About Phillip J. Kessler


From Philip's interview for the Masters of the Courtroom series on ReelLawyers.com.

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Well, the first thing it takes if the client is looking for someone to hire, is someone who has significant trial experience already. We all had our first case, and I remember those very vividly. I did much better than I thought I would do, but I wouldn't want to see a client entrust a significant trial to someone who's just beginning, any more than you would want to have heart surgery with a surgeon who's trying it for the first time. Not a good idea. You want someone who has a lot of energy. Why? Because there are aspects of trial work long before you get to trial and certainly through the time of trial that are hellishly difficult physically. You need to be in good shape, and you need to have a lot of energy. You need to be committed; you need to be tenacious.

And at the same time, as you are committed and tenaciously trying to achieve your client's goals, the great trial lawyers are always mindful of the rules of ethics and will not cross the line. Clients don't understand that in many cases; sophisticated clients do. Those that aren't so sophisticated don't worry about that. Great trial lawyers do worry about that. The rules of ethics, honesty, integrity, professionalism make a huge difference.

He or she is someone that the listener feels they can count on. They're going to tell the truth; they're going to be persuasive. I can rely on what this lawyer is saying. The great trial lawyer is a great analyst. The great trial lawyer can spot the strengths and weaknesses of a case after studying it enough to know enough to be able to do that and to be able to position the case so that it can be won or, in the worst case, not lost as badly as it might be because the strengths and weaknesses have been accounted for realistically, and that's all been discussed with the client long before a jury is picked, long before an opening statement, long before there's a trial.

The great trial lawyer is a great storyteller. The great trial lawyer knows how to make—I do business in commercial cases and intellectual property cases, those can be dull. They don't have to be dull. Drama can be injected into any case. You tell a story, non-fiction, not fiction, but you can make it interesting. You can breathe life into it, and a great trial lawyer knows how to do that, to captivate the audience.

The great trial lawyer has presence, personal presence in the courtroom. The best trial lawyers, without being offensive, take over the courtroom when they stand. They're always prepared; they tell the judge where we left off before the last recess was taken. There's just a very natural, easy way to do those kinds of things, to take command of the courtroom without being, at any time, overbearing.

The great trial lawyer, as I mentioned earlier, is empathetic. He or she can feel what the judge is feeling, what witnesses are feeling, what the jury is feeling, and just naturally connects with them and shapes his or her presentation in court.

The great trial lawyer is engaged in one of the most people-centric activities on the planet, so he or she can relate to judges, to juries, to witnesses, to opposing counsel, and especially to the most difficult witnesses who have to be cross-examined. And that gets to cross-examination. It has been called by many people the greatest engine for truth that was ever invented, and it is true. A great trial lawyer cannot be a great trial lawyer without being a great cross-examiner. It makes the difference between winning and losing, between success and failure.

The great trial lawyer is able to manage his or her own client. Clients come with their own personalities, their own baggage. We all have baggage, and the great trial lawyer needs to spot where potential problems are in light of his client's psychology or her client's psychology and manages that, works with the client so the client will be the best possible witness that the client is capable of being.

The great trial lawyer comes under pressure. He manages his anger, if he ever gets angry, nobody knows it. He manages his anxiety or she does. If he feels moments of anxiety, the great trial lawyer, under pressure, always knows what the path forward is, always never loses sight of where the path is going to take him, even as he or she remains flexible so that you can roll with the surprises of trial, and there always are surprises.

Lastly, the greatest trial lawyers are genuinely compassionate people, and they respect people without exception.

Philip J. Kessler, co-founding partner of Kessler & Green LLP, has decades of experience in successfully handling and trying a wide range of important, high stakes commercial and intellectual property cases throughout the United States in the federal and state trial and appellate courts and in arbitration.

Phil’s practice focuses on the prosecution and defense of claims for and against publicly held and private corporations, partnerships, other business entities, and individuals. His extensive experience includes the litigation of antitrust claims, audit and actuarial malpractice,contract claims, corporate control contests, fiduciary claims, intra-corporate and intra-partnership disputes, probate and trust disputes, securities and other fraud claims and unfair competition claims. Phil’s intellectual property experience includes copyright, trademark, trade secrets, and patent infringement litigation.

Phil has been recognized repeatedly for trial excellence. He is a Fellow of the American College of Trial Lawyers where he served on its Board of Regents and Executive Committee and a Fellow of the International Academy of Trial Lawyers. He is also a former Fellow of the International Society of Barristers. He has been consistently recognized by Best Lawyers, Super Lawyers, Chambers (Band One), and other rating services.

Chambers’ evaluations of his work have included the following:

  • 2019 – “Philip Kessler is highly regarded for his expert handling of a wide range of commercial and intellectual property disputes. He is skilled in acting for a range of clients including individuals, private corporations and partnerships.”
  • 2017 – “Philip Kessler has over four decades’ experience representing individuals and businesses, both public and private, in a range of IP litigation. He also acts on trade secret cases…. Clients say: ‘He’s very thorough, very efficient, knows our business intimately, and provides GC-level guidance.'”
  • 2016 – “[Philip’s] ‘performance has been outstanding,’ say sources, who go on to note that he is ‘very proactive, thorough and timely in his responsiveness.’ He has over four decades of experience in handling a range of copyright and trademark matters, as well as private and public company contract disputes.”
  • 2015 – “[Philip] ‘provides outstanding advice’ and is ‘very thorough and adept when it comes to exploring all legal matters.’ He is recoginzed for his courtroom expertise and is well versed in a wide variety of disputes, including IP, antitrust and securities fraud.”

Phil is a Life Member of the Judicial Conference of the US Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit; a Life Fellow of the American and Michigan State Bar Foundations; Trustee, Executive Committee member and Secretary of the US Supreme Court Historical Society; a Development Board member of the Bingham Centre for the Rule of Law in London, England and US Chair and President of the Bingham Centre’s US affiliate, The International Rule of Law Project, Inc. and a board member of the Roth Institute for the Study of Contemporary Antisemitism and Racism, part of Tel Aviv University.

Phil is a member of the Bars of Michigan and New York and has been admitted to practice before numerous federal trial and appellate courts, including the United States Supreme Court.


  • Fellow of the American College of Trial Lawyers
  • Fellow of the International Academy of Trial Lawyers
  • Former Fellow of the International Society of Barristers
  • Best Lawyers
  • Super Lawyers


University of California, Berkeley, School of Law, J.D.

University of Michigan, A.B. (with distinction)

Representative Cases

  • Acted as counsel in high-profile, high-risk international arbitrations, working with a prominent barrister at 12 Gray’s Inn Square in London
  • Represented a critical parts supplier as plaintiff in federal court litigation against a Fortune 100 company involving claims of breach of a long-term requirements contract in a one-month trial; obtained an eight-figure jury verdict for the client; affirmed on appeal
  • Represented a privately held company as claimant in an arbitration against an international actuarial firm for malpractice and obtained a substantial award for the client
  • Defended in federal court a Fortune 100 company in a suit brought by a competitor for patent infringement in a three-week jury trial with a nominal verdict for the plaintiff
  • Defended the University of Michigan through the United States Supreme Court as co-counsel in landmark federal court cases challenging the University’s affirmative action policies in student admissions
  • Defended the American subsidiary of among China’s largest privately held companies in an automotive supplier dispute in federal court alleging breach of contract and related claims; summary judgment for the defendant; affirmed on appeal
  • Obtained a substantial verdict for a public company automotive supplier as plaintiff in a federal court trial for breach of contract; affirmed on appeal
  • Successfully defended through trial a private corporation in former executives’ federal court suit alleging breach of a deferred executive compensation plan
  • Successfully defended a national health care certifying board in a federal court jury trial alleging antitrust and federal false advertising claims, resulting in one of the leading Sixth Circuit decisions on false advertising law
  • Successfully defended a major regional hospital system in a federal antitrust suit alleging a conspiracy among a hospital and physicians to exclude a cardiologist from the hospital staff; affirmed on appeal
  • Successfully defended a public company semiconductor manufacturer in a federal trademark infringement action; affirmed on appeal
  • Successfully defended a prominent California real estate developer in a complex partnership dispute concerning one of San Francisco’s most important luxury residential high-rise projects

Recent Programs

University of Michigan Affirmative Action Cases: A Retrospective
University College London
February 5, 2016

Does the Use of Comparative Law Compromise the Rule of Law
New York City Bar Association – New York, NY
June 16, 2016
Introducer: Justice Stephen Breyer, Lord Jonathan Sumption (UK Supreme Court) and Professor Sir Jeffrey Jowell Q.C.

A Conversation with Ndaba Mandela: Implementing the Sustainable Development Goals in Africa
New York City Bar Association, New York, NY
September 22, 2016

Considerations of Impact on Disputes of Brexit
International Law and Business Law Sections of the Michigan State Bar Association
November 11, 2016

Commercial Implications of Brexit
World Trade Week Forum & Reception, SUNY Global and Greater New York Chamber of Commerce, New York, NY
May 18, 2017

The Importance of Judicial Independence to the Rule of Law
New York City Bar Association, New York, NY
June 14, 2018
Introducer: Justice Stephen Breyer, Chief Justice Beverly McLachlin (retired, Supreme Court of Canada), Lord John Dyson, UK Master of the Rolls (retired) and Murray Hunt, Director, Bingham Centre for the Rule of Law

Forecast for a Brexit Agreement
International Law Section of the Michigan State Bar Association
December 2, 2020

Prior Academic Appointments

Detroit College of Law (now Michigan State University School of Law), Contract and Business Litigation, Associate Professor

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