4. BETTY THOMPSON (Betty A. Thompson Ltd.; 703-522-8100. $450/hour. VA). Friends say that at the age of 79, Betty Thompson finally has cut back on her hours--from 90 to 70 a week. One of the legends of the Virginia divorce bar, she still terrorizes her younger colleagues from her office in Rosslyn. Her law practice is her life, and she usually can be found in seven days a week, if not working on a brief, then keeping abreast of changes in family law or even writing proposed changes for the legislature. Thompson has an instinctive feel for the needs of clients: She can be tender if need be or pound on them if that's what the situation requires. She's a perfectionist--and for many clients the perfect advocate.
5. PATRICK DRAGGA (Dragga, Callahan, Hannon & Hessler; 301-340-9090. $335/hour. MD, DC). Few divorce attorneys combine an understanding of financial complexities with a manner that can make you laugh. Pat Dragga does. Cheerful and uplifting, he has focused lately on cases involving the treatment of children who suffer from disabilities. His combination of sophistication and heart make him one of the top family lawyers.
6. JAMES COTTRELL (Gannon & Cottrell; 703-836-2770. $450/hour. VA). A tough-minded graduate of Virginia Military Institute, Jim Cottrell has emerged as one of the aces of the Virginia divorce bar. It's hard to toe the line between being a fierce legal presence and being a "bomber." Few people do it better than this well-prepared litigator who lets his cases do the talking. Fellow attorneys say Cottrell is more inclined than most to take a case into court--he's considered a better litigator than negotiator. He tends to cost clients a little more because he leaves no stone unturned. Colleagues call him "frighteningly smart." And losing is not part of his personality.
7. RITA BANK (Ain & Bank; 202-530-3300. $550/hour. DC, MD). A onetime protégé of divorce doyenne Marna Tucker's, Rita Bank last year formed a partnership with Sandy Ain, her opponent on many big cases. A delightful and intelligent attorney, Bank is the kind of lawyer who elicits absolute trust from her clients, and her ethics are beyond question in a field with its share of scoundrels. She has shown an interest recently in broadening her work, perhaps building a practice as a postdivorce counselor available to clients putting their lives back together after divorce.
8. GLENN C. LEWIS (Lewis Law Firm; 202-408-0655. $575/hour. DC, VA, MD). Lewis, 51, is regarded by his peers and clients as a brilliant practitioner, adept at trial skills such as cross-examination. And before trial, you don't want to be the subject of one of his depositions. He was Sandy Ain's opposite in the biggest divorce case of the past year, representing Steven Rales's estranged wife, Christine. In recent years he's also represented AOL executive Steve Case and BET founder Robert Johnson. The knock on Lewis is that while his hourly rate seems in line with other top attorneys', the hours seem to mount a little more. Opponents say he is slow and too unwilling to settle cases, traits that accelerate the bill. Lewis combatively replies, "I don't sit in a cafeteria and sell out my clients."
9. GLENN COOPER (Paley, Rothman, Goldstein, Rosenberg, Eig & Cooper; 301-656-7603. $335/hour. MD, DC). Glenn Cooper's firm, Paley Rothman, is not by definition a family-law firm--it concentrates mainly on commercial and real-estate issues. Cooper's family-law practice is an extension of its business-oriented approach. This is not a lawyer who will dab off teardrops with a handkerchief. He will, however, understand the property and money issues of the case and make sure you get--or hold onto--your rightful share. Count on him to work quickly and expeditiously with little wasted effort. A total professional.
10. RICHARD J. COLTEN (Colten Cummins Watson & Vincent; 703-277-9700. $450/hour. VA). Dick Colten has that combination of compassion and grit that makes for a great divorce lawyer. A sailor in his off-time, Colten can steer a client skillfully over rough seas. He isn't afraid to negotiate a settlement and won't build up his fees with needless motions, but he can mix it up with the bombers. He is a steady hand at the helm.
11. DEBORAH LUXENBERG (Luxenberg, Johnson & Dickens; 202-265-3340. $325/hour. DC, MD). A lioness of the District bar, Debby Luxenberg, 54, has an established downtown practice anchored by clients involved in the DC court system. Luxenberg has an interesting specialty: She works with cutting-edge biological situations and a large number of nontraditional relationships. Luxenberg is always up to date on issues involving foster parents, particularly when their custody is challenged by relatives of biological parents. She has resolved some landmark disputes involving visitation rights. Luxenberg can appear brusque, but she has a soft side, as evidenced by the dogs wandering around her DC townhouse office.
12. JOSEPH CONDO (Condo Roop Kelly & Byrnes; 703-442-0888. $475/hour. VA). Highly regarded by his peers, the 55-year-old Condo is a former president of the Virginia State Bar. His practice has represented such clients as speechwriter/author Peggy Noonan and former Redskins stars Sam Huff and Russ Grimm. Condo is solidly ethical, and clients can count on him to not run up a bill. He is more likely to settle your case than to take it into court. Condo is so personable that nervous clients sometimes complain that he is too relaxed.
13. BRYAN RENEHAN (Brodsky, Greenblatt & Renehan; 301-869-1700. $330/hour. MD, DC). A tech-savvy specialist in complicated cases, Bryan Renehan is the divorce lawyer of choice in cases where computers or e-mail might come into play. He has been known to get all kinds of technical evidence admitted: In one case he used a "keystroke program" to turn up evidence on a cheating spouse even though a tap of the couple's phone might not have been allowed. When there is hidden information, Renehan is the lawyer who can find it. Satisfied clients call him brilliant. He has the skills for prosecuting divorce in the modern age.
14. JONATHAN DANA (Feldesman Tucker Leifer Fidell; 202-466-8960. $325/hour. DC, MD). With the departure of Rita Bank, Jon Dana now steps up to a leadership role in one of the top two divorce-law firms in Washington. Honest and engaging, Dana is adept at moving around the DC Court system, where he once was a clerk for Judge Rufus King III. The Mount Pleasant resident spends time not only in the courtroom but also on the court, coaching a girls basketball team. An overall good guy, Dana is conscious of keeping bills in the reasonable range and, whenever possible, settling cases.
15. JAMES KORMAN (Bean, Kinney & Korman; 703-525-4000. $450/hour. VA). Washington native Jim Korman is one of the insiders of the Northern Virginia divorce bar. He knows everybody, has a stellar reputation, and is adept at working out settlements. For clients who want things handled, he is the man. He has a keen understanding of issues involving debt and creditors. He is always prepared and businesslike and is good at sorting out mature, complicated lives.
16. BETH BITTEL (Law Offices of Beth A. Bittel; 703-591-1320. $300/hour. VA). Four years ago we described Beth Bittel, 42, as one of the up-and-comers of the Virginia bar. Today she's solidly established in her own firm, and any questions about her experience are answered by her busy schedule and heavy client load. She has gained expertise in custody issues. The trick is catching her when she is accepting new cases. Outgoing and athletic--she's an excellent golfer--Bittel likes to get involved with her clients' lives in a way that reflects her engaging personality. She's not shy about telling a client not to be a jerk, and when she has to go to court, she is effective and combative, inspiring confidence.
17. CYNTHIA CALLAHAN (Dragga, Callahan, Hannon & Hessler; 301-340-9090. $325/hour. MD, DC). Cindy Callahan, 48, appears poised to emerge as a leader in the next generation of Maryland divorce lawyers. Based in Rockville, she cut her teeth representing high-profile clients like former New York Knicks center Patrick Ewing and onetime heavyweight boxer Riddick Bowe. In recent years, more of her time has gone into custody issues, and she is frequently picked by judges to represent children, including in sex-abuse cases.
18. BETTY MOORE SANDLER (Nichols, Bergere, Zauzig & Sandler; 703-690-7800. $350/hour. VA, KY). The only mistake you can make in hiring University of Kentucky grad Betty Sandler is to call her during the college-basketball playoffs--or, as she refers to the NCAA's Final Four, "my holy days." Sandler grew up in a courthouse: Her father was the county clerk, her mother the deputy clerk. Few lawyers are as comfortable in the courtrooms of Northern Virginia as Sandler. Her divorce practice ranges geographically from Arlington to Spotsylvania. She is known for her work with military families. "I settle a lot of cases," Sandler says, "but you have to exercise some muscle to get people to the bargaining table. I can do that, too."
19. ROBIN B. TAUB (Paradiso, Dack, Taub & Sinay; 301-986-7900. $300/hour. MD, DC). Ask almost any Washington divorce lawyer about the next generation of top divorce lawyers, and the name Robin Taub quickly surfaces. The 45-year-old graduate of Duke University's law school already has had clients from the ranks of the rich and famous, such as Baltimore Ravens star linebacker Ray Lewis. Taub is patient and emphasizes negotiation and mediation. The Bethesda native was a transactional lawyer and litigator before specializing in matrimonial law.