News & Politics

What Made Me: Brendan Sullivan Jr.

Washington’s top criminal-defense lawyer learned from a legal legend.

Brendan Sullivan Jr. Photograph by Douglas Sonders.

The turning point: I went to Georgetown law school with the intent of becoming a businessman. But while serving as an Army captain, I defended soldiers charged with mutiny at the Presidio in San Francisco. A three-star general did not like my vigorous defense of the soldiers, so he ordered me to Vietnam. Punitive transfers are not permitted in the military, and after an investigation my orders were canceled and the general retired with only two stars. I learned that those charged with a crime need lawyers to fight for them.

The piece of advice: After military service, I was planning to go back to my home state of Rhode Island. Instead, Georgetown law professor Richard Alan Gordon made the most absurd suggestion I had ever heard from an adult. He said, “You must go interview with Edward Bennett Williams.” It was preposterous for me to even consider meeting with the legendary lawyer, yet Gordon insisted on making an appointment for me. I met with Williams early on a Saturday, and he hired me on the spot.

The mentor: I was assigned a small office next to Williams’s. He visited frequently to chat, usually in midafternoon. I found out that he was addicted to peanut-butter crackers, which came six to a pack. I filled my bottom desk drawer with them. Often he sat and we chatted while the crumbs spilled down his shirt. I listened for 18 years.

This article appears in the June 2012 issue of The Washingtonian.

Senior Editor

Marisa M. Kashino joined Washingtonian in 2009 and was a senior editor until 2022.