Broadway production with Sting called “The Last Ship,” and a powerful documentary about the 1921 Tulsa race riot. I was also one of the executive producers of the Broadway play, and now Netflix movie, “American Son,” starring Kerry Washington. At the community-level, I’m passionate about basketball and charitable work with Children’s National Hospital in Washington, D.C.

What’s the history of your firm? When/ why/ how did it come into existence?

Cohen Milstein—at least as it’s known today—began in 1986 following the spin-off of the D.C. office of a leading Philadelphia-based firm [Kohn, Savett, Marion & Graf]. At the time it was me, Jerry Cohen and Herb Milstein, along with a handful of other lawyers. In 1997, we brought on Joe Sellers to lead our Civil Rights & Employment practice, which has brought some of the most important civil rights and employment cases in the country.

In 1986, the firm had nine people in one office. Today, we’re more than 10 times that size, with six offices across the country. We didn’t plan to scale in this way; our plan was simply to pursue challenging work and provide the best legal services possible. I believe our growth speaks to the character of the lawyers in the firm—people heard about our work and approached us to take on increasingly bigger and more complex cases. It’s our reputation that’s driven us forward and allowed us to grow opportunistically.

How big is the firm and where are most of your litigators concentrated geographically?

We have over 100 lawyers in six offices across the country: Chicago, New York, Palm Beach Gardens (Florida), Philadelphia, Raleigh and Washington, D.C. Roughly two-thirds of our lawyers are based in our D.C. office.

What areas of litigation do you specialize in? Has this evolved over the years?

One of the attributes we believe distinguishes us is the breadth of our expertise. We’ve long been known for our work in antitrust, civil rights and employment, and securities litigation. We’ve also built a stellar reputation in areas such as complex torts, where we’re serving as co-lead counsel in the Flint Water Crisis litigation; consumer protection, where we’ve played a leading role in the Anthem Data Breach litigation and a number of other high-profile privacy-related class actions; ERISA, where one of our cases—Thole v. U.S. Bank—is currently before the Supreme Court; and public client, where we represent several states and have played a leading role in the opioids litigation.

What do you see as hallmarks of your firm’s litigators? What makes you different?

I believe we’re recognized as formidable, but respectful litigators. We’ve built a reputation for taking on—and defeating—powerful opponents. The judge in one of our recent cases summed it up this way: “[P]eople who run corporations are generally deterred by the fact that there are the … Cohen Milsteins out there.”

Though we litigate vigorously, we do so professionally—an approach that, I believe, is recognized and appreciated by both opposing counsel and the bench.

Something else that sets us apart is our commitment to the ‘greater good.’ One of my favorite quotes about the firm—and one that I think rings true—describes us as, “The most effective law firm in the United States for lawsuits with a strong social and political component.” People join—and elect to spend their careers at—Cohen Milstein because we are committed to furthering causes greater than ourselves.

. . .

Looking ahead, what’s on your plate? Big cases? Plans to build or expand?

One case to watch is Public School Teachers’ Pension and Retirement Fund of Chicago v. Bank of America Corporation. After having filed for class certification in February, we completed fact discovery—including over 130 depositions—in a groundbreaking class action lawsuit against 11 “dealer defendant” banks. 

Our complaint alleges that the banks—including Bank of America, J.P. Morgan Chase & Co, Citigroup, Goldman Sachs, and Credit Suisse among others—conspired to maintain a collusive and anti-competitive stranglehold over the multi-trillion-dollar interest rate swaps (IRS) market—an action that harms an untold number of investors in one of the world’s most important financial markets. 

We’re particularly proud of this case as, together with co-counsel, we developed it independently, without the assistance or benefit of any preceding government investigation or enforcement action.  

We also serve as co-lead counsel in two similar ground-breaking cases: one involving the U.S. treasuries market (Treasury Securities Auction Antitrust Litigation); the other involving the securities lending market (Iowa Public Employees Retirement System et al. v. Bank of America Corp.)

In addition, we are currently serving as co-lead counsel in several other high-profile data breach cases against Marriott International Inc. and Facebook.

The complete article can be accessed here.