Although I now live in New York, I lived in D.C. for several years before moving back to NYC. And while I was in Washington, few trial lawyers were more renowned around town than Michele Roberts. A legendary litigatrix celebrated for her skill in the courtroom, Roberts was at Akin Gump — home to other top talent, such as John Dowd, now defending Raj Rajaratnam — from 2004 until recently.
Very recently. Yesterday the news broke that Roberts was leaving Akin Gump and joining global mega-firm Skadden. Skadden trumpeted the news in a press release, noting that Roberts “is widely recognized as one of the nation’s premier trial lawyers,” with over 100 jury trials under her belt.
Roberts has a somewhat unusual background for a Biglaw litigation partner. Let’s learn more about her….
Michele Roberts obtained her B.A. from Wesleyan (1977) and her J.D. from UC Berkeley (1980) — a fairly standard educational background for a top-tier litigator. What’s more unusual, though, is where Roberts acquired her trial skills. Early in her legal career, she served for eight years in the office of the Public Defender Service for the District of Columbia, rising to become chief of the trial division. During her time in the PDS office, Roberts served as counsel in more than 40 jury trials.
While it’s not unusual for law-firm litigators to get their courtroom chops in government service — we all know how hard it is to get actual trial experience if you’re in Biglaw, even if you’re a partner — most litigation partners with past government experience worked on the prosecution side (in a local federal or state prosecutor’s office, or perhaps at the U.S. Department of Justice). We’re not aware of that many large-firm litigators who worked as public defenders before joining Biglaw.
(Of course, if you’re going to work as a public defender, the D.C. Public Defender Service is a great place to do it. The office is known for smart, tough lawyers, who are sometimes aggressive. They’re not as “buddy buddy” with their counterparts in the U.S. Attorney’s Office as public defenders in many other districts (e.g., D.N.J., where I worked as an AUSA — we got along very well with our colleagues in the federal public defender’s office).)
Here’s what Roberts had to say about her move to Washingtonian magazine:
“I wasn’t looking to move when Skadden came calling,” says Roberts. “It’s a firm I’ve always admired.” She adds that she has had “nothing but good experiences” at Akin, and leaving would be much easier if that wasn’t the case.
(Departing partners often have nice things to say about Akin Gump. See also Tom Goldstein, a star of the appellate and Supreme Court bar, who had warm words for Akin when he went back to his old firm.)
Roberts, a former DC public defender who now focuses on civil litigation and white-collar criminal defense, is known for dazzling juries. She doesn’t expect her practice to change. “I’ll continue to talk to juries. That’s what I do,” she says.
Her hiring is just the latest in a string of prominent pick-ups by Skadden, as noted by the WSJ Law Blog:
In recent months, the firm has pulled in a rash of high-profile criminal-defense lawyers, including Allen Ruby, former U.S. District judge Stephen Robinson, former acting U.S. attorney for the District of Massachusetts, Michael Loucks, and former White House counsel Greg Craig.
P.S. There has been an odd meme in the ATL comments over the past few years about troubles in the Skadden D.C. office. As far as we know, everything is going great at Skadden D.C. — and the arrival of Michele Roberts will only make this strong office even stronger. Maybe it’s time to put this meme to bed? It’s getting old.
Akin Gump Loses Top Partner to Skadden, Arps [Washingtonian]
D.C. Heavyweight Trial Lawyer Decamps to Skadden [WSJ Law Blog]
Michele A. Roberts, Premier Trial Lawyer, Joins Skadden as Litigation Partner [Skadden Arps]