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40 Lawyers under 40
Comments () | Published July 1, 2006

31. Lisa Banks, 38. Washington’s hottest young employment lawyer has made Wal-Mart and other “big box” retailers a target of sex- and disability-discrimination claims. A former appellate attorney at the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, Banks has been suing companies for violations of federal worker-protection laws since she was 28.

A native of Canton, Massachusetts, whose father worked for the Bay State Gas Company, Banks came to Washington after law school at the University of Denver to work for the EEOC. There she gained the attention of the Washington employment-law team of Lynne Bernabei and Debra Katz, who brought her into their firm, which was legendary for besting the pinstriped attorneys for such organizations as Toyota, National Public Radio, the Washington Post, and the Washington National Opera.

Now Banks and Katz have struck out on their own in new offices in Dupont Circle. It wasn’t the most convenient move for Banks, who for years lived with her Labradoodle, Rocky, on the same block as her old office. “I was one of the few people in town,” she says, “who could get through a whole day and never have to cross a street.”

32. Justin Antonipillai, 34. An Arnold & Porter partner at 32, he was born in Montreal but moved at age eight to California, where his mother worked in medical research at the University of Southern California. His memories of Canada? “It was cold,” he says.

Antonipillai was attending Cornell when an internship brought him to DC. Working as an investigator for the District’s Public Defender Service, he drove his 1988 Honda Accord through some of the District’s most dangerous neighborhoods. The experience led him to American University for law school.

He has kept his hand in criminal law, taking pro bono cases on individual rights to the Fourth US Circuit Court of Appeals. For paying clients, Antonipillai works mainly on securities matters. He married his next-door neighbor, Tara Owens, in 2000. They live with their daughter in Clarendon.

33. Johnine Barnes, 36. When Barnes was growing up in Steubenville, Ohio, she saw unexpected layoffs and poor working conditions for steelworkers like her father, a 42-year-veteran of Weirton Steel. She thought she could fight such injustices by going into politics and enrolled at Case Western Reserve University’s law school.

But she found she liked working behind the scenes better than making stump speeches, and Barnes is now the first black female partner in Washington at Baker Hostetler, one of the wealthiest national law firms. Her self-assurance has made her one of the most prized young employment attorneys in town. Her clients range from the government of Bermuda to ESPN television host Stephen A. Smith.

But her most important client is still her father, who lost his job after the Weirton mill was sold recently.

34. John R. Manthei, 38. Born to a lawyer and a sixth-grade teacher, Manthei grew up in suburban Chicago. While a student at Miami University in Ohio, he took an internship in Senator Robert Dole’s office. A postgraduation job as a legislative aide for Senator John Danforth convinced him that he wanted a law degree and a life in public policy.

Four years after University of Wisconsin law school, he was hired as majority counsel for the US House of Representatives Committee on Commerce, then moved to Latham & Watkins to build the firm’s Food and Drug Administration practice.

Manthei showed the dedication that’s marked his career when he took postgraduate courses in molecular biology so he could better communicate in the language of his clients.

35. Matthew Small, 33. Small is general counsel of Blackboard, the nation’s largest seller of education software and one of the most interesting companies based in Washington. It was founded in 1997 and went public in June 2004.

A native of Connecticut, Small had worked for a high-tech-oriented law firm in Boston that worked on venture-capital transactions. He has helped lead Blackboard’s takeover of privately owned Web­CT, which should establish Blackboard’s dominance in the field.

36. Nathan Daschle, 32. Word is that Daschle, the new general counsel to the Democratic Governors Association, would be on the fast track to legal stardom even if his father weren’t former Senate Democratic leader Tom Daschle. Besides that, the young Daschle didn’t have an ordinary childhood—he was written up as a nine-year-old for finding Vice President George Bush’s glasses at the Rayburn Building pool. His mother is Laurie Fulton, a top partner at Williams & Connolly.

A graduate of Harvard Law School, Daschle worked for the Natural Resources Defense Council before joining the litigation department of Covington & Burling. After trying just one case, which he won, Daschle left Covington last June to become general counsel and policy director of the governors group.

Working at the intersection of law and politics puts Daschle in a position to influence politics for some time. Republicans who worked hard to pitch his father out of office may not find comfort in the rise of another Daschle, who might prove equally formidable.

37. Catherine Stetson, 36. A graduate of Duke and of UVa law school, Cate Stetson grew up in Rockville and clerked for federal judge David Tatel. Then she took a job at Hogan & Hartson, where she worked with future chief justice John Roberts.

Stetson proved her value, working with Roberts on a landmark Supreme Court case, Smith v. Doe, which established the right of states to pass laws requiring the registration of sexual predators, the so-called Megan’s Law.

Stetson, whose father is a scientist and who herself studied chemistry, has begun litigating major patent cases, using her knowledge to make sense of an arcane legal corner. “Patent cases have their own language,” she says. “You have to translate them.” Nobody, her partners say, is doing it better than Stetson, who this winter may have set a record by arguing four appellate cases in 59 days. Speed is Stetson’s style. Each Sunday she tries to break her personal New York Times crossword-puzzle record of 24 minutes.

38. Craig Primis, 36. A graduate of Brown University and Harvard Law School, Primis grew up in New York. His father is a doctor, his mother a special-education teacher in Queens.

After law school Primis landed a clerkship with Virginia-based federal judge J. Michael Luttig, then clerked for Supreme Court justice Clarence Thomas. He has spent nearly a decade at Kirkland & Ellis, a firm with a tradition of placing younger lawyers in important roles.

In March he was one of three Kirkland partners who defeated a $375-million fraud lawsuit against Honeywell International. After hearing seven weeks of what observers called a sterling representation, a jury found that Honeywell owed nothing to a company that claimed fraud and misrepresentation after it bought part of Honeywell’s business.

39. David Oblon, 37. With partner David Albo, Oblon founded and manages one of Northern Virginia’s biggest firms, Albo & Oblon, in Arlington. Its range runs from criminal defense to labor and business employment.

Born in Alexandria, Oblon is a self-promoter, not the worst quality in an attorney. He has an undergraduate degree from George Washington University and a law degree from George Mason. Although he is involved with George Mason alumni affairs, he says he’d have been more excited if it had been the Colonials rather than the Patriots in the Final Four.

A Republican, Oblon ran unsuccessfully for the state senate in 1995 and appears often on cable programs as a legal expert. In court Oblon’s forte is criminal defense, and he is regarded as a fine negotiator who has good relationships with prosecutors.

Oblon rides six miles to work every day on a recumbent bicycle from his home in Arlington, where he lives with his wife, Kari, and their two children.

40. Alexandra Walsh, 33. Although still an associate at Baker Botts, Alex Walsh is turning heads with her work on the defense team for indicted White House aide Scooter Libby.

Walsh’s mother died when she was 11; her father ran a fish market in Madison, New Jersey. He always told her to be a lawyer. One day she decided he was right. After college at Bowdoin and law school at Stanford, Walsh was hired to clerk for appeals-court judge Merrick Garland and then Supreme Court justice Stephen Breyer.

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Posted at 12:00 AM/ET, 07/01/2006 RSS | Print | Permalink | Washingtonian.com Articles