“Defending People Who Are at Times Vilified”

By: Kim Eisler

Dickstein Shapiro is one of Washington’s venerable homegrown law firms. How did a Dickstein partner end up as the lead attorney for New York Ponzi schemer Bernie Madoff?

Dicksteiners claim to be insulted by the question. The firm has 91 lawyers in New York City, in comparison to the 261 it lists in the DC home office. There are another 26 in Los Angeles.

Ira Sorkin, Madoff’s lead attorney, is a graduate of George Washington University Law School and a former staffer at the SEC. Sorkin has been an anchor of Dickstein’s effort to compete with established New York City firms for top-drawer business execs in trouble.

Sorkin says he and Madoff have known each other for years and have donated to several Jewish philanthropic organizations. They traveled in similar social circles, so Madoff likely felt comfortable when Sorkin presented himself as an attorney well versed in this type of legal trouble.

The Madoff representation has lifted Dickstein’s New York City profile, but some Washington partners think it could be a mixed blessing. When ace Washington criminal-defense lawyer Abbe Lowell took on the representation of lobbyist Jack Abramoff, partners at his firm, Chadbourne & Park, were not unanimously enthusiastic. Lowell eventually moved to another firm for other reasons.

Sorkin told the Jewish Daily Forward, “It’s the system that requires us to deal with defending people who are at times vilified.”

This article is from the March 2009 issue of The Washingtonian. For more articles from the issue, click here