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Top Lawyers: 30 Stars of the Bar

These 30 lawyers have helped elect Presidents, defend senators, and work out high-profile divorces. They’re the top guns of the profession, and Washington wouldn’t be the same without them.

Brendan Sullivan. Photograph by Vincent Ricardel.

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1. Brendan Sullivan (Williams & Connolly). He went to law school thinking he would never become a trial lawyer. If he had been right, Washington might never have known one of its all-time brightest legal stars. Sullivan changed his mind about trial work when he represented soldiers in the 1969 Presidio mutiny case while serving as a military lawyer. In that matter, 27 soldiers faced years in prison for staging a nonviolent sit-in. “It was an abuse by government that made me focus on the need for vigorous criminal defense,” Sullivan, 67, says today.

This year, Sullivan was at the center of the most talked-about criminal trial in Washington, representing then-senator Ted Stevens of Alaska against federal corruption charges. Sullivan’s arguments drew crowds of young lawyers eager to watch the master at work. The case against Stevens was thrown out after a series of foul-ups by the prosecution came to light. That misconduct never would have been revealed had Sullivan not rejected a plea deal earlier in the trial.

Sullivan—perhaps best known for his televised representation of Oliver North during the 1987 Iran-Contra hearings—shies from comparisons to the late Edward Bennett Williams, the founder of his firm and DC’s most fabled criminal defender. Yet it’s tough to think of anyone better suited than Sullivan to be Williams’s successor.

2. Seth Waxman (WilmerHale). There’s a lot of Beltway chatter about another possible vacancy on the Supreme Court, and former solicitor general Waxman is a favorite to fill it. But he’s so busy arguing in front of the justices that it’s doubtful he spends much time thinking about becoming one.

He has argued 55 times at the high court, with his 56th appearance scheduled for December 9 in Stolt-Nielsen v. Animalfeeds International. He’s arguing for all of the Stolt-Nielsen petitioners in the matter, which concerns commercial arbitration agreements. In November, he juggled two federal-circuit arguments in the same week—the first in a patent case for TiVo, the second in a patent-related case for Medtronic.

Waxman also has been at the forefront of Guantánamo Bay detainee issues. He won the landmark Supreme Court case Boumediene v. Bush in 2008, in which the court ruled that detainees have the right to challenge their detention in US courts.

3. Theodore Olson (Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher). Ted Olson is best known as the lawyer who won George W. Bush the presidency with his argument in the 2000 Supreme Court case Bush v. Gore, but the high-court advocate says the case he’s handling now could be the most significant of his nearly 45-year career. It’s the lawsuit he filed this summer in California federal court challenging Proposition 8—the state’s same-sex marriage ban.

Olson is both a legal and a Republican icon. He was an assistant attorney general in the Reagan administration, solicitor general under George W. Bush, and a leader in John McCain’s 2008 presidential bid—hardly an expected poster boy for gay rights.

Olson doesn’t see it as a partisan fight. That’s why he recruited New York lawyer David Boies—who argued for Al Gore in Bush v. Gore—to be his co-counsel: “I thought that if I combined myself with Boies, we could make the case that the issue was not a conservative or liberal or Republican or Democrat issue. It’s an issue of human rights and human dignity and decency and equality.” The case is set to go to trial in January.

Olson doesn’t have any Supreme Court arguments scheduled for this term, though he argued seven times before the justices last term.

4. Michele Roberts(Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld). There are plenty of white-collar criminal-defense lawyers who prefer not to take civil cases. Roberts has an idea about why that is: “I guess they don’t want to see juries.” Tired of taking criminal cases that rarely go to court, Roberts—one of the city’s most feared trial lawyers—has no problem billing herself as a commercial litigator as well as a white-collar defender.

It’s easy to see why she has such a passion for going to trial. When Roberts—a natural in front of a jury—argues, there’s no doubt who’s controlling the room.

She took a turn arguing for the plaintiff’s side last year when she represented a small minority-owned company against defense contractor DynCorp for breach of contract and race discrimination. The all-white jury awarded her client $15 million in damages. She’s currently preparing to defend the energy company Valero against claims that it’s liable for the deaths of two boilermakers at a Delaware oil refinery. That case is scheduled to go to trial in February.

Despite the civil work, it’s doubtful that Roberts—who cut her teeth as a DC public defender—will ever shake her reputation as one of the best criminal lawyers around.

5. Sanford Ain(Ain & Bank). Washington’s top divorce lawyer is at heart a romantic. He talks about how much he loves his wife and how great marriage can be, and he’s quick to offer relationship advice. For someone who’s watched hundreds of unions break up, Ain evinces no cynicism—which is part of what makes him such an extraordinary lawyer. He’s not the vengeful type out to do battle; he says the courtroom is no place for families. Instead, he says, he settles 98 percent of his cases because it’s the most “respectful and dignified and discreet” way to handle divorces. It also allows him to take advantage of tax laws in ways that can save families money—creative strategizing that’s hard when a divorce ends up in court.

At $760 an hour, Ain is one of the priciest divorce lawyers, retained by celebrity clients and the very wealthy. But he says middle-income clients shouldn’t be deterred. For them, he helps devise an overall strategy and assigns another lawyer at his firm to handle the day-to-day work at less than half his own hourly rate.

Ain also specializes in breakups of a different variety: Doctors and lawyers who have used him for divorces often go back to him for help in splitting up their medical and legal practices.

Seth Waxman. Photograph by Vincent Ricardel.

6. J. Warren Gorrell Jr. (Hogan & Hartson). Gorrell has achieved what countless other lawyers have failed to: He’s built a successful New York–style corporate practice in Washington, proving that the city can be home to more than just white-collar defenders and regulatory lawyers. Not only that, but as chairman of Hogan & Hartson he has helped transform the homegrown Washington firm into a global powerhouse with offices in China, Germany, the United Arab Emirates, Venezuela, and Switzerland. And it looks as if he intends to expand the firm further. Though Gorrell won’t comment on the matter, Hogan is in talks to merge with United Kingdom–based Lovells. Such a union would turn Hogan into one of the ten largest law firms in the world, with revenues close to $2 billion.

The Kentucky native is the rare firm chairman who maintains an active law practice while managing the firm. Though corporate transactional work has slowed since the credit crisis, Gorrell handled several major mergers and acquisitions before the downturn. In one of the biggest real-estate deals ever, he represented Archstone-Smith in its $22-billion acquisition by Tishman Speyer and Lehman Brothers in 2007. More recently, he has focused on initial public offerings and capital-markets transactions. This fall, he completed a $250-million IPO for the real-estate and private-equity behemoth Colony Financial.

7. Robert Barnett (Williams & Connolly). Sarah Palin and Barack Obama agree on at least one thing—they both chose Bob Barnett to negotiate their book deals. Barnett reportedly secured Palin $11 million for her recently released memoir. The former Alaska governor is just the latest among a host of politicians, government officials, foreign dignitaries, journalists, and other celebrity authors to rely on Barnett. Among his clients: Bill and Hillary Clinton, Dick and Lynne Cheney, George W. Bush, and the late Tim Russert.

Barnett has helped Democratic presidential and vice-presidential candidates with debate preparation in eight election cycles. Most recently, he coached Hillary Clinton during the 2008 primaries. His personal leanings clearly don’t get in the way of doing business with people on the other end of the political spectrum. If only Congress could be as bipartisan.

8. Richard Wiley (Wiley Rein). Wiley is the undisputed dean of the communications bar. The former chairman of the Federal Communications Commission has been out of government since 1977, yet he’s still known around town as the unofficial sixth commissioner of the FCC. His influence extends into nearly every American household. He spent nine years as head of the FCC committee that helped develop high-definition television, so if you enjoy watching the big game in HD, you have him to thank. He was also a key player in the nationwide switch to digital TV in June, helping many broadcasters navigate the changes.

Wiley represented Verizon in its $28-billion acquisition of the regional wireless carrier Alltel, which closed in January and made Verizon the nation’s biggest wireless carrier. The previous year, he was regulatory counsel for Sirius in the company’s acquisition of XM Satellite Radio, which was worth upward of $3 billion.

9. Reid Weingarten (Steptoe & Johnson). The walls of Weingarten’s Connecticut Avenue office are covered in newspaper clippings, courtroom renderings of his trials, and a replica of a murder weapon from one of his cases. The lively decor is a testament to Weingarten’s career representing politicians, celebrities, CEOs, and other high-profile figures facing criminal investigations.

Though he’s known as a preeminent Washington white-collar defender, it’s not hard to tell that Weingarten is from around New York City. You can hear it in his voice and sense it in his attitude. He loves to go to trial and can work wonders in front of a jury.

Weingarten made headlines recently when he was retained to join the legal team of fugitive film director Roman Polanski, who pleaded guilty to having sex with a 13-year-old girl in 1978. California congresswoman Jane Harman sought Weingarten’s help earlier this year when it looked as though she was the target of a Justice Department probe. Weingarten is also defending former Arizona congressman Rick Renzi, indicted for abusing his office to profit from a land deal.

10. Maureen Mahoney (Latham & Watkins). Earlier this year, Mahoney—one of the nation’s foremost Supreme Court lawyers—announced she was heading toward partial retirement. But don’t count her out. She still plans to maintain an active practice, and besides, in the legal industry “partial retirement” often means a 50-hour work week.

One reason she intends to bill fewer hours is that she’ll begin teaching an undergraduate course on the Supreme Court at Georgetown University in 2010. Talk about learning from the best in the business.

Mahoney, who says she wanted to be a lawyer from the time she was eight years old, has argued 22 times before the justices—and chalked up 20 wins, including two victories last term in environmental cases, Burlington Northern v. United States and Entergy v. Riverkeeper.

Michele Roberts. Photograph by Vincent Ricardel.

11. Robert Bauer (Perkins Coie). Bob Bauer has the most powerful client in the world: President Barack Obama. He was general counsel to Obama’s campaign and remains the President’s personal lawyer. That means he handles Obama’s financial-disclosure records, tax returns, and any other legal matters that involve the President’s personal dealings. During the transition, Bauer was a favorite pick for White House counsel, though he believes he’s making his best contribution to the administration by remaining a private lawyer. He’s also general counsel to the Democratic National Committee.

Bauer was often on the front lines of the 2008 presidential campaign. He led voter-protection efforts and helped sort out campaign-finance issues. During the primaries, he made headlines when he broke in on a conference call between reporters and Howard Wolfson—then spokesman for the Hillary Clinton campaign—to demand that Clinton’s camp “stop attacking the caucus process.”

12. William McLucas (WilmerHale). If the Securities and Exchange Commission starts asking questions—as it’s doing with a lot of companies these days—there’s no one better to have on your side than McLucas, the current leader of WilmerHale’s securities department and the longest-serving SEC enforcement director in the agency’s history. He has some serious war stories: During the Enron and WorldCom meltdowns, McLucas led the internal investigations into both companies.

More recently, he represented General Electric in an accounting-fraud case that settled with the SEC in August, and he navigated a high-profile options-dating investigation for UnitedHealth Group. The DC Council brought McLucas in pro bono to review the city’s internal controls following the 2007 theft of $50 million by former employees in the Office of Tax and Revenue.

13. Robert Bennett (Hogan & Hartson). This Brooklyn-born amateur boxer turned Washington white-collar defender shocked the legal world this year when he left Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom for Hogan & Hartson. Bennett published his memoir in 2008—a move often construed as a precursor to retirement. But his jump to Hogan after nearly 20 years at Skadden was a signal that he’s far from slowing down.

Aside from his legal prowess, Bennett’s media savvy has made him a first choice for high-profile figures who need to defuse a scandal. Then–presidential candidate John McCain enlisted Bennett’s help in debunking a New York Times story last year about McCain’s alleged inappropriate relationship with lobbyist Vicki Iseman. Leading up to its publication, Bennett was the intermediary between McCain and the Times, and when the story broke, Bennett took to the air, calling it “a hatchet job” during a Today-showinterview.

The Iseman story had nowhere near the magnitude of other messes Bennett has dealt with. He defended Bill Clinton during the Paula Jones case, stopped a criminal prosecution of the accounting firm KPMG, and represented then–New York Times reporter Judith Miller in the Valerie Plame case.

14. Patrick Regan (Regan Zambri & Long). No personal-injury lawyer in Washington has a better reputation. Plaintiff lawyers and civil-defense attorneys alike praise him for his skill in the courtroom. His most recent trial was in DC Superior Court for a former Arnold & Porter partner who Regan argues sustained career-ending brain damage during a stay at George Washington University Hospital.

In October, Regan also won more than $5 million for the family of a man and his son killed by a drunk driver in Frederick County. Now Regan is handling a number of cases against Metro, including one on behalf of the six children of a woman killed in June’s Red Line collision.

15. Jamie Gorelick (WilmerHale). Gorelick believes that “a good litigator can do anything.” She’s referring to the many litigators she’s observed since becoming one herself in 1975, but her own practice proves she might be right. The former deputy attorney general in the Clinton administration now fills multiple roles at her firm. She’s a partner in the regulatory-and-government-affairs and litigation departments, chair of the defense, national-security, and government-contracts practice, and chair of the public-policy practice.

Gorelick focuses on many of the hottest issues of the day. In her national-security practice, she represents clients before the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States, which monitors the security implications of foreign transactions. She’s helping the financial firm Lazard navigate regulatory reform at the Treasury Department, the SEC, and the Federal Reserve, and she’s representing Citigroup in connection with congressional inquiries into its compensation practices.

Sanford Ain. Photograph by Vincent Ricardel.

16. Peter Greenspun (Greenspun, Shapiro, Davis & Leary). Greenspun’s work is not for the faint of heart. He defends people accused of the most heinous crimes—rape, murder, solicitation of sex with a child. On occasion, their lives are at stake. But some lawyer has to do it. And few do it better than Greenspun, one of Virginia’s elite criminal defenders.

His most high-profile case came when a judge appointed him defense counsel to John Muhammad, mastermind of the 2002 DC sniper attacks, who was executed on November 10. No matter how hopeless the case or despicable the crime, Greenspun is legally devoted to his clients. He says he sees them as “really just people. They have individual problems and challenges.” On a recent rainy morning, Greenspun was on his way to visit John Muhammad—“just to go see him.”

Greenspun has had some recent successes. He represented Miles Harrison, who was accused of involuntary manslaughter after leaving his 21-month-old in a hot car; Harrison was acquitted last December. This year, Greenspun got a woman who’d shot her husband off with manslaughter charges, helping her avoid a life sentence.

17. Robert Bonsib (MarcusBonsib). In nearly 35 years of defending everything from DUIs to securities-fraud cases, Bonsib has proved he’s one of the best criminal lawyers in Maryland. After a weeklong jury trial in April, he won a not-guilty verdict for a vice principal in Prince George’s County accused of child abuse. In Montgomery County last year, he got a client acquitted of allegations that he took part in a multimillion-dollar Ponzi scheme. Most recently, the former assistant US attorney helped the owner of a St. Mary’s County seafood company who pleaded guilty to falsely reporting the amount and weight of rockfish avoid years of jail time. The government asked the judge to sentence the man to 70 months in prison. Bonsib got him 18 months.

18. Debra Katz (Katz, Marshall & Banks). Don’t be fooled by her cheerful disposition. Katz is one Washington lawyer who isn’t afraid to go to battle. She’s been involved in some of the highest-profile employment-discrimination and whistleblower-protection suits, having litigated such matters here for more than 25 years.

In the past year, Katz has filed a series of whistleblower-retaliation suits against ArmorGroup North America, including one this fall on behalf of one of the government contractor’s former executives, who alleges that company employees at the US embassy in Kabul frequented brothels, purchased counterfeit goods, and abetted sex trafficking. In August, Katz reached a settlement with the US Tennis Association in a racial-discrimination suit filed by her client, former tennis champion Zina Garrison. She has also been handling the sexual-harassment case against Andre Chreky, owner of the K Street salon and spa that bears his name.

19. Alan Fisch (Kaye Scholer). Walking into court in Marshall, Texas, as a Washington lawyer to defend a patent-infringement suit is like walking into Yankee Stadium decked out in Red Sox gear. Odds are you’re not going to win many friends. Fisch, however, is one of a handful of defense lawyers ever to emerge victorious in Texas’s notoriously plaintiff-friendly Eastern District. Last year, the 43-year-old cochair of Kaye Scholer’s intellectual-property practice successfully defended a case there for Thomas & Betts Corporation, which manufactures electrical products, against rival Cooper Industries.

If not many lawyers have won a defense verdict in Marshall, even fewer have been publicly thanked by a Manhattan socialite in a high-end lingerie store. After Fisch resolved a copyright dispute this year for Tatiana Boncompagni Hoover over her book, Hedge Fund Wives, the wife of vacuum-cleaner heir Maximilian Hoover told the crowd at La Perla for her book party that her husband and Fisch are “the two most important men” in her life.

20. Michael Hausfeld (Hausfeld LLP). Hausfeld is known for pushing the boundaries in more ways than one. When his partners at Cohen, Milstein, Hausfeld & Toll, his home for nearly four decades, kicked him out last year for too aggressively pushing his own vision for the firm’s future, Hausfeld packed up his roster of clients and started his own firm.

One of the nation’s preeminent antitrust class-action lawyers, Hausfeld has been at the forefront of many historic and precedent-setting cases. He asserted novel issues of international-banking and human-rights law while representing a class of Holocaust victims whose assets had been taken over by Swiss banks, and he was the first to successfully try a case establishing sexual harassment in the workplace as a civil-rights violation.

Today he’s handling an antitrust class action against the National Collegiate Athletic Association on behalf of former student athletes, alleging that the NCAA is unlawfully foreclosing them from revenues earned from their images and identities. He’s also attempting to establish new antitrust precedent in a case against the pharmaceutical giant Amgen. A victory in that matter essentially would incorporate European Union monopoly law into US law.

Robert Bauer. Photograph by Vincent Ricardel.

21. Thomas Green (Sidley Austin). Green can’t seem to stay out of the courtroom. In 2009 he handled two civil trials, one for Tyson Foods, the other for Cinergy (now owned by Duke Energy). He also defended then-governor Aníbal Acevedo Vilá of Puerto Rico this year against corruption charges related to the handling of campaign money; after just a few hours of deliberation, the jury found Green’s client not guilty on all counts.

The verdict was a reflection of the veteran trial lawyer’s judgment. The prosecutors, he says, left “gaping holes in their case,” which Green suspected they hoped to fill by cross-examining his witnesses or through rebuttal. So he decided not to put on any defense at all. The prosecution called some 30 witnesses. Green didn’t call a single one. It was a gutsy move—and his client got off.

Green’s instincts have been sharpened by years of high-profile trial work. At 68, he has had pieces of many of Washington’s most significant battles, including Watergate, Whitewater, and Iran-Contra.

22. Carolyn Lamm (White & Case). It’s a wonder Lamm ever finds time to sleep. In one recent week, she was in DC, New York, Dallas, Vermont, Boston, and Paris. For Lamm—one of the country’s top international arbitration lawyers—travel has always been part of the job. Now that she’s also president of the American Bar Association, her travel schedule is even heavier. Still, she says she loves her work—so much that she was willing to fly to Paris for three hours on a recent Sunday to meet with a client—and it shows in the results.

Since she started in international law in 1980, Lamm has represented lots of sovereign states in disputes, among them Indonesia, the Philippines, Bulgaria, and Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Petroleum. She recently won an arbitration for the Philippine government before the International Centre for Settlement of Investment Disputes, convincing it to dismiss a case arising from an alleged treaty violation between the Philippines and the German transport company Fraport. She’s also preparing for an argument in the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals in which she will represent Saudi Aramco in a case relating to the regulation and production of crude oil.

23. Thomas Goldstein (Akin Gump). When he was a fourth-year lawyer, Goldstein decided he was going to be a Supreme Court advocate. He quit his job at the litigation firm Boies, Schiller & Flexner and started his own firm out of his home. He had never argued in front of the high court—or any court. The move has paid off in a big way.

At 39, Goldstein is now one of the nation’s premier high-court lawyers. He cochairs Akin Gump’s litigation and Supreme Court practices and runs SCOTUSBlog, a popular high-court site that gets an average of 15,000 unique visitors a day. He found his first two Supreme Court cases by studying circuit-level splits and other indicators of cases potentially destined for the court. He offered his services pro bono in those matters, so the clients had little to lose.

To date, Goldstein has argued 21 times at the Supreme Court. A notable victory came last term in Cone v. Bell, in which Goldstein convinced the justices to overturn a death sentence they had twice previously upheld.

24. Michael St. Patrick Baxter (Covington & Burling). If there’s one practice area that has flourished as the economy slowed, it’s bankruptcy work. Baxter has played key roles in the most significant restructurings of the past year. He represented Union Pacific Railroad in both the Chrysler and General Motors bankruptcies. The largest transportation company in the nation, Union Pacific had contracts with both automakers, whose cars were often shipped by rail. Baxter, trained in both Canadian and US law, just wrapped up the GM negotiations and successfully got Union Pacific’s contracts transferred to the newly restructured Chrysler. He also represented Mitsubishi Motors, which had contracts with Chrysler, in the proceedings.

Just as the auto-industry work has eased up, Baxter has been called into another high-profile matter: A New Jersey bankruptcy judge picked him in October as the Chapter 11 examiner investigating Donald Trump’s reorganization plan for Trump Entertainment Resorts.

25. Denyse Sabagh (Duane Morris). Sabagh’s peers describe her as the immigration lawyer who can do it all. She handles the full spectrum of immigration work, including advising large health-care, technology, and engineering corporations on employment-immigration matters, helping individuals come to the United States, representing people in deportation hearings, and sorting through post-9/11 national-security-related immigration issues.

Sabagh currently represents clients alleged to have connections to the Holy Land Foundation, which federal prosecutors charged with funneling money to Islamic terrorist organizations. After the September 11 terrorist attacks, she handled a number of deportation cases for Arab immigrants resulting from tightened visa requirements. Among them was Zaid Safdar, then-president of the student body at Johns Hopkins University’s School of Advanced International Studies. In the Pakistan native’s deportation proceedings, with the courtroom full of his professors and fellow students, Sabagh prevailed and Safdar stayed in the United States.

Debra Katz. Photograph by Vincent Ricardel.

26. David Cynamon (Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman). The detention center at Guantánamo Bay is a political hot potato and a legal conundrum, so dealing with the questions surrounding detainees there requires serious legal firepower. Cynamon, a commercial litigator by trade, has met the challenge head on. While still catering to his corporate mergers-and-acquisitions, financial, and real-estate clients, he has argued four trials on behalf of Kuwaiti citizens detained at Guantánamo. So far, two of his four clients have been ordered released, one was denied habeas corpus—a decision Cynamon is appealing—and the fourth case is ongoing.

Cynamon made his first trip to Guantánamo in 2006. He admits that for a commercial lawyer like him, it was a shocking experience. Yet next to the outcomes he gets in his day-to-day work—either winning money or contracts—he says the much higher stakes of the Guantánamo litigation make him “feel proud to be a lawyer.”

27. David Schertler (Schertler & Onorato). Even Washington’s most grizzled veteran criminal defenders admit that Schertler—a relatively young gun at 53—is the rising star of their bar. Before starting his firm in 1996, Schertler was a prosecutor in the Justice Department and the US Attorney’s Office for 14 years. He wasn’t interested in representing corporate clients at a megafirm. In his own small practice, he can do what he loves most: represent people facing criminal charges.

Known as scrappy and convincing in the courtroom, the Chicago native is representing one of the former Blackwater security guards charged with killing 14 unarmed civilians in a 2007 shooting in Baghdad; the trial is scheduled for early next year. He also represents Dylan Ward, one of three men charged with conspiracy, obstruction of justice, and evidence tampering—though not murder—in the 2006 killing of lawyer Robert Wone in a Dupont Circle townhouse.

28. David Buente (Sidley Austin). Though lots of Washington lawyers rotate in and out of government, few make the transition as successfully as Buente. Since joining Sidley Austin in 1990, he’s become a force in private-practice environmental law: There’s near consensus among Washington’s environmental bar that Buente is at the top. As enforcement chief in the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division for five years, Buente oversaw nearly half of the division’s lawyers and ran one of the department’s biggest litigating sections. Earlier, he was a trial attorney at Justice and served in the Pennsylvania attorney general’s office.

Now head of Sidley’s environmental practice, Buente is at the center of groundbreaking litigation. He’s defending American Electric Power and Duke Energy against the first public-nuisance cases alleging that carbon-dioxide emissions from power plants contributed to climate-change-related injuries.

29. Cheryl New (Sandground New & Lowinger). If you’re looking for a divorce lawyer who can double as a therapist, New isn’t for you. “I tell people, ‘If you need a shrink, I can suggest one,’ ” she says. If you want a lawyer who gets down to the issues and tells it like it is, look no further. Though dealing with divorce can get into very personal territory, New believes it’s a waste of her clients’ time for her to get emotionally involved. Her goal is to settle as quickly as possible. She goes to court only as a last resort—and only “when I think I can win.”

It’s a philosophy that’s worked well. One of the city’s most popular divorce lawyers, New recently moved her firm to new offices in Bethesda from McLean. She caters to successful, sometimes celebrity, clients and splits her practice 50-50 between Maryland and Virginia.

30. Ronald Aucutt (McGuireWoods). As one of his competitors in the trusts-and-estates bar puts it, Aucutt is “head and shoulders above everyone else.” Operating out of McGuireWoods’s McLean office, the private-wealth lawyer can rattle off obscure provisions of US estate-tax policy with ease. He specializes in advising clients on passing wealth from one generation to the next, including the succession of family-owned businesses.

Aucutt declines to name any clients—he refuses even to ask their permission to be publicly named. He does offer one hint: He says the group of lawyers he leads at McGuire has represented more than half of Virginia Business magazine’s list of the 100 wealthiest Virginians.

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