Asha Spencer – Partner, Bartlit Beck LLP
Asha Spencer is an experienced trial lawyer based in Bartlit Beck’s Chicago office, with a practice that encompasses general commercial disputes, intellectual property, class actions, product liability, and mass torts. Representative clients include Trinity Industries, Bayer, Walgreens, and Whirlpool. Asha was recently selected as a 2018 40 under 40 lawyer by the Chicago Law Bulletin, was selected as a 2017 Fellow for Leadership Greater Chicago, and serves on the University of Chicago Law School Council. She received her J.D. with high honors from the University of Chicago Law School before joining the firm in 2010.
Tell us a bit about your practice/company.
Bartlit Beck is a trial boutique that represents clients in high-stakes commercial litigation in cases all across the country, including in arbitrations, mediations, and matters in state and federal courts. Our clients span a broad spectrum of industries, including aerospace, agriculture, automotive, consumer products, financial services, healthcare, higher education, insurance, oil and gas, real estate, pharmaceuticals, and technology.
Clients hire us for their most important matters because of the results we consistently deliver. Bartlit Beck has been credited by the national legal press with an “unparalleled record of success” (National Law Journal) and “unmatched results” (The American Lawyer). Our successes include trial victories, wins on motions and appeals, and leveraging our trial readiness and reputation to obtain creative settlements. We achieve this success because of the depth of our experience, the focus and talent of our team, and non-hourly fee arrangements that align our clients’ interests with our own.
How has your business/practice changed during the pandemic?
Before the pandemic, we traveled a lot – for depositions, meetings with experts and other witnesses, and trial. I was actually living out of a trial hotel in West Palm Beach preparing to open a case when the court canceled our trial date and we all moved home. Now, I haven’t been on a plane since March 12! It has been a fun challenge to adapt our practice – in which person-to-person communication is hugely important – to a virtual setting. Since the pandemic, I have deposed experts via Zoom, prepared key company witnesses for deposition remotely, and participated in a virtual mock trial. All things that in the past I could not have fathomed doing via video. While I think Zoom meetings are no substitute for the connection and camaraderie you can establish in-person, I have really enjoyed the challenge of learning how to establish rapport, build a relationship, and be an effective advocate in remote settings.
What is one habit/practice that you’ve adopted during the pandemic that you plan on keeping?
I am lucky to live near the Chicago lakefront, and I have shifted a lot of my social gatherings and even some work meetings away from coffee shops and restaurants to long walks along the lake. It has been a wonderful way to enjoy the beautiful city we live in and sneak in some exercise while staying connected with friends and respecting our new social-distancing practices. Once the pandemic ends, I hope to continue this form of socializing (though the Chicago winter may pose an insurmountable challenge!).
Share with us a career highlight of yours.
My favorite part of the job is going to trial, and trial wins are hard to beat. In LoggerHead v. Sears, a 2017 patent jury trial, we represented the plaintiff, Loggerhead. I directed LoggerHead’s damages expert and cross-examined the defendants’ patent attorney (who defendants put on to defend against a claim of willful infringement). Our case was successful: the jury returned a verdict of infringement for Loggerhead and awarded damages near the top end of the range my damages expert presented at trial. The jury also returned a finding of willful infringement in Loggerhead’s favor, entitling my client to treble damages.
It was a wonderful experience, both because of the trial win and because I was working with a great team of lawyers who were incredibly collaborative and supportive. It was also my first time working on a trial team that had more women than men (four women to two men), and every single member of our team had the opportunity to present a witness, argue motions, and stand up during the course of the trial.
What is the most rewarding part of your practice/business?
One of the things I love most about being a trial lawyer is that the job requires you to dive deep into the subject matter of your cases, whatever that may be.
Over the course of my career I have had to learn how solar cells are made; the chemical composition of pharmaceutical treatments for Hepatitis-C, HIV drugs, and birth control pills; the software programs behind electronic trading platforms; and how highway safety products are designed (to name just a few). Not only did I have to learn these areas well enough to understand my case, but I also had to be able to distill that understanding to judges and juries.
I have also gotten to meet a fascinating array of people along the way. I have deposed an MIT educated astrophysicist, learned about strokes from a neurologist at Yale Medical School, and talked to the scientists developing our renewable energy infrastructure and breakthrough medical treatments. It has been quite an adventure.
I love being in a job that forces you to develop a command of such a diverse and frankly random range of topics. It keeps the work fresh, engaging, and challenging.
What sets you apart from your competitors?
Our lawyers have a great deal of trial experience. Approximately 25% of Bartlit Beck’s cases go to trial—reportedly two to three times the percentage of many of our peer firms. Approximately half of our lawyers have first-chaired trials while at the firm, and nearly 80% of our lawyers had substantive roles on a team that went to trial in the last year. With only a little hyperbole, The American Lawyer reported that Bartlit Beck has a “near monopoly on lawyers with trial experience.”
We also have a unique fee model that aligns our clients’ interests with our own. Our fee structure is designed to eliminate the usual and often conflicting incentives present in the traditional hourly billing model. Our fees do not depend on how long we can spend on a task or how many lawyers we can keep busy—they depend on our success. We are willing to share the risk with our clients and bet on our ability to deliver success because we know our model works.
How do you create opportunities for women and young attorneys in your practice/business/firm?
At Bartlit Beck, we invest heavily in training our lawyers with the intention that they will spend their careers here (we have virtually zero attrition, compared to an annual rate at our competitors as high as 25%). Because we promote from within, rather than hiring lateral partners, the development of our junior attorneys is critical to the long-term success of our firm. As a result, from an attorney’s first day, we are focused on providing them with opportunities to play a substantive role at trial, take and defend depositions, and participate meaningfully in the strategic development of their cases.
Our commitment to creating opportunities for women and young attorneys has paid off. In the past five years, almost half of our new partners have been women, and in the last year, nearly 80% of our lawyers had substantive roles on a team that went to trial.
When this pandemic is behind us, where do you most want to travel?
Most of my family lives in Australia, including all of my siblings and too many cousins to count! As soon as the pandemic is behind us, I will be catching the first flight home to meet my twin sister’s first baby, celebrate various milestone birthdays I have missed, and enjoy some fishing, barbecuing, and Australian shiraz with my family. I can’t wait until the borders between us are open again.