The Influentials: Law

Martin Lipton
Founding partner, Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz
Still the city’s most sought-after deal lawyer at 74, with potential rivals for the title either less active (Joseph Flom, Skadden, Arps) or still behind him (Rodgin Cohen, Sullivan & Cromwell). Lipton rose to prominence in the early eighties as the creator of the “poison pill,” by which public companies fend off hostile takeovers by threatening to make themselves prohibitively expensive. His expertise extends well beyond that, however, and no one from the next generation of M&A lawyers can match his experience (past Lipton clients range from Kraft and Disney to AT&T and railroad giant CSX). Marty still takes the proverbial first call from Fortune 500 companies with major financial issues to sort out.

Paul Roth
Founding partner, Schulte, Roth & Zabel
Roth charted the legal map for some of the first private-equity and hedge funds, and now his firm represents literally hundreds of them. How did he corner the market? In ancient times (1967), Roth helped his brother-in-law set up the pioneering firm of Steinhardt, Fine and Berkowitz and almost by default became the go-to expert on fund formation in the fledgling field—knowledge that has proved endlessly billable as groups like Blackstone, SAC, and Cerberus have grown to rival traditional Wall Street banks in their financial power and profitability.

Michael Cardozo
New York City corporation counsel
The former head of litigation for Proskauer Rose is bringing white-shoe lawyering—and lawyers—to City Hall. In Bloomberg’s first term, the 600-odd attorneys under Cardozo’s command became better compensated and more frequently victorious in court, putting the city in a stronger position to attract legal talent. Under Bloomberg, the corporation counsel’s job is not merely defending against the usual onslaught of slip-and-fall torts and wrongful-arrest suits—it’s Cardozo’s responsibility to make good on the mayor’s reputation-staking promise of holding handgun makers liable for weapons that turn up on the city’s streets. To help him succeed, Cardozo is recruiting pro bono labor from private-sector firms like Thelen, Reid & Priest, which has thus far contributed $1.5 million worth of work (about 5,000 hours) to the handgun cases. That’s only a start: Cardozo’s suing three dozen manufacturers and counting.

Steve Banks
Attorney-in-chief, Legal Aid Society of New YorkNew York is legally required to provide emergency shelter for its homeless population in large part because of Banks—but perhaps more important, he ensures that that obligation is actually enforced. Banks has been a key player for twenty years in the Legal Aid Society’s never-ending court battles related to the crucial 1986 case—which Banks brought—guaranteeing services to homeless children. He’s now the group’s top attorney, running what is in effect the second-largest firm in the city: 800 full-time lawyers (900 more do pro bono work every year) working on cases ranging from criminal defense to child protection.

Michael Rebell
Executive director, Campaign for Fiscal Equity
Rebell brought about the biggest increase in school funding in the city’s history by convincing the courts that the public schools are so bad that not giving them more money is a violation of the state’s constitutional obligation to provide a basic education. The simplicity of that argument has not translated into simplicity in the litigation process: Rebell’s nonprofit has been pursuing various versions of the suit for thirteen years, and only in March was the state forced to include $11.2 billion in extra funding for city schools in the budget. He’s still suing for $4.7 billion more.

Photo: Queens Reigns Supreme

Criminal Minds
Just-nabbed bad guys who’ve smartened up the underworld.

Simon Moshel professionalized cigarette-counterfeiting. Before him, ersatz smokes were filter-tipped question marks in typo-ridden boxes. Moshel smuggled in 35 million pristine knockoff Marlboros from China—then sold them through the Seneca Indian reservation and John Nebel moved pot-dealing into the 21st century with a roving call center of 50,000 different phone numbers to mask up to 600 customer calls a day. Atilla AJ Lengel seized on globalism to score a $4 million take off luxury motorcycles swiped from Manhattan, kitted out in Budapest, and marked up as much as 800 percent. Alex Rudaj, the newly imprisoned head of an Albanian cartel called the Corporation, has invaded Italian mob territory. At a Gambino gambling den in Astoria, Rudaj and his men stormed in and pistol-whipped a patron. One goon said, “Gentlemen, the game is over.” Next: The Influentials in Art

The lawyers big companies call when defrauded investors, aggrieved arthritics, or Eliot Spitzer come knocking.

Ted Wells, Paul, Weiss
While defending Philip Morris in Big Tobacco case, he got the Department of Justice to drop damages sought from $280 billion to $10 billion. Successfully defended Mike Espy, Clinton’s Agriculture secretary, against 38 counts of corruption. Can he pull it off for Lewis “Scooter” Libby?

David Boies, Boies, Schiller & Flexner
Prosecuted Microsoft on antitrust charges for the DOJ, was on the losing side of Gore v. Bush, and won $512 million in the price-fixing suit against Christie’s and Sotheby’s. Now defends embattled corporate honchos like Andrew Fastow and Maurice “Hank” Greenberg (see philanthropy).

Evan Chesler, Cravath, Swaine & Moore
Defending pharma giant Merck, maker of Vioxx, in $18 billion class-action suit, among others.

Barry Ostrager, Simpson Thatcher
When Andersen Consulting wanted to split off from its less profitable corporate sibling, the spurned accountants of Arthur Andersen demanded $14 billion to go away. Ostrager got the settlement reduced to $1 billion. Claims he hasn’t lost a case in twenty years.

Mary Jo White,Debevoise & Plimpton
As U.S. Attorney for New York’s Southern District, she prosecuted some of the most infamous names of the nineties, from John Gotti to Omar Abdel Rahman; now defends white-collar clients like Tommy Hilfiger and ACE Insurance.

The Influentials: Law