Jonathan F. Cohn (courtesy photo).

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After fourteen years as a partner at Sidley Austin, where he handled complex commercial and appellate litigation, Jonathan Cohn is leaving Biglaw. Where is he heading? Like so many other top litigators, he’s joining a boutique—Lehotsky Keller, which will become Lehotsky Keller Cohn (LKC) after Cohn joins on Monday, May 1.

“I couldn’t pass up the chance to work with my close friends and poker buddies on building a litigation powerhouse,” Cohn told me when I spoke yesterday with him and his new partners, Steven Lehotsky and Scott Keller. The three explored the possibility of Cohn joining when the firm launched two years ago, and Cohn was interested—but he was living in Arkansas back then, so the timing wasn’t right.1

Now that he’s back in D.C., Cohn jumped at the opportunity—and Lehotsky and Keller couldn’t pass on the chance to bring Cohn aboard. “It made perfect sense to add Jon’s tremendous talent to what we’ve already built,” Keller said.

Founded in February 2021, Lehotsky Keller has grown rapidly over the past two years. Cohn is the firm’s twentieth lawyer, and he fits in perfectly with his colleagues. All of the firm’s attorneys clerked—six of them for the Supreme Court, including Cohn (a former Thomas clerk). Many LKC lawyers completed high-level government service—as did Cohn, who served as the Deputy Assistant Attorney General for Civil Appellate at the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ). Many LKC lawyers, including its three former state solicitors general, have serious appellate chops—as does Cohn, who has personally argued cases before the U.S. Supreme Court and almost all the federal circuit courts, including six en banc appeals in the Second, Sixth, Ninth and D.C. Circuits (winning all six of them).

But Cohn is not just an appellate lawyer. He has extensive trial-court experience, including work on complex, high-stakes matters like class actions and multidistrict litigation, which will stand him in good stead at his new firm. Given the pedigrees of its founders—Lehotsky, a former Scalia clerk, and Scott Keller, a former Kennedy clerk—I assumed when it launched that their firm was aiming to be a top-flight appellate and Supreme Court boutique. But that actually wasn’t quite the vision of the founders, and it’s not what the firm is today.

“Our goal for the firm was to combine Steve’s experience in the boardroom with my experience in the courtroom,” Keller said. They hoped to land major clients, by leveraging the relationships Lehotsky developed with chief legal officers and general counsel as head of litigation at the Chamber of Commerce, and to deliver superb results for those clients, by drawing upon the litigation talent and expertise of Keller, a former Texas Solicitor General, and his colleagues.

And that vision has been realized, Lehotsky told me—as reflected in, for example, the firm’s big win in NFIB v. Ohio. Keller argued that case in the Supreme Court, which stayed the Covid-19 vaccine mandate for large employers issued by the Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA). “The OSHA case was proof of concept for the firm,” Lehotsky said. “It showed we could handle important cases for the American business community and get great results for our clients.”

And although the OSHA case culminated in a Supreme Court victory, the firm’s portfolio is much broader, with appellate litigation constituting only about a third of the firm’s work. Trial work accounts for another third—and LKC lawyers have 18 bench and eight jury trials under their belts. Strategic advising—sometimes in anticipation of filing litigation, sometimes in anticipation of avoiding it—makes up the last third.

“We want sophisticated clients with big problems to look to us as problem solvers,” Keller explained. “We’re not lawyers who just swoop in at the end to do a one-off appeal. Our clients are looking for top-notch litigators who can apply our talents throughout all stages of the problems our clients face, whether that’s advising in the background, interfacing with state AGs, mapping out litigation strategy, trying cases, or arguing appeals.”

“I’ve been pleasantly surprised by how we’ve been able to come into large, sophisticated cases at earlier stages,” he added. “As an appellate lawyer, it’s great to set up your own record. It’s kind of like in the NBA, where you have power forwards expected to shoot the three now. Whether it’s trial or appellate work, the new normal is that clients want full-service litigators to advise them throughout the entire case.”

As a 20-lawyer boutique, Lehotsky Keller Cohn can’t do certain things, like throw 20 lawyers into document review. But the firm frequently partners with other firms, and these firms can handle massive discovery projects while LKC focuses on critical motions and settlement strategy. Said Lehotsky, “We know our limits, and we pride ourselves on playing well in the sandbox with other firms.”

Is the firm’s diverse docket a sign that the long-term trend of appellate specialization might be reversing? “I don’t think the trend toward specialization is diminishing,” Lehotsky said. “Instead, we are specializing in a particular part of the marketplace: we want to be known as a nationwide, business-focused litigation boutique, rather than a purely trial or purely appellate boutique.”

“Our goal is not to take on as many cert petitions as possible, mine for circuit splits, or maximize the number of cases we have in the U.S. Supreme Court,” said Keller. But in the course of representing its clients, LKC will handle landmark cases in the Court—such as the challenge to Texas’s social-media law (H.B. 20), which SCOTUS will almost certainly hear—“and when it comes to these cases, we absolutely have the experience and expertise to knock them out of the park.”

Like many boutiques, the firm enjoys greater flexibility on fee arrangements compared to most of Biglaw, and it regularly employs fixed, flat, and success fees. It still has a sizable docket of billable-hour work, and its hourly rates are below those of many large firms. But that’s not the main draw of LKC, Keller explained: “It’s not that our fees are incredibly lower; it’s about offering an excellent product.”

That said, clients appreciate the firm’s flexibility on fees—which might explain why almost all of Cohn’s clients are following him to Lehotsky Keller Cohn. As a smaller firm with less infrastructure and less office space than the typical Biglaw firm, the firm has lower overhead. And as a litigation-focused firm, LKC doesn’t face pressure to keep hourly rates in sync with the steep rates of transactional practices.

So although he had a wonderful experience at Sidley, one of Biglaw’s best firms, Jonathan Cohn is excited about going “all in” on the boutique model—which raised one last question I posed to the three name partners of Lehotsky Keller Cohn.

Who’s the best poker player? Said Cohn, “I think it’s safe to say that we’re all better lawyers than poker players.”

[UPDATE (3:42 p.m.): This post has been updated to fix incorrect references to (1) the location of LKC’s offices and (2) the number of trials completed by its lawyers.]


Cohn is married to Rachel Brand, Chief Legal Officer of Walmart, and they were based out of Bentonville, Arkansas, at the time. Scott Keller is also part of a legal power couple: he’s married to lawyer turned legal commentator Sarah Isgur, a senior editor of The Dispatch and host of the Advisory Opinions podcast (so if you’ve been wondering about who the “husband of the pod” might be, it’s Keller).

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