The American Lawyer: O’Melveny’s Dan Petrocelli Sees a ‘Hellaciously Busy’ Year Ahead for Big Law Litigators

February 23, 2021

O’Melveny Trial Practice chair Dan Petrocelli, who was recently named The American Lawyer’s Litigator of the Year, spoke with AmLaw about what he anticipates when trials resume, his eagerness to resume in-person proceedings, and what the pandemic has meant for litigation.

Despite the distance and not seeing the inside of a courtroom in a year, Petrocelli said he has never been in closer communication with clients. “We’re no longer wasting time in airports and hotel rooms, so there’s a lot of productivity that’s picked up, and a lot of that has had to do with dealing directly with clients and strengthening ties and relationships in a way that frankly had never happened before,” he added.

While Petrocelli said he misses being in the courtroom and personal interaction—whether chatting in the hallway of the courthouse, arguing in person to a judge or a jury, or talking to opposing counsel—he does think some remote proceedings will continue post-COVID. “There’s a place for virtual mediations in particular” he said. “You don’t even need to select a mediator in your city, so you can have a larger selection of people to work on your cases. You can avoid all the travel and expense of having to go someplace and be holed up in an office all day and night.”

As for when he expects to be back in the courtroom, he predicted the second half of this year. “Judges and court systems have been working furiously to figure out how to slot in all these postponements and land all these airplanes that are coming in at one time” Petrocelli said. “I think it’s going to be a hellaciously busy year as we deal with this backlog.”

As for recent litigation that is representative of where litigation is headed, Petrocelli sees the convergence of the media, entertainment, and technology industries continuing to create legal issues. “That was on center stage in our antitrust trial for AT&T and Time Warner,” he said. “We’re seeing a lot of legal issues arising out of transactions for the distribution of digital content. There are a lot of emerging issues having to do with how technology is interacting with media and entertainment.”

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