Table: Giant Killers

Some advice from top litigators who have recently won big cases for small companies:

ATTORNEY: Raymond P. Niro Sr.

FIRM: Niro, Scavone, Haller & Niro in Chicago

BIG WIN: A $57 million verdict in 1997 for an inventor who persuaded a jury that his fuel-injected engine design was taken by Polaris Industries Inc. An appeal cut the award by $12 million but upheld 10 years of interest. The total take: more than $75 million.

ADVICE: Before you let prospective partners see any proprietary material--patented processes, trade secrets, business plans--have them sign a nondisclosure agreement. Apply for patents, copyrights, and trademarks as soon as possible.

ATTORNEY: William C. Carmody

FIRM: Susman Godfrey in Dallas

BIG WIN: A $61 million verdict last year for a Texas contractor who charged that Chevron Corp. didn't disclose the toxic contamination of a construction site. The case was ultimately settled for an undisclosed amount.

ADVICE: Realize that suing a major corporation is like taking on a second job. To paraphrase Sun Tzu in The Art of War, the only way little armies can beat big ones is by outthinking and outworking them.

ATTORNEY: E. Robert Wallach

FIRM: Sole practitioner in San Francisco

BIG WIN: A $41.8 million verdict last year for two San Francisco architects who claimed a real estate subsidiary of Citigroup had mishandled financing for their rehab project in neighboring Oakland.

ADVICE: Don't be a bystander. Help your lawyer understand the facts as well as you do. Help gather documents, attend depositions, feed questions, and catch misrepresentations.

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