The Talent

September 27, 2010 12:53 PM

The Lawyers of the Forbes 400

Posted by Brian Baxter

UPDATE/CORRECTION: 9/28/10, 2:45 p.m. A previous version of this post omitted the name of billionaire Robert Rowling. We regret the error.

Forbes released its annual list of 400 wealthiest Americans last week and according to our painstaking analysis, 38 of those who made the cut are law school graduates. While most of them didn't accumulate their fortunes in the legal trade, Forbes does identify Houston's Joe Jamail as the nation's richest practicing attorney.

Below are some of those that gave up billing by the hour in order to make billions. (Feel free to let us know of any omissions in the comments section.)

For sheer quantity of wealthy lawyers per family, the Pritzkers merit special recognition. Though there is friction between some of the heirs to the Hyatt/Marmon Group family fortune, one thing that five of them apparently agree on is that a law degree is something worth having.

Thomas (tied for No. 252 on the list with $16 billion) and Nicholas (tied for No. 385 with $1 billion) earned J.D.'s from the University of Chicago, Penny (tied for No. 269 with $1.5 billion) got hers from Stanford, and Jay Robert (tied for No. 290 with $1.4 billion) and Daniel (tied for No. 308 with $1.3 billion) graduated from Northwestern.

The family has donated well to their alma maters. Chicago received $30 million in 2002, Stanford another $10 million this year, and Northwestern has its own Pritzker Legal Research Center. There is also a Pritzker Professor of Law position at Stanford.

As for Forbes list's individual lawyers...

No. 9: $19.7 billion, S. Robson Walton, Wal-Mart. The eldest son and heir to the retail behemoth's fortune graduated from Columbia Law School in 1969. Rob Walton worked in private practice at Tulsa firm Connor & Winters, which represented Wal-Mart. He made partner and later became Wal-Mart's general counsel before taking over the company in 1992 after his father's death.

No. 51 (tie): $5.2 billion, Richard Kinder, Kinder Morgan Energy Partners. The former president of Enron graduated from the University of Missouri School of Law in 1968.

No. 60 (tie): $4.4 billion, Samuel Zell, Equity Group Investments. The real estate and private equity billionaire--currently embroiled in the tortured bankruptcy of his Tribune Company--graduated from the University of Michigan Law School in 1966. Zell began his career at Chicago firm Yates Holleb & Michelson and once told The Wall Street Journal that he found drafting contracts "deadly." He quit legal practice after one year.

No. 69 (tie): $4.1 billion, Robert Rowling, TRT Holdings. The oil and gas billionaire received a law degree from Southern Methodist University's Dedman School of Law in 1979. Rowling, who also owns Gold's Gym, spent a year as a tax lawyer before joining his father's oil and gas company in Corpus Christi in 1981, according to The Dallas Morning News.

No. 74 (tie) $4.0 billion, Robert Ziff, Ziff Brothers Investments. The hedge fund maven earned his legal degree from Cornell in 1992. He's since established a professor of law position named after him at the school.

No. 101 (tie) $3.1 billion, Stephen Ross, The Related Companies. The former tax attorney at Coopers & Lybrand earned a J.D. from Wayne State University Law School in 1965 and an LL.M. in taxation from New York University School of Law in 1966.

No. 101 (tie) $3.1 billion, George Roberts, Kohlberg Kravis Roberts. A cofounder of legendary buyout shop KKR, Roberts graduated from the University of California's Hastings College of Law in 1969.

No. 110 (tie) $3.0 billion, Trevor Rees-Jones, Chief Oil & Gas. The Texas oilman earned a legal degree from SMU in 1978 before going on to practice bankruptcy and energy law at Thompson & Knight. He left the firm in 1984 to get into the oil and gas business. One of Rees-Jones's longtime friends, former T&K tax partner Thornton Hardie III, runs one of his foundations and serves as president of a holding company for his assets.

No. 110 (tie) $3.0 billion, Ted Lerner, Lerner Enterprises. The owner of the Washington Nationals and real estate billionaire earned an LL.B. from George Washington University Law School in 1949. A hall at the law school bears the family name.

No. 119 (tie) $2.9 billion, Riley Bechtel, Bechtel Corporation. The construction magnate earned a joint J.D./M.B.A. from Stanford University in 1977, after which he practiced at Thelen, the now-defunct firm that served as Bechtel's longtime outside counsel. Howrey picked up Thelen's construction practice after the firm went bust in late 2008.

No. 124 (tie) $2.8 billion, Sumner Redstone, Viacom. After graduating from Harvard Law School in 1947, the media mogul clerked for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit and taught labor law at the University of San Francisco. Redstone then litigated more than 50 tax cases as special assistant to U.S. attorney general Tom Clark before moving into private practice at Washington, D.C.'s Ford, Bergson, Adams, Borkland & Redstone. He left the firm in 1954 to join his father's movie theater chain.

No. 153 (tie) $2.4 billion, John Anderson, Topa Equities. The billionaire investor graduated with a law degree from Loyola Law School in 1950. Three years later, he became a founding partner of leading Los Angeles securities firm Kindel & Anderson, which closed in 1996, about twenty years after Anderson branched out into business. Cofounding partner James Kindel kept an office at McKenna Long & Aldridge before passing away three years ago.

No. 159 (tie) $2.3 billion, Steven Rales, Danaher Corporation. Awarded a J.D. from American University's Washington College of Law in 1978, the current chairman of manufacturing company Danaher has recently moved into movie financing.

No. 182 (tie) $2.0 billion, David Rubenstein, The Carlyle Group. The cofounder of the private equity powerhouse earned a law degree from the University of Chicago in 1973 before spending the next two years at Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison, where he helped create the Mutual Assistance Corporation during New York City's fiscal crisis of the 1970s. Rubenstein, who also worked at Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman, recently donated $10 million to his law school alma mater for scholarships.

No. 182 (tie) $2.0 billion, Mortimer Zuckerman, Media. The owner of the New York Daily News and U.S. News and World Report picked up a law degree from McGill University in 1961, which he followed up with an LL.M. from Harvard the following year.

No. 205 (tie) $1.9 billion, Michael Jaharis, Pharmaceuticals. Earned a law degree from DePaul University's College of Law in 1958 before taking an in-house position that led to a general counsel role for a major pharmaceutical firm. Jaharis donated $5 million to his alma mater earlier this year.

No. 217 (tie) $1.85 billion, Jess Jackson, Jackson Family Wines. Graduated from the University of California, Berkeley's Boalt Hall School of Law and became a successful land use lawyer in the Bay Area. Jackson purchased an 80-acre pear and walnut orchard in 1974 that he turned into a winery, a fairly successful business plan if there ever was one.

No. 221 (tie) $1.8 billion, Neil Bluhm, Walton Street Capital. Earned a J.D. from Northwestern University Law School in 1962--the school's Bluhm Legal Clinic now bears his name--before going on to become one of the youngest partners at Mayer Brown. Bluhm practiced corporate, real estate, and tax law before ditching the law for commercial real estate, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer.

No. 221 (tie) $1.8 billion, David Bonderman, TPG Capital. Graduated magna cum laude from Harvard Law School in 1966 and went on to teach at Tulane University Law School and serve as special assistant to the U.S. attorney general heading the Justice Department's civil rights division. Bonderman became a partner at Arnold & Porter, where he specialized in corporate, bankruptcy, and antitrust litigation before getting into private equity. He cofounded TPG in 1992.

No. 236 (tie) $1.75 billion, Charles Munger, Berkshire Hathaway. After obtaining a law degree from Harvard in 1948, Munger went on to practice real estate law, founding Munger, Tolles & Olson before giving up legal practice in 1965. Munger met business partner Warren Buffett at a dinner party six years earlier, and would go on to become the Oracle of Omaha's chief lieutenant. Berkshire Hathaway uses Munger Tolles for most of its major acquisitions and equity investments.

No. 238 (tie) $1.7 billion, Randal Kirk, New River Pharmaceutical. The pharmaceutical entrepreneur earned a law degree from the University of Virginia in 1979 and went on to become the only attorney in Bland County, Va., practicing law for the next decade before branching out into business.

No. 252 (tie) $1.6 billion, William Connor, William E. Connor & Associates. The son of a former trade attaché to General Douglas MacArthur during World War II, Connor earned a law degree from Santa Clara University before joining his father's Hong Kong-based sourcing and logistics business.

No. 252 (tie) $1.6 billion, Ted Forstmann, Forstmann Little & Company. The buyout titan now runs his private equity shop's own talent agency, IMG, but beforehand earned a law degree from Columbia.

No. 269 (tie) $1.5 billion, Joe Jamail, The only practicing lawyer on this list, the so-called King of Torts is one of the best-known lawyers in the country. Asked why he chose to turn down litigation against BP over the Gulf oil spill, Jamail told Forbes he was "too busy" and "didn't want to deal with it." If you're worth billions and have the football field at the University of Texas named after you, one can push away potentially lucrative litigation.

No. 290 (tie) $1.4 billion, Gerald Ford, Banking. Not to be confused with our thirty-eighth president, Ford earned a law degree from SMU's Dedman School of Law in 1969 before getting into the business of buying and selling thrift banks. The school's football stadium is named after him.

No. 290 (tie) $1.4 billion, Joseph Craft III & Family, Alliance Holdings. After graduating from the University of Kentucky's College of Law, the current head of the fifth-largest coal producer in the eastern U.S. took an in-house legal position through which he became acquainted with the energy industry.

No. 308 (tie) $1.3 billion, Marc Lasry, Avenue Capital Group. After graduating from New York Law School in 1984, the hedge fund manager began his career clerking for Edward Ryan, chief bankruptcy judge in the Southern District of New York. Lasry went on to spend a year at New York bankruptcy boutique Angel & Frankel. The firm merged with mid-Atlantic shop Cole, Schotz, Meisel, Forman & Leonard in January 2006.

No. 308 (tie) $1.3 billion, Leon Charney, Real Estate. An entertainment lawyer, political adviser, and real estate tycoon, Charney put himself through Brooklyn Law School, where he earned a J.D. in 1964, by singing in synagogues.

No. 332 (tie) $1.2 billion, Bernard Saul, Banking/Real Estate. The original owner of Chevy Chase Bank and several real estate investment trusts earned an LL.B. from the University of Virginia School of Law.

No. 332 (tie) $1.2 billion, Todd Wagner, One of the last of the true dot-com billionaires earned his law degree from the University of Virginia and went on to work at Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld and Hopkins & Sutter, a Chicago firm that merged with Foley & Lardner in 2000. Wagner was a partner at Hopkins until 1995, when he left law against the advice of the firm's senior partner to start with fellow Internet entrepreneur Mark Cuban.

No. 332 (tie) $1.2 billion, Thomas Barrack, Colony Capital. Attended law school at the University of Southern California and University of San Diego, where he graduated in 1972, going on to work at Kalmbach, De Marco, Knapp & Chillingworth--the firm of President Nixon's personal attorney Herbert Kalmbach (now of counsel with Baker & Hostetler in Costa Mesa, Calif.). One of the firm's biggest clients was construction giant Fluor, which helped Barrack break into the real estate business.

No. 356 (tie) $1.15 billion, Bruce Karsh, Oaktree Capital Management. After graduating with a law degree from the University of Virginia in 1980, Karsh clerked for U.S. Supreme Court justice Anthony Kennedy. Karsh worked at O'Melveny & Myers before getting into money management.

No. 365 (tie) $1.1 billion, Peter Thiel, PayPal/Clarium Capital. The entrepreneur and hedge fund manager started as a clerk for federal judge J.L. Edmondson after earning a J.D. from Stanford in 1992. Thiel went on to spend seven months as a corporate associate at Sullivan & Cromwell. He quit the firm to set up a hedge fund in his own name in 1996, which invested in the predecessor to PayPal.

Meanwhile, several other people on the list have notable legal connections of their own.

Bill Gates's father, William Gates, Sr., was a name partner at Preston Gates & Ellis, which announced a merger in December 2006 that formed successor firm K&L Gates, although the elder Gates is no longer affiliated with that firm. (K&L Gates was notably dropped as one of Microsoft's preferred providers last year.)

Real estate billionaire Donald Bren's wife Brigitte Bren once worked at now-defunct firm Arter & Hadden. Hollywood mogul David Geffen's brother, Mitchell, is a solo practitioner in Encino, Calif. And the son-in-law of supermarket billionaire John Catsimatidis is Christopher Cox, the grandson of Richard Nixon and a former associate at Weil, Gotshal & Manges.

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Don't forget Robert Rowling #69--JD from SMU.

Seriously, Robert Ziff named an endowed chair at his law school after *himself*? (Not, for example, after his kids, his alumna wife, or his dad Bill, who left him the cash!) Guess he really did "come of age at Cornell" ... the afe of imperialism, anyway.

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