Most law firms would consider it noteworthy if just one of their cases became a front-page story.
But for Schnader Harrison Segal & Lewis, the Center City law firm, that has happened three times in recent months. Given the notoriety of the matters - all are criminal cases - they likely will remain in the public eye for some time.
Schnader's lawyers have gone to bat for former U.S. Rep. Chaka Fattah, who is expected to appeal his conviction in June on federal corruption charges; former Pennsylvania State University president Graham Spanier, who is fending off criminal charges that he failed to go to the police with evidence that former assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky had sexually assaulted a minor; and comedian Bill Cosby, who is facing sexual-assault charges in Montgomery County.
Each case is or soon will be before an appellate panel, one of the firm's legal sweet spots.
"It is unusual" to have so many prominent cases at once, says Tim Lewis, an appellate lawyer at Schnader who is involved in the Spanier representation. "Now it just happens that we have become a significant player in these significant criminal cases, and that is directly attributable to the fact that we have built a stable of lawyers who have experience from both the prosecution side of the table as well as the defense side."
In January, the firm won a major decision for Spanier when Pennsylvania's Superior Court, one of two mid-level appeals courts in the state, threw out obstruction of justice, conspiracy, and perjury charges against him.
The court, which let stand charges of child endangerment and failure to report suspected child abuse, found that grand jury testimony by former Penn State general counsel Cynthia Baldwin on her conversations with Spanier breached attorney-client privilege.
Schnader also has pursued appeals on behalf of Cosby, who was charged in December with sexually assaulting a former Temple University athletic administrator in his Cheltenham mansion in 2004.
Working with global firm Quinn Emanuel, Schnader sought unsuccessfully to have the charges against Cosby thrown out based on a non-prosecution agreement the entertainer says he forged with former Montgomery County District Attorney Bruce Castor Jr. after an earlier criminal probe. The firm is now pursuing another appeal, asserting that Cosby's accuser, Andrea Constand, should have been compelled to testify at a hearing to determine whether the charges should be dropped.
In the Fattah matter, Schnader lawyers represented the former congressman during his criminal trial in U.S. District Court in Philadelphia, and likely will be filing an appeal now that he has been convicted on charges he used federal grant money to pay off a $1 million campaign loan, among other violations.
"We've always shined in litigation with first-rate lawyers who actually take cases to trial," said the firm's chairman, David Smith.
The law firm's recent run of good fortune stands in sharp contrast to its near-death experience in 2001 and 2002, when two troubled mergers nearly caused it to collapse. Profits recovered, and the firm made it through only because partners agreed to substantial pay cuts.
Schnader is one of the oldest firms in Philadelphia, and has long had a stable of top corporate clients. But the 150-lawyer firm has not grown like others in its peer group: The average large firm in Philadelphia now has between 500 and 700 lawyers, with a handful topping out at 1,000 or more.
Smith said the firm's calling card is high-end litigation across a range of industries and subject areas, along with a seasoned appellate team. That includes Lewis, who was a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit in Philadelphia from 1992 to 1999, and Nancy Winkelman, whose appellate practice encompasses both state and federal courts and who currently is president of the American Academy of Appellate Lawyers.
The appellate practice is chaired by Bruce Merenstein, who worked for a decade in the labor-relations field before studying law at the University of Pennsylvania.
Word of mouth and relationships are key to getting work like the Cosby, Fattah, and Spanier representations, the firm says. Then, of course, it is up to the lawyers to deliver. For clients like these, the consequences couldn't be more consequential.