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. H Did 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.”