In the competitive practice of law, there are many who are successful, but a few who achieve infamous success. Whether it be due to the sheer number of cases won, or the publicity of cases handled, these are five lawyers that we think you should know about.
The first lawyer on our list is the infamous Clarence Seward Darrow. The defense counsel in many dramatic criminal trials in American legal history, Darrow is gained recognition by being a well-known debater, public speaker, and miscellaneous writer, known for his high caliber performance.
Darrow began his career in the latter half of the 19th century, attending law school for only one year before graduating and beginning his practice. Being a man of many talents, his career progressed swiftly especially with the help of his friendship with Judge John Peter Altgeld, giving him an edge over the competition.
Darrow did not need any favors and earned a reputation throughout the city of Chicago for being one of the best. In 1890, he was appointed to the Chicago city corporation counsel and eventually became the general attorney for the city of Chicago and the North Western Railway.
Darrow made the decision to leave North Western to defend Union leader Eugene Debs and others in his party. It was during the case of Debs that Darrow received a national reputation as a labor and criminal defense lawyer. In the arbitration hearings, the Pennsylvania anthracite coal laborers were represented by Darrow, in a suit to protect their rights. He secured the acquittal of the labor leader William D. Haywood for the assassination of the former governor Frank R. Steunenberg of Idaho. And these are just a few of the many celebrated labor cases that Darrow won.
It isn’t hard to imagine that if Clarence Darrow were alive today, he would be at the forefront of the labor inequality movement, and would continue to fight for worker’s rights in the courtroom.
Born right after the turn of the century, Thurgood Marshall was a well-known lawyer, civil rights activist, and associate justice of the United States Supreme Court. A remarkable trailblazer, Marshall was the very first Supreme Court Justice of African American descent.
Most notably, Marshall argued before the supreme court, the unconstitutionality of racial segregation in American public schools. This landmark case, known as Brown v. Board of Education, reversed the racist policy that kept children of different races separated in the classroom.
Marshall was the son of a railroad porter and an elementary school teacher and defied the odds when he graduated with honors from Lincoln University in Pennsylvania in 1930. After he was rejected by the University of Maryland Law school due to the color of his skin, he went on to attend Howard University Law school where he ranked first in his class.
Upon graduating from law school, Marshall dived into private practice law in Baltimore and handled many suits tainted with racial discrimination. In one such case, the University of Maryland was accused of violating the Fourteenth Amendment by denying an application on the sole basis of race. This case, known as Murray v. Pearson gave Marshall the opportunity to fight against what he himself experienced, and reverse the racist policies of the university, thus giving future African Americans opportunities he did not have
Eventually, Marshall became a staff lawyer under Houston for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). His talents lead him to become the lead chair in the legal office of the NAACP, and only two years later he was named chief of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund.
Throughout his practice, Marshall distinguished himself as one of the United States’ top lawyers. Of the 32 cases that he argued before the Supreme Court, he won an astounding 29. Without a doubt, however, it was his work for the landmark case of Brown v. Board of Education that made Thurgood Marshall’s legacy live on.
Ruth Bader Ginsberg
More than likely, you have heard of the third name on our list, the famous Ruth Bader Ginsburg. The second woman to serve on the United States Supreme Court, Bader Ginsburg held her role steadfastly until her recent death on September 18, 2020.
The youngest of two children, Joan Ruth Bader was born into an observant Jewish family attending synagogue regularly, and participating in various Jewish traditions while growing up. She was an extremely bright student and upon graduating high school, received a full scholarship to Cornell University where she began her studies in higher education.
During her time at Cornell, Bader Ginsburg met her husband, Martin Ginsburg, who later became a nationally prominent tax attorney. Martin is said to have been a strong influence on Bader Ginsburg, fully supporting her throughout her life’s work and career. They were married nine days after she graduated Cornell University
Bader Ginsburg’s legal life began when she moved to Massachusetts and pursued her studies at Harvard Law School. She later finished her legal education at Columbia Law school where she was the top of her class.
Bader Ginsburg’s legal career was fraught with struggles. Being a woman and also a mother, the options she had for practicing her craft were slim. It was only when one of her law professors advocated on her behalf that Ginsburg was offered a clerkship. Despite the struggles she faced, Bader Ginsburg defied the odds and climbed through the ranks in her position, of course landing herself with one of the most important jobs in our country, Supreme Court Justice.
Melvin Belli was not only famous for his successful law career, but also for his personal life. In fact, if you’re a fan of the Star Trek franchise you can find him playing the role of Gorgan during the 3rd season of the original series.
Despite his playfulness, Belli had many legal accomplishments such as defending Jack Ruby, the man who murdered Lee Harvey Oswald after the assassination of John F. Kennedy and he also created many refinements to personal injury litigation that have affected law practices to this day.
Belli’s accomplishments and status led him to become the lawyer for Mick Jagger and the Rolling Stones when they filed an infamous lawsuit against Sears Point International raceway for breaking the agreement to use Sears Point for their free festival.
Before this in 1954, Belli was dubbed the King of Torts and became well-known for handling a lot of personal injury cases. Belli was also interested in solving the Zodiac Killer case which led him to act in the 2007 film Zodiac. He may have only been a small-time actor, but he was more than well-known in the court of law.
The final lawyer on our list, is one who is still alive and practicing, Mark Lanier. Born William Mark Lanier, he became a well-known American trial lawyer and founder of the law firm – Lanier Law. There have been several high-profile product litigation suits that Lanier has handled, most notoriously, the Johnson and Johnson baby powder case in which asbestos was detected in J&J baby powder products.
After graduating from law school at the Texas Tech University School of Law, he began his legal career working in Houston for Fulbright and Jaworski. He made his way by working in appellate and trial divisions before founding his own practice.
Lanier also represented Rubicon Oil and Gas for a breach-of-contract case back in 1990. He received a verdict that totaled $480 million at settlement. In another case, Aaron v. Abex, Lanier was counsel for a group of steelworkers who had contracted asbestos. The verdict was found to be a $115 million payout for the defense. He also handled the Vioxx case against Merck and Co., which produced a drug later found to increase cardiovascular diseases.
Lanier has been in private practice for most of his career, and since he is relatively young and still practicing, there is still much that he is expected to do in the name of justice.
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