The Townie

Bill Kayatta gets a rush from doing national litigation in his hometown

Published in 2007 New England Super Lawyers — November 2007

When Bill Kayatta left Portland in 1972 for college and Harvard Law School, he never thought he’d come back. But a 1979 judicial clerkship under Judge Frank Coffin brought Kayatta home. So close to home, actually, that he now works from an office overlooking his old high school.

“I saw a lot of cases in the 1st Circuit and got a sense that you could actually get more interesting, hands-on experience in Maine than in a big-city firm,” says Kayatta, who had done summer internships in Boston and New York. 

He took his job with Pierce Atwood to work with now-of counsel attorney Ralph Lancaster, whom Kayatta calls “one of the best litigators in the country. The best way you learn is by apprenticing with someone who is really good.” Kayatta has learned well. Over the past 27 years, he’s lost only two of two dozen highly complex trials––and one of those losses was overturned on appeal.  

Kayatta has some big clients: electric utilities, the state of California, Unum Life Insurance Company. But he also represents the little guy––often pro bono––such as mentally disabled minors hoping for Medicaid reimbursement of the costs of in-home care. One thing all his cases have in common is that “virtually every complex case reduces itself to a few linchpin issues,” he says, “so the earlier you can identify those, the better.”

But all that preparation is merely the lead-up to the fun part. “Any time I’m standing up in a courtroom arguing to a jury or judge, it’s a rush,” Kayatta says. “I had as much fun arguing to a jury in my very first case, a police brutality case, as I did arguing to the U.S. Supreme Court in my ERISA case. To be on your feet, advocating a position, arguing the law and facts, reacting to changes on the fly, that’s fun. 

“And I think if you don’t find that fun, you probably shouldn’t be litigating.”  

Having that kind of good time from a hometown office is even better. “Portland is a wonderful example of the opportunities of technology and globalization,” he says. “It’s quite amazing, to live in a beautiful place like Maine, in a wonderful place to raise kids––I drive in with no traffic––and have a practice that takes me all over the country. When I was a child, Maine was at the end of a railroad line, but there’s no end to an Internet line. It has exceeded what I ever thought was possible.”  

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