Dan Webb talked a dean at Loyola University into letting him start law school a year early, an unheard-of feat. He still doesn't have an undergraduate degree.
The historic trial of former Gov. George Ryan promises to be an epic courtroom battle, lasting four months and pitting Webb and Genson, arguably Chicago's two most sought-after courtroom lawyers, against Collins, a star federal prosecutor.
While they share much in common--tireless devotion to their work, attention to detail and an ability to connect with jurors--their styles in the courtroom are starkly different.
And style could matter a great deal in a sprawling case like the Ryan trial, where jurors face a daunting array of facts. The lawyer who can grab and keep their attention, while earning their trust, could have a decisive advantage, while a less likable attorney faces an uphill battle.
Webb, Ryan's lead lawyer, is the attorney of choice for many of America's major corporations--a polished, methodical questioner who is legendary for being a quick study and meticulous in his trial preparation.
Genson, who represents co-defendant Lawrence Warner, brings a flair for the dramatic, relying on instinct, experience and emotion in the courtroom, playing a charming rascal for jurors.
Collins, who has led the Operation Safe Road probe to spectacular success, is a straight-forward and serious prosecutor who employs a just-the-facts approach in court, scoring high on credibility with jurors.
"It's a fascinating contrast in styles," said Ronald Safer, a former federal prosecutor now in private practice. "Genson is the ultimate showman, Webb the ultimate tactician and Collins an exhaustive investigator and careful prosecutor."
Opening statements are expected to take place by mid-week. Ryan and businessman Warner are on trial on charges the former governor took cash, gifts and vacations for himself and relatives in return for steering state contracts and leases to Warner and other friends.
3,000 billable hours
A former U.S. attorney who spearheaded the groundbreaking Operation Greylord probe of judicial corruption in the 1980s, Webb turned 60 earlier this month, but he had completely forgotten the milestone until a daughter reminded him.
In an interview, Webb insisted he has an active family and social life--when he isn't preparing for or on a trial.
Those moments can be rare, though, for the Winston & Strawn partner with a lucrative national practice, a lawyer who often approaches a staggering 3,000 billable hours a year.
Just three months ago Webb finished an 8-month trial in Washington, D.C., leading the tobacco industry in a multibillion-dollar battle with the Justice Department. Almost immediately after, he began preparation for the Ryan trial.
Attorney Mark Rotert, a former Webb partner, recalled one exhausting workday in which he and Webb toiled for 16 hours. After returning to a hotel, Rotert invited Webb for a beer to unwind, but Webb begged off. He went jogging. It was after 11 p.m.
In preparing for trials, Webb labors countless hours pondering every possible question, as well as the answers it would elicit, honing his examination until it is "so precise there's no way a witness can play dodgeball with him," Rotert said.
"The trick is to get through a mass of detail and figure out how to explain it to a jury, consistent with the facts, and in a way that will make sense," Webb said.