Top Lawyers: The Next Generation

We went looking for Baltimore’s up-and-coming legal stars and found 20 to watch

By Abigail Green

April 2003

Looking for a sharp lawyer? Swing an amicus brief around at lunchtime downtown and you’re bound to hit one.

But tighten up the criteria and it gets tougher: If you’re looking for one of the two or three best in a given specialty, and maybe someone a little younger than those chosen by exhaustive peer polling in our periodic “Top Lawyers” lists, then you’re going to be swinging a lot of briefs on your lunch break. H Luckily, we’ve done the work for you. Need some estate help after being named in Grandma Victoria’s will? Got a problem with a pre-nuptial agreement that suddenly isn’t just a formality anymore? You say your boss has instituted “clothing-optional” Fridays? Call one of the 20 lawyers we’ve listed here—according to our sources, they’re all headed for our “Top Lawyers” list in years to come. H Unlike the methodology used by Baltimore and national industry rankings to produce “Top Lawyers” lists, the selection process for this story was intentionally unscientific: The Top Lawyers searches involve polling of hundreds of other lawyers and tends to produce many of the same names and faces each time, many of them near retirement. H This time we were looking instead for rising stars you might not have heard of, and we’re confident of our picks. They come recommended by local bar association presidents, law school professors, Baltimore top lawyers from previous years, and other well-regarded peers. H In some areas of law, attorneys specialize in representing either the plaintiffs or the defendants. In our list of rising stars, we include experts from both points of view in a few categories.HDid we overlook a few dozen young attorneys who’ve gotten great results? Of course; it’s not a comprehensive list. But we’d bet on the verdict if any of these lawyers were on the case.

Not many lawyers can claim they have a client on every continent, but immigration attorney Naima Said does (well, except for Antarctica, that is). Although the Kenya native speaks fluent Swahili (and “very bad Arabic, if I’m forced”), “fortunately, most of my clients speak English or bring a relative or a friend who can interpret.”

After studying law in Kenya, Said married an American and came to the United States where she completed her graduate studies at Harvard Law School in 1990. Now in solo practice in Columbia, she helps employers in the technology, construction, and health care industries obtain visas for foreign workers. The other part of her work concerns family-based immigration.

Said often represents clients facing deportation, either because they overstayed their visas, committed a crime, or entered the country illegally. In some cases, parents have been sent back to their home country after 10 years, taking their American-born children with them because they have no other family to care for them.

“It’s heartbreaking when you have cases like that,” says Said. “The kids are in their most formative years, they’re Americans, and that’s all they know.”

Such rulings have become more common following changes to the Illegal Immigration Reform Act in 1996. The increasingly stringent standards were made to apply retroactively, resulting in horrific situations for some immigrants, such as a client who faced deportation for forging a check for $70, after living in the U.S. for more than 25 years (she won the case).

“Under the new law, the forged check made him an aggravated felon, which is the same as committing a murder, rape, or distributing drugs,” says Said.

Even more than most people’s work, Said’s changed after September 11, 2001. Many of her clients were called in to have their status checked and rechecked. “Things have changed drastically,” says Said. A former pro bono liaison to the Baltimore Immigration Court, Said’s pro bono work extends to her own practice.

“I have an office policy that I will take abused women and children from any religion, country, or color,” she says. Often, spouses who are citizens or permanent residents use the green card process as a means to control and abuse their wives. She doesn’t get many of these cases in Howard County, says Said, “but when they do come, they’re really heartbreakers.”

Welcome to the law firm of the future: Attorneys and clients conduct business via e-mail and videoconferencing. In addition to legal services, the firm offers clients web hosting and e-commerce software. Clients can pay their bills online with the click of a mouse. How far off is this futuristic fantasy? For attorney Michael Oliver, it’s already here.

He is a partner at Bowie & Jensen, one of the few firms in the area that has embraced “elawyering.”

While hi-tech legal services aren’t for everyone, they’re expected by Oliver’s clients, all privately held software companies.

“We try to provide the same high level of service to our clients that a big software company would get from a Venable or a Piper [Rudnick],” he says.

Hailing from the “old school” of computer lawyers, he can recall a time before the Internet boom hit. There was no formal intellectual property program at the University of Baltimore School of Law in 1989, he says, and not much interest from other lawyers. “When I was at Whiteford, Taylor & Preston doing this stuff, no one wanted to do it,” he says. “Now IP is hot, everyone wants to do it.”

In 1995, Oliver left that firm to start a computer and Internet law practice with Robert Bowie Jr., and Mark Jensen. The firm has been an early adopter of technology from the start—it was the second law firm in the state to launch a website. Oliver runs a full web hosting “mini-company” inside the firm to keep up with the constantly changing industry, he says, and, as “resident geek,” he also develops e-commerce software that allows secure transactions on the Internet.

As president of the Maryland Institute for Continuing Professional Education of Lawyers (MICPEL), Oliver is currently spearheading a new distance learning initiative. Through the use of computer technology, lawyers in remote areas of the Eastern Shore and southern Maryland will soon be able to access MICPEL’s educational offerings from their desktops.

In as much as it’s possible to have free time when you work 16-hour days, Oliver spends his off-hours teaching courses in IP and cyber law at local law schools, authoring articles on those topics for legal journals, and recently headed up the Maryland State Bar Association technology committee.

Does he ever do anything, well, low-tech? Sort of. Oliver is an accomplished classical guitarist active in the Baltimore Classical Guitar Society—he even designed their website.

Mary Alane Downs doesn’t measure her professional success by how much publicity she gets. “Rarely as a defense attorney do you get your name in the paper for being successful,” says the graduate of Mount St. Mary’s College and the University of Maryland School of Law, who has more than 20 years’ experience in general litigation, personal injury, and medical malpractice law.

She does, however, recall a particular victory that hit the front page a few years back: “I represented an OB/GYN in a Down syndrome case in which the allegation was that there was an inaccurate reading of a [prenatal test] used to detect genetic abnormalities,” she says. Although the mother had declined to follow-up with an amniocentesis, a more accurate test, she filed suit, claiming that the doctor had given her incorrect information and that she would have terminated the pregnancy had she known that her baby had Down syndrome. At the time of the trial, the child was about five years old, says Downs, who won the case with the help of an expert from the Children’s Hospital Boston.

“It really was an eye-opener for everybody involved in the case as to how special these kids are and how well they can do. He was a very sweet little boy. To say, ‘I would prefer that he not have ever been born’ is a tough one for most juries.”

Downs, who has been with her current firm since 1985, defends physicians, practice groups and hospitals in virtually every county in the state. “[My cases] run the gamut—some are wrongful death cases, some are people claiming injury from surgery, not diagnosing cancer, babies born with cerebral palsy—anything that can go wrong in a medical setting,” says the attorney. “Typically I’m retained by hospitals or physicians’ insurance companies.”

For the past two years, she also has been on the faculty of the Maryland Institute for Continuing Professional Education of Lawyers (MICPEL), and she often speaks at hospitals on malpractice topics, from documentation to how to talk to a patient’s family when there’s been a problem.

In her non-billable time, the Cockeysville resident is president of the Greencroft Community Association and regularly attends her two children’s baseball and basketball games. “My husband is the commissioner for the Roland Park Baseball League, so most of our spring is spent on the baseball field,” adds Downs.

William Mulford will often take a case simply because it strikes his fancy—like the time a few years ago when he sued Governor Parris Glendening’s then-girlfriend (and current wife) for failing to pay her rent. But most of the matters that occupy the criminal defense attorney and former prosecutor are of a decidedly darker nature. An attorney charged with murder, an individual shot by a police officer, and other assorted embezzlement and sexual-offense cases.

A former state’s attorney and Anne Arundel County councilman, Mulford opened a solo practice in Annapolis in 1994 handling everything from “murder to speeding tickets.” It’s not his job to judge his clients, he says, only to protect their constitutional right to a fair trial. He compares himself to an ER physician.

“Last time I checked, I don’t recall a doctor in an emergency room asking someone who comes in with a gunshot wound whether they’re a saint or a sinner before they provide medical services,” he says.

The majority of his clients are first-time offenders—an executive who drives home drunk from the golf course or a teenager caught shoplifting.

“A lot of times, you’re dealing with good people who simply make a mistake,” says Mulford. “My job gives me the chance to say good things about people who may not have anybody else standing up for them.”

Since his days at the University of Baltimore School of Law (he graduated in 1986), the words of Professor Byron Warnken have stuck with him, says Mulford. “He felt that criminal law combines everything you would ever want in a lawyer. And I think he’s right—if you’re a trial lawyer, you deal with constitutional issues, and you deal with people and emotions.”

Mulford has clearly struck the right balance, and people are noticing.

Says Kevin Schaeffer, president of the Anne Arundel Bar Association, “He’s a very even-tempered fellow who gets great results for his clients.”

BANKRUPTCY

Paul M. Nussbaum

Age: 44

Firm: Whiteford, Taylor & Preston

Phone: 410-347-8794

Practice Areas: Bankruptcy; Business Reorganization

Hourly Rate: $325

After just five years practicing law in New York City, Paul Nussbaum was hired by Whiteford, Taylor & Preston to develop their bankruptcy group. Nearly 16 years later, the department has grown to 20 lawyers and is the largest in the state.

The firm represents major local and national Chapter 11 debtor cases, including Golf America, The Porter-Hayden Company, Frank’s Nursery & Crafts, PhyAmerica, and USinternetworking.

Nussbaum’s never made the Top Lawyers list in Baltimore, but who needs that? At 41, he was named in Best Lawyers in America, 2000.

COMMERCIAL

Daniel W. China

Age: 36

Firm: Venable, Baetjer and Howard

Phone: 410-494-6204

Practice Areas: Commercial Litigation

Hourly Rate: $325

A partner at Venable who concentrates in construction litigation, China represents real estate developers and owners, general contractors, subcontractors, and suppliers involved in construction-related matters, including disputes over payment and timely completion of projects.

He also donates a lot of time: Currently, he is involved in a pro bono case representing a minority contractor seeking payment for work done as part of the Baltimore Empowerment Zone initiative. China also chairs the Legislative Committee for the Cumberland Valley Chapter of Associated Builders and Contractors and has coordinated Venable’s participation in the Cystic Fibrosis Sports Challenge and the Santa Claus Anonymous program.

Eric B. Myers

Age: 31

Firm: Funk & Bolton

Phone: 410-659-7755

Practice Areas: Business and commercial litigation

Hourly Rate: $185

A self-described “people person,” Eric Myers is of that breed of attorneys who “actually likes being a lawyer,” he jokes.

From helping businesses settle disputes to determining how insurance companies handle suicides, Myers is at home in the courtroom. His favorite part? Cross-examination, though he insists it’s not as exciting as it looks on TV.

The Towson native was president of his class at the University of Pittsburgh School of Law and is an active member of the Defense Research Institute young lawyers committee.

CORPORATE

Teresa “Tea” Burt Carnell

Age: 38

Firm: Ballard Spahr Andrews & Ingersoll, LLP

Phone: 410-528-5618

Practice Areas: Corporate Law; Securities Law

Hourly Rate: $265

The board of directors advises a company, but who advises the board? “Tea” Carnell does just that for large companies including the Sara Lee Corporation, Alliance Capital Management, and the Maryland Retailers Association.

Before she began practicing corporate law nearly five years ago, Carnell worked for the Department of Legislative Services in Annapolis as counsel to the House Economic Matters Committee. She continues to do legislative counsel work for the Maryland Retailers Association, drafting bills and providing legal advice.

Carnell also chairs the Committee on Corporate Laws for the Business Law Section of the Maryland State Bar Association and is state liaison to the American Bar Association Section of Business Law Committee on Corporate Laws. She also co-chairs the Bryn Mawr Little School scholarship fund committee.

CRIMINAL

Kenneth W. Ravenell

Age: 43

Firm: Schulman, Treem, Kaminkow, Gilden & Ravenell

Phone: 410-659-0111

Practice Areas: Criminal Defense

Hourly Rate: varies according to the individual; generally starts at $200 or a flat fee.

Kenneth Ravenell comes highly recommended by former Top Lawyer Billy Murphy: “His results are spectacular. He wins 93 percent of his jury trials.” That includes the one in which he represented Murphy when he was charged with trespassing and resisting arrest.

Ravenell’s other high-profile clients have included Baltimore City schools superintendent Walter Amprey, and the Reverend Maurice J. Blackwell, the Catholic priest who was shot by an alleged sexual abuse victim in May.

“A lot of high-profile people come to me when they get in trouble because I’m not one of those attorneys who tries the case in the press,” says Ravenell. His criminal practice also includes white-collar crime, narcotics, and murder cases.

EMPLOYMENT

Susan Stobbart Shapiro

Age: 33

Firm: Council, Baradel, Kosmerl & Nolan

Phone: 410-268-6600

Practice Areas: Employment Law, civil litigation

Hourly Rate: $180

Susan Stobbart Shapiro provides legal advice that businesses need more than ever: how to not get sued.

She represents individual employees and businesses in matters related to hiring and firing—employment contracts, non-compete agreements, severance packages, and sexual harassment. As the daughter of small business owners, she says she’s always been interested in protecting the interests of entrepreneurs. Shapiro, who is director of the law firm, recently finished her term as president of the Washington College alumni association and served on the board of the Marine Trades Association of Maryland.

ENTERTAINMENT

E. Scott Johnson

Age: 51

Firm: Ober, Kaler, Grimes & Shriver

Phone: 410-347-7388

Practice Areas: Entertainment Law

Hourly Rate: $295

At 51, Johnson’s a little more grizzled than our other young guns—but he gets a pass since he didn’t become a lawyer until he was 36.

First he had to learn the entertainment business from the ground up: In the 1970s, he was pursuing a music career that included touring with girl group the Crystals, jamming with Little Feat, and producing records.

After completing his law degree at Georgetown University in his 30s, Johnson landed at Ober Kaler. He represents several artists in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, filmmakers, television producers, and news anchors, and chairs the firm’s Intellectual Property Practice Group. As trademark attorney for the 2003 World Figure Skating Championships in Washington, D.C., he is also popular with his middle-school-age daughter, a music lover and competitive figure skater.

For an entertainment lawyer, Johnson is a bargain at $295 per hour (in New York or Los Angeles he could command $400 or more per hour), but still provides reduced-rate and free legal services to artists just starting out in the entertainment field as a volunteer lawyer for the Washington Area Lawyers for the Arts and former president of Maryland Lawyers for the Arts.

ESTATES & TRUSTS

Morris L. Garten

Age: 36

Firm: Fedder and Garten

Phone: 410-539-2800

Practice Areas: Estate planning and administration; Real Estate; Corporate Law

Hourly Rate: $160 an hour

Morris Garten is a family guy. He works alongside his father and two brothers in the family firm, and, in his estate planning work, guides families who have lost loved ones through difficult legal processes. Typical clients include small- to medium-sized businesses with employment law issues and families who need wills prepared.

After hours, Garten is active with several local charities, including the Associated Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore.

FAMILY LAW

Marc B. Noren

Age: 47

Firm: Adelberg, Rudow, Dorf & Hendler

Phone: 410-539-5195

Practice Areas: Family Law

Hourly Rate: $190

Though he’s been in private practice a mere six years, Marc Noren has more family law experience than most of his fellow attorneys and many judges.

For 22 years, he was a fixture in the Baltimore City court system, where he worked his way up from a summer job in a clerk’s office to a senior management position reporting directly to the bench. In the process, Noren became the go-to guy for many a lawyer and judge involved in divorce, custody, child support and adoption cases. He joined his current firm in 1996 and was named partner in 2002. He is a past co-chair of the Family Law Committee of the Bar Association of Baltimore City, was appointed to the Family and Juvenile Law Section Council of the Maryland State Bar Association, and is active in efforts to increase pro bono services in family law.

MALPRACTICE

Robert Weltchek

Age: 47

Firm: Weiner & Weltchek

Phone: 410-769-8080

Practice Areas: Complex Commercial Litigation; Medical Malpractice;
Wrongful Death

Hourly Rate: Contingency

Though he’s not as high-profile as his former partner Steve Snyder, Bob Weltchek has plenty of impressive legal wins under his belt. Before starting his own firm with Arnold Weiner in 2001, Weltchek—along with Weiner and Snyder—obtained a $185 million settlement from Ernst & Young in the widely publicized Merry-Go-Round case. But Weltchek’s primary area of expertise is medical malpractice. He counts numerous multimillion-dollar malpractice awards among his successes, including the recent $10 million jury verdict in the wrongful death case of Strange v. University of Maryland Medical System. In March 2003, Weltchek was sworn in as a fellow of the American College of Trial Lawyers, a prestigious organization for the top trial lawyers in the country.

But it’s not all work and no play: Weltchek admits to being a huge Terps basketball fan, claiming not to have missed a game in eight years. “I’m a complete fanatic,” he says.

PERSONAL INJURY

Scott Burns

Age: 38

Firm: Tydings & Rosenberg

Phone: 410-752-9743

Practice Areas: Personal Injury Litigation, Products Liability, Property Damage Litigation, commercial litigation

Hourly Rate: $205

Proving that the past really can come back to haunt you, Scott Burns defends some of his clients in asbestos lawsuits stemming from products sold in the 1940s and ’50s, including Owens-Illinois, the largest glass and plastics manufacturer in the country. The trial lawyer has had a string of successes in his property-damage defense work, and also has won toxic tort cases for manufacturers of carbonless copy paper against plaintiffs claiming multiple chemical sensitivity. As immediate past president of the Maryland Defense Council, Burns also is active in tort reform legislation in Annapolis. But when asked what he’s most proud of, this local-born attorney says, “I’m a Baltimore boy through and through.”

J. Robb Cecil

Age: 43

Firm: McGowan, Cecil & Smathers

Phone: 410-551-2300

Practice Areas: Personal Injury, representing plaintiffs

Hourly Rate: contingency

Robb Cecil will tell you that he and partners are personal injury lawyers with a personal touch—they treat clients, most victims of automobile accidents, with dignity, and “we return phone calls.” Bedside manner, of course, wouldn’t be enough to make the list, but peers and competitors say Cecil is well respected and gets the job done.

Cecil and Mike McGowan are working overtime this spring since partner John Smathers, a captain in the Army Reserves, was called in February for active duty as part of a special forces unit of paratroopers.

Cecil is a former assistant state’s attorney in Anne Arundel County, and is a member of the Association of Trial Lawyers of America and the Maryland Trial Lawyers Association. He also coaches his children’s T-ball team and is actively involved in fundraising for the School of the Incarnation in Gambrills, the first new Catholic school in the Baltimore diocese in 34 years.

REAL ESTATE

Cornelia M. Koetter

Age: 44

Firm: Nolan, Plumhoff & Williams

Phone: 410-823-7800

Practice Areas: Real Estate Law

Hourly Rate: $175, or flat rate for residential loans

Not all lawyers are flashy, adversarial types who dominate the courtroom. Energetic and detail-oriented, real estate lawyer Cornelia Koetter tackles the fine points of residential and commercial loan transactions and closings running into the millions of dollars. Real estate runs in the family: Growing up, she regularly assisted her Realtor mother, got her own license at age 18, and worked for a title company after law school.

Koetter, who is also an active member of the Bar Association of Baltimore County Land Records committee, is married to a commercial real estate developer. So, she says, “We talk a lot of real estate in my house.”

TAX

Mary Claire Chesshire

Age: 40

Firm: Whiteford, Taylor & Preston

Phone: 410-347-9465

Practice Areas: Tax Law

Hourly Rate: $275

If there’s any good that has come of the Enron and WorldCom scandals, it’s that tax lawyers like Mary Claire Chesshire have been elevated from mere tax-code analysts to trusted advisers.

From sole proprietors to local government, insurance providers, and engineering firms, Chesshire works with her clients to determine employee retirement plans that fit their needs.

“What we’re finding with our clients is that their employees are suspicious of their 401(k) plans,” she says. “It’s a new angle that we have to look at now—how this will impact the employee relationship.” Chesshire also does pro bono work in the Earned Income Tax Clinic of Maryland Volunteer Lawyer Services and is on the board of directors for the Baltimore Chapter of the Executive Women’s Golf Association.

WORKERS’ COMPENSATION

Donald Hecht

Age: 45

Firm: Leslie L. Gladstone

Phone: 410-727-2322

Practice Areas: Workers’ Compensation, Personal Injury, criminal bankruptcy

Hourly Rate: Usually contingency

After more than a decade of litigating workers’ compensation cases in Baltimore, Donald Hecht is still amazed at how many people don’t know their rights.

Who knew that your employer must pay two-thirds of your weekly wage and all medical bills if you’re injured on the job and unable to work? While most of Hecht’s clients are blue-collar steel workers and truck drivers, he sees a fair number of carpal-tunnel cases, too, and is currently fighting the city on behalf of an employee who suffered a torn rotator cuff when she was assaulted by a coworker at her desk job.

Hecht, who has a bachelor’s degree and a joint JD-MBA from the University of Maryland, is a former public defender with a background in criminal law.

Anthony J. “Zack” Zaccagnini

Age: 42

Firm: Semmes, Bowen & Semmes

Phone: 410-576-4781

Practice Areas: Workers’ Compensation Law; Employer Liability Law; White Collar Criminal Defense

Hourly Rate: $125 to $150 for insurance defense, $250 for criminal defense

Have an employee who was injured on the job? You might call “Zack” Zaccagnini, who represents employers ranging from Taco Bell to mom-and-pop dry cleaners involved in “slip-and-falls,” he says.

In addition to workers compensation and insurance liability defense, Zaccagnini does some white-collar criminal defense work, including serving as lead counsel for snitch extraordinaire Linda Tripp during the infamous Monica Lewinsky affair. He has served as a JAG officer (a federal prosecutor for the U.S. Army), and was assigned to the office of the chief trial attorney in Washington, D.C., where he represented the U.S. Army in law suits for two years before going into private practice in 1993.

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