When the lawyers of the Washington sniper case were peeled away, one piece of that terrifying crime spree turned out to be something quite common—emotions rubbed raw by a bitter custody battle.
Convicted sniper John Allen Muhammad had come to the Washington area because his ex-wife, Mildred Muhammad, had gained sole custody of his three children and moved with them to Clinton, Maryland.
One of the theories for the motive behind the random killings, according to a Virginia lawyer familiar with the case, is that Muhammad planned to include Mildred among the sniper victims, making it appear that she was the victim of a deranged sniper instead of an angry ex-husband.
That the emotional trauma associated with domestic troubles can run so deep may surprise some people. But it was not news to the area's family lawyers. Of all the branches of legal practice, family law is the most emotional point of contact between attorneys and clients. And while the sniper case may be an extraordinary example, the issues confronted in divorce can be matters of life and death.
In one of the first cases I covered as a newspaper reporter, a woman had won custody of her five-year-old son. The father couldn't accept the decision. In the interest of the mother's safety, the judge ordered visitations to be held at a McDonald's. The father drove in, shot the mother dead, and took off with his son for Arizona. A year later he was stopped and arrested for a busted taillight on his pickup. He went to prison.
It's ironic that the most sensitive legal specialty gets less respect than other fields of law. Corporate lawyers sometimes dismiss it as a practice area for people who can't quite make the grades to get recruited by a top law firm—that is, until the corporate lawyer needs a divorce lawyer.
In movies, television, and literature, divorce lawyers are often depicted as unethical, à la Arnie Becker, the rascal attorney from L.A. Law. Never mind that choosing a divorce lawyer—the person who can save your fortune, keep you in contact with your children, and help ease a painful process—is one of the most important decisions in a person's life.
Hardly a week goes by that I don't get a call from a distressed partner in a marriage wanting advice on how to get out of it. That's what this list is for. On it are 52 of the area's most reputable, talented, and trustworthy divorce lawyers. They vary in location and in emphasis.
In the mini profiles, I have tried to give an idea of each lawyer's strengths and weaknesses. Some are better to hire if kids are number one. Others are better if the primary interest is dividing assets. Some have expertise in international relationships.
Hiring a divorce lawyer is hard because not everything is as it seems. Take hourly rates. It is easy to be scared away from an attorney whose fee is $500 an hour. Another lawyer might list his fee at $300 an hour. But if the $500-an-hour lawyer does his work in half the time of the $300-an-hour lawyer, who's cheaper?
In addition to the hourly rate, potential clients usually are asked to pay a retainer, often about ten times the listed hourly rate.
There are attorneys who run up bills. But excessive costs usually are caused by clients who want their lawyers to wage war against a cheating spouse. The easiest thing in the world is for a lawyer to say "sure." And the meter starts running. He can start taking depositions of family members and demanding financial documents and fiduciary records dating back 20 years. He can assign a private detective to get pictures.
Says one divorce lawyer, "Clients are often initially thrilled by their lawyer's sending out hundreds of pages of discovery requests and an avalanche of subpoenas that seek an initial knockout of their spouse. This can add tens of thousands to the bill, and there are plenty of attorneys happy to go along."
If all this will make a divorcing person feel happy and complete, fine. But it mainly ensures that a good part of the family's assets is delivered to the attorney. For that reason, some of the city's "bombers" aren't on this list.
How was the list put together? I began by contacting divorce lawyers I have known for years and whose integrity seems unimpeachable. Such a lawyer is Peter Sherman, whose old law firm reorganized last year and who now is mostly teaching. Sherman and former Georgetown University Law Center classmate Marna Tucker fostered the concept in Washington of the civil, even amicable, divorce. They passed their philosophies on to their partners and protégés, Sandy Ain and Rita Bank.
Last year, in a development as surprising as if Macy's had merged with Bloomingdale's, Ain and Bank became partners in their own firm. In a perfect world, the Justice Department would have investigated the merger for antitrust ramifications. Ain and Bank have been adversaries in some of the biggest divorce cases in Washington. Now if you hire one, you don't have to worry about seeing the other across the table.
From the initial interviews I began to construct a list of lawyers to whom these savvy lawyers would go if they had a family breakup. I took geography into consideration, making sure there was a good number of lawyers from DC, Maryland, and Virginia. It goes without saying that you want an attorney familiar with the law—and the courthouse—in the jurisdiction where you live. Some of the attorneys on this list, like Virginia legend Betty Thompson, have written many of the laws that Virginia circuit judges rule by. Some attorneys—I try to note where this is the case—serve as substitute judges or mediators in contested cases.
There are lawyers on this list who have not gotten along with clients. Some clients go through four or five lawyers and never find one who can get them the satisfaction they want. The sad truth is that the emotional damage of a spousal breakup sometimes prevents clients from seeing clearly what their best interests are. I have talked to every lawyer on this list at one time or another and conversed with clients of most of them.
Divorce lawyers will tell you that next to the death of a child, a divorce is the worst thing that can happen in a family. Revenge and spite may provide short-term gratification, but in the long run the cost will far exceed the benefits. "Short-term gratification isn't even what it's cracked up to be," says attorney Jeffrey Greenblatt. "The court system isn't designed to allow a client to beat up on somebody so that they wind up with nothing." Sometimes you have to put the past behind you and move on.
A divorcing spouse should stay focused on the important things: First come the children, if any. Next are money and property. Good attorneys concentrate on extending the financial well-being of both parties.
The idea behind this list is that divorce does not have to be the ultimate nightmare. But you need a guide who will be straightforward and honest, who will not pick your pockets, who will not let you be your own worst enemy. Here are 52 of the best. In some profiles a significant associate or protege is mentioned in bold letters.
1. SANFORD K. AIN (Ain & Bank; 202-530-3300. Fee: $550 an hour. Licensed to practice in DC, Maryland, and Virginia). Sandy Ain, 56, has been at the top of the Washington divorce bar for the past decade. He recently formed his own firm, with longtime rival Rita Bank, and solidified his reputation as the go-to guy for the wealthy but maritally challenged. In the past year he has represented Washington billionaire Steven Rales in his divorce from Christine, his wife of about 20 years. Other clients have included former Maryland first lady Frances Glendening and business magnate Herbert Haft. Ain is confident, trustworthy, and ethical. If your case doesn't call for his hourly rate, he will refer it to one of his partners, such as Mark Carlin, but he will continue to supervise.
2. MARNA TUCKER (Feldesman Tucker Leifer Fidell; 202-466-8960. $475/hour. DC). Marna Tucker is the grande dame of Washington divorce. One of her most famous clients was former Georgetown University basketball coach John Thompson–she doesn't, as some people think, represent only women. Despite a fearsome reputation, she is friendly, professional, and accessible. She feels that her ability to put clients at ease is her greatest strength. She strives to keep up with the times. Every case, she says, "is like a novel with new characters and subplots–and I get to help write it as I read it."
3. JAMES L. RIDER (Margolius, Mallios & Rider; 202-296-1000. $450/hour. DC, VA). A former military attorney, Rider, 61, is one of the country's foremost experts on mediation, and no local attorney has a better grasp of custody issues. Rider is confident but not blustery–he won't offer or promise anything he can't deliver. On his roster of past clients are corporate executives, politicians, and high-ranking government officials. Almost all come away feeling that discretion and good judgment are at the heart of Rider's efforts.
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.
20. JEFFREY GREENBLATT (Brodsky, Greenblatt & Renehan; 301-869-1700. $330/hour. DC, MD). This Bronx native is one of the tough guys of the Maryland divorce bar. He frustrates opponents because he accepts no handshake deals–Greenblatt wants it written in indelible ink. He is considered a workaholic, and his clients get their due. Greenblatt's fastidiousness can be expensive, but if that is a problem, he will hand off some of your work to associates. Most clients come to understand, though, that paying more for Greenblatt up front gets them more later from the judge. "I like it when I go into a court with a lawyer who has adopted a slipshod approach," he says. "Lawyers who stick their heads in a hole and don't do the work necessary end up with their clients' getting creamed in court."
21. JOSEPH PARADISO (Paradiso, Dack, Taub & Sinay; 301-986-7900. $300/hour. MD, DC). Paradiso, 53, has two qualities that clients like–he's relatively inexpensive, and he doesn't waste time. His philosophy is to resolve cases in the most cost-efficient manner and still achieve a reasonable objective. Paradiso regularly rejects cases he considers outlandish, such as that of the father who traveled 250 days a year and wanted to file for sole custody.
22. RONALD OGENS (Deckelbaum Ogens & Raftery; 301-961-9200. $365/hour. DC, MD). Some colleagues complain that Ogens is so detail-oriented that they hate going into a conference room with him. But clients point out that Ogens is quick at coming up with innovative solutions to a family's complicated problems. If you want to make sure that the T's are crossed and the I's dotted, he might be the lawyer for you. "I don't think I'm picky," says Ogens, 61. "I just like to make sure my clients get what they are supposed to. When I make an agreement for a client, it lasts."
23. ARMIN U. KUDER (Kuder, Smollar & Friedman; 202-331-7522. $375/hour. DC, MD). His nickname used to be "Barra-Kuder," which says a lot about his style. Rick Kuder, a 68-year-old Harvard Law graduate, is a feared negotiator, and his posturing is buttressed by his absolute confidence in his ability to win in court. He is extremely discreet. "There's not much I can do about my reputation," says Kuder. "The fact is I try to manage my cases in the least destructive way possible." He's a tough negotiator and a strong advocate in court.
24. ROBERT SHOUN (Shoun, Bach & Walinsky; 703-222-3333. $415/hour. VA). A 1964 graduate of Duke Law School, Robert Shoun has extensive experience in broad areas of law. He was a JAG in the US Army and worked in the general counsel's office of the US Department of Commerce. He is one of the area's top experts in the tax consequences of divorce as well as in the vagaries of military retirement and pension plans. If Shoun is occupied, request one of his partners, Heather Cooper, also highly recommended by many clients.
25. FAITH DORNBRAND (Dornbrand & Associates; 301-280-3780. $315/hour. DC, MD). Dornbrand moved to central Bethesda from downtown DC in 2002, but her take-no-prisoners style hasn't changed. A Yale graduate with a law degree from the University of California's Boalt Hall, Dornbrand brings brainpower as well as firepower. Yet she is accessible, engaged, and interested in each case. Dornbrand recently went off on her own; she has two associates. But she can move cases as quickly and efficiently as anyone.
26. LAUREN SHEA (Ain & Bank; 202-530-3300. $225/hour. DC, VA). Shea, 45, practiced family law in Manhattan before moving to Washington with her husband, lawyer Robert Tigner. She has been a quick study, learning the craft from top divorce lawyer Sandy Ain. The Arlington resident has become a master of the arcane and sometimes unwritten rules of the Virginia courts. Says one colleague, "No one beats Lauren Shea's thoughtfulness, civility, and competence in the sometimes wild practice of the Virginia domestic-relations bar."
27. ROBERT LIOTTA (Liotta, Dranitzke & Engel; 202-797-7700. $300/hour. MD, DC). A popular and well-known figure in DC, Liotta's easygoing manner is a throwback to the days when doctors made house calls. Colleagues and some clients complain that he is overextended. "I try not to be," says Liotta, 62, "but my life is fairly full." Don't mistake an absent-minded-professor demeanor for a lack of caring–or acumen. Liotta remains one of the most solid and approachable attorneys in Washington
28. WALTER W. JOHNSON JR. (301-587-2090. $300/hour. MD). Johnson is a gentlemanly divorce lawyer of 72 whom older divorcing couples find especially helpful. He is no longer interested in cases involving custody–he figures that many of those battles will last longer than he will remain in practice. Johnson is a craftsman at drawing up prenuptial agreements for couples embarking on second marriages. There is no substitute in family law for experience, and Johnson has had plenty.
29. CAROL SCHRIER-POLAK (Bean, Kinney & Korman; 703-525-4000. $350/hour. VA). If you are a potential client with concerns about children, there's no better attorney in Virginia than Schrier-Polak, a world traveler who, in addition to her legal training, has a degree in social work. Her approach is result-oriented. She tries to figure out how you want things to turn out and then to pursue a strategy that will get you there. One expertise is "hybrid property," the tracing of marital versus separate interests in property.
30. MARTIN GANNON (Gannon & Cottrell; 703-836-2770. $450/hour. VA). At 71, Gannon is an irascible and determined presence in the Virginia divorce bar. Not every lawyer can rise above the fray, urge his client to be gracious, and offer to split everything–face it, some clients want blood. Few lawyers go about getting it more goodheartedly than Marty Gannon. The lawyer at various times for Washington play-callers Joe Theismann and Sonny Jurgensen, Gannon's advice to clients has been consistent for four decades: "Dump the chump."
31. RICHARD SHADYAC JR. (Feldesman Tucker Leifer Fidell; 703-671-5800. $325/hour. VA). Another Virginia divorce lawyer with a broad legal background is Falls Church native Rick Shadyac. He practiced general litigation with his father, Richard Shadyac Sr., before establishing his own practice in 1992. He joined Feldesman Tucker six years ago and now concentrates on family law. He tends to be blunt and practical–he knows the damage and expense that going to court can inflict, yet he can mix it up with the best of Virginia's bombers. Shadyac has been involved in several controversial cases involving "relocation"–when an ex-spouse tries to move out of an area with a child. He has been married for 22 years and has two teenage children.
32. CLAUDIA POTT (Ain & Bank; 202-530-3300. $325/hour. DC, MD). With a background in social work, "Dia" Pott is considered one of the more level-headed divorce lawyers in Washington. She will do everything possible to avoid a raucous, unnecessary court battle. Her husband, Peter Sherman, was for years one of the dominating presences in the Washington divorce bar. Sherman now is semiretired and on the adjunct faculty at American University. Pott is sometimes confused with her partner, Lauren Shea, who shares her philosophy that it is better to settle than to litigate. The biggest difference between them is that Shea practices mostly in Virginia, Pott in Maryland.
33. LINDA RAVDIN (Pasternak & Fidis; 301-656-8850. $400/hour. DC, MD, VA). No lawyer in Washington is more up to date on the making and breaking of prenuptial agreements than Ravdin. She has written several books on the topic and is adept at keeping inherited wealth out of the hands of a not-so-trusted spouse. Ravdin is an experienced professional in any number of domestic situations but especially in dealing with prenups.
34. RICHARD J. BYRD (Byrd Mische; 703-273-0500. $300/hour. DC, VA). A former engineer, Byrd made one of the more unusual midlife career shifts; his high-tech bent endears him to clients in the Reston-Dulles technology corridor. Along with Nancy, his wife of 47 years, Byrd, 66, owns a company that publishes divorce-related software. It won't sign the papers for you, but it does provide projections for such matters as spousal support and custody. Even rival attorneys say Byrd's software is now regarded as essential.
35. MARY PENCE (Feldesman Tucker Leifer Fidell; 202-466-8960. $325/hour. MD, DC). An upbeat attitude and an eye for a client's future are the hallmarks of Mary Pence's representation. She has little tolerance for clients who feel sorry for themselves. Her mantra is for the suffering spouse to get on his or her feet and get on with life. Besides handling the nuts and bolts of a divorce proceeding, Pence has helped clients enroll in classes, organize their finances, and set goals for the future.
36. KATHLEEN DUMAIS (Paley, Rothman, Goldstein, Rosenberg, Eig & Cooper; 301-656-7603. $250/hour. MD). The oldest of eight children, Dumais, 45, gained her skills as a mediator early. In 2002 she was elected to the Maryland House of Delegates. Dumais handles every type of divorce case, settling more than half of them. She emphasizes doing the best thing for the family, even if that means talking a spouse out of trying to nail the other party.
37. ELEANOR NACE (Lichtman, Trister & Ross; 202-328-1666. $275/hour. DC, MD). Based in Dupont Circle, GW law grad "Susie" Nace is one of the best-known and most successful mediators in Washington. Her strength is working out custody arrangements similar to the one she has with her own ex-husband. But she also has an active caseload of divorce clients, mostly professionals interested in working out a rational solution in the best interests of their children. She is a former social worker with a keen sense of custody issues–she focuses mainly on the child.
38. DAVID BULITT (Joseph, Greenwald, & Laake; 301-220-2200. $300/hour. DC, MD). After I reported in the last Top Lawyers article that Bulitt specialized in representing women, he was beseiged with calls from men who believed he might have some extra insight into how women think. So while this good listener–with four daughters–still represents mostly women, he has more male clients than ever. From his office in Greenbelt, Bulitt works the nearby counties of Maryland–Prince George's, Calvert, even Cecil County. "I get a lot of people who can't fathom where Greenbelt is," he says, "so I end up meeting a lot of people at a Starbucks somewhere close to them."
39. EDNA RUTH VINCENT (Colten Cummins Watson & Vincent; 703-277-9700. $300/hour. DC, VA). The wife of Alexandria-based federal judge Gerald Bruce Lee, Vincent is an American University law grad who studied education at Howard University and taught for seven years before turning to law. She is a tough litigator with an empathetic manner. From teaching she learned that each case, like each child, is different and requires its own solutions.
40. SANDRA G. WILKOF (Law Offices of Sandra G. Wilkof; 301-654-0303. $250/hour. DC, MD). Sandee Wilkof, a sole practitioner based in Bethesda, continues to be one of the top Maryland attorneys willing to work on tough custody issues. In past years her work has been divided between the District and Maryland, but Wilkof now prefers to work on cases in the Maryland court system, where custody is dealt with separately from property and money issues.
41. HADRIAN HATFIELD (Strickler, Sachitano & Hatfield; 301-657-8805. $275/hour. MD, DC). A native of Arkansas with a French mother and a French wife, Hatfield seemed destined to practice international law. But after a few years in the bowels of the State Department, he yearned for human contact. He went to work for Hyatt Legal Services and started doing divorce work, then worked under Virginia divorce lawyer Glenn Lewis. Hatfield says he couldn't be happier: "No two days are the same." His practice has an international flavor. Clients from international agencies have made him a contact of first resort. He is well versed in both American and European laws on inheritance and wills. The Vanderbilt law grad has a knack for working out solutions between warring parties of all nationalities.
42. NATALIE O. LUDAWAY (Leftwich &Ludaway; 202-434-9100. $350/hour. DC, MD). Ludaway handles a substantial divorce practice in a firm known for other types of law. This makes her less of a coddler than some of her peers. She brings a hardheaded professional and business perspective to divorce law. She is very strong on property issues and works closely on divorce cases with capable partner Rebecca L. Taylor. Both Ludaway and Taylor are graduates of George Washington University Law School. Taylor does a lot of work in Maryland and has a good working knowledge of the Prince George's courts.
43. LINDA DELANEY (Delaney, McKinney & Clark; 301-913-5236. $350/hour. DC, MD). When it comes to high-conflict custody situations, Linda Delaney is often recommended by attorneys familiar with her skill and devotion. A graduate of the District's Antioch School of Law, Delaney spent a number of years working on civil-rights and police-misconduct cases before jumping to custody work, where she felt she could make a difference. She is joined in her practice by Margaret McKinney and Robin Clark–both get high marks from rival attorneys as up-and-comers. Delaney–a strong proponent of joint custody–has a thoughtful approach that emphasizes protection of the children's welfare from the outset of litigation rather than the end, when she feels it's sometimes too late. If you want "scorched earth," she says, "there are plenty of other places down the street."
44. HEATHER HOSTETTER (Strickler, Sachitano & Hatfield; 301-657-8805. $225/hour. MD, DC). A 32-year-old native of Hartford, Connecticut, Hostetter has been turning heads with her trial work in Montgomery County courts. Rivals say Hostetter, a divorce lawyer for less than five years, is already a worthy court opponent. Representing a wage-earning wife accused of adultery, she recently went head-to-head with Montgomery County legend Jeff Greenblatt–and got the better of him. Hostetter comes to trial work well prepared: She was in the state public defender's office for several years, trying many tough cases, including death-penalty cases. Her husband, Derek Chollet, is an aide to North Carolina Senator John Edwards.
45. CHERYL NEW (Sandground West New & Lowinger; 703-761-4200. $350/hour. VA, MD). After 17 years in practice, nobody can size up a case any quicker than New. Since her third year at American University's Washington College of Law, she has worked at one of Washington's most respected family-law firms, founded by legendary bomber Mark Sandground. The typical New client is a successful, middle-aged couple with complicated assets that need division.
46. SARA M. DONOHUE (Feldesman Tucker Leifer Fidell; 202-466-8960. $300/hour. DC, MD). This blond dynamo is a good choice for custody negotiations: She is often called in by the court or by other lawyers to give a fair opinion as guardian ad litem in custody battles. The Rockville resident helps her clients keep things in perspective–her Irish background notwithstanding, she's good at cooling down an overheated situation and considering the well-being of children. Donohue knows about children; she's the mother of three-year-old triplets.
47. DOROTHY ISAACS (Surovell Markle Isaacs & Levy; 703-251-5400. $350/hour. VA). A judge once described Isaacs as a "five-foot lawyer with seven-foot affect." In her own words, "The person hasn't been born who can intimidate me." Most of her clients agree. Isaacs represents both sexes but describes her ideal client as a woman abused or threatened by a husband. The stickier the case, the better Isaacs is: In a recent case, she successfully represented a father accused of abuse by proving that the child's injuries were consistent with a medical condition.
48. SHELLY D. MCKEON (Law Offices of Shelly D. McKeon; 301-251-0400. $285/hour. DC, MD). A native of Fresno, California, McKeon came to Washington for law school and has made her home here. She trained under two of Montgomery County's toughest divorce lawyers, Jeff Greenblatt and Ron Ogens, and after ten years in the business has emerged as a budding star. Rivals say her energy and enthusiasm overcome any lack of experience. Her husband, Robert McKeon, is a trained chef; he now runs her Rockville office. If you're lucky, he will bring in some cookies.
49. LINDA HASPEL (Haspel & McLeod; 301-424-8841. $275/hour. MD). Haspel has a brown belt in karate and a sign over her door that reads BETTER TO BE THE STOMPER THAN THE STOMPEE. She has been handling divorces for more than 20 years; karate, she says, empowers her to stand up for her clients. "Divorce destroys a person's world," she says. "My goal is to protect them as much as possible. I'm five-foot-one, but if I can block some big guy with a black belt, I think I can do that for my clients." Another thing karate teaches, says Haspel: "You don't beat up on people just because you can."
50. DAVID E. ROOP JR. (Condo Roop Kelly & Byrnes; 703-442-0888. $350/hour. VA). A former legal malpractice defense lawyer, the boyish-looking Roop has gained his footing in family law and is rapidly gaining the full confidence of clients and peers. "You have to take control," Roop says he has learned. "I have very strong convictions about how to do this. This job is not about destroying families; it's about delivering fairness."
51. MICHAEL CALLAHAN (Thyden, Gross & Callahan; 301-907-4580. $240/hour. DC, MD, VA). Along with his partner, James Gross, Callahan authored an important manual last year on understanding divorce in all three area jurisdictions. Their own practice is mostly centered in Maryland. Gross and Callahan tend toward reasonableness and seek out clients interested in settling cases and working out differences amicably.
52. CHERYL HEPFER (Law Offices of Cheryl Lynn Hepfer; 301-762-5500. $450/hour. MD). One of the most creative and hard-working lawyers in Maryland, Hepfer is known for thoroughness. She comes naturally to her expertise in law: Her father was an attorney, and Hepfer has now been at it for about 32 years. Her all-female office works on a team basis, and her main partner, Geraldine Welikson Hess, is considered first-rate.