What Key Legal Industry Leaders Said About Our 40 Under 40 Class

Posted July 14th, 2021.

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By Lisa Helem

As part of the submissions process for our inaugural class for “They’ve Got Next: The 40 Under 40,” we asked nominees to submit recommendations from senior partners, clients, outside counsel, and others who could speak to their client successes and leadership skills, notifying them that all application materials received, including letters of recommendation, would be considered on the record.

The folks we heard from didn’t hold back. Those speaking on the work ethic, successes, and leadership qualities of our honorees included firm chairpersons and managing partners, chief executive officers, general counsel, a former U.S. solicitor general, a Grammy nominated producer, and the winningest woman advocate to ever argue before the U.S. Supreme Court, among others.

Read on for a sampling of what they said.

Antitrust

On Elaine Ewing: “One of her best characteristics, which we noted early on in her career, is that Elaine has a lot of staying power over the course of a matter. Despite the frustrating ups and downs of antitrust matters, she’s able to stay even-keeled and able to flexibly pivot in her approaches to tackling complex problems.” —David Gelfand, partner, Cleary Gottlieb

On Jeffrey Bank: “Jeff Bank has an extraordinary combination of intelligence, practicality, and integrity that has made him successful in vigorously serving his clients’ interests while maintaining an incredible level of respect among members of the antitrust bar, whether at Wilson Sonsini, among colleagues at other firms, and even with adversaries.” —Seth Silber, partner, Wilson Sonsini

Appellate

On Sarah Harris: “Sarah’s brilliance at argument is matched only by her signature brief-writing style. You can pick up a brief she wrote and know that it’s hers. Last Term, in our Booking.com case, she wrote a memorable introduction that brilliantly illustrated the ubiquity of supposedly generic trademarks by walking through the litany of generic trademarks that someone would encounter in daily life. Then she added the line everyone has since seized upon: “If Crab House fails the government’s test, then WAFFLE HOUSE is toast.” —Lisa Blatt, Williams & Connolly partner and chair of the firm’s Supreme Court and Appellate Litigation practice

On Ishan Bhabha: “Unsurprisingly, clients love him. The same gifts of judgment, intellect, and communication skills that serve him so well both in oral argument and in litigation generally serve him well with clients. He takes their problems as his own, and he works creatively and tirelessly to develop creative solutions.” —Ian Heath Gershengorn, chair of Jenner & Block’s Appellate and Supreme Court Practice

On Yaakov Roth: “Yaakov is, quite simply, one of the best legal writers and oral advocates of his generation. He presents complex issues in a manner that not only makes clear his mastery of the facts and issues at play, but also in a way that is straightforward, relatable, and thus unusually compelling. Add to that Yaakov’s passion and commitment, along with his unassailable integrity, and it is difficult to find a better lawyer to have on your team.” —Noel Francisco, partner-in-charge of Jones Day’s Washington, D.C. Office and former U.S. solicitor general.

On Mel Bostwick: “Mel commands a courtroom more effectively than lawyers decades more senior. For proof, listen to Mel’s en banc oral argument for the Blue Water Navy veterans. It was a virtuoso performance in the face of a barrage of questions from a panel of a dozen federal judges. Or listen to her mandamus argument for Apple. One of the most persistent and incisive judges on the federal bench came out swinging with an intensity that would make most of us melt. With steely determination, Mel persuasively parried every attack without yielding an inch. Apple’s Head of Litigation, no easy grader, reached out to me to effusively praise Mel’s performance.” —Josh Rosenkranz, chair of Supreme Court and Appellate Practice, Orrick

Bankruptcy

On Jamila Willis: “Over the years, Jamila has consistently demonstrated she is a trusted business advisor. She is a very thorough and competent professional who always has our firm’s best interests in mind. Jamila is extremely knowledge and draws on extensive experience to find creative and innovative resolutions to any issues we encounter. She is approachable and brings a sense of calm and clear direction in times of stress, a critical skill especially in restructuring and turnaround situations.” —Sarah Abdel-Razek, partner, Riveter Capital

On Lara Samet Buchwald: “There is only one word for Lara and that is powerhouse. Lara is a talented high stakes commercial litigator, regularly playing a first-chair role in matters with hundreds of millions or billions at stake. And she wins.” —Frances E. Bivens, partner, Davis Polk

Entertainment

On Karl Fowlkes: “Karl has been my attorney for over two years now and has helped me negotiate a global music publishing deal with Sony ATV and negotiate dozens of producer agreements. Karl feels like more than an attorney as he not only handles the contracts for me, but also explains the law to me. I have had other attorneys that didn’t educate me as we moved along, but Karl is an expert at breaking down complex legal issues into layman’s terms.” —Dustin James Corbett p/k/a Corbett, Grammy nominated producer

Health Care & Life Sciences

On Kristen Riemenschneider: “AstraZeneca regards Kristen as a savvy, keen collaborator and advisor. For the past two years, we have worked with Kristen closely on projects that include research collaboration with Silence Therapeutics to discover, develop and commercialize small interfering RNA (siRNA) therapeutics for the treatment of cardiovascular, renal, metabolic, and respiratory diseases. There isn’t a problem that Kristen encounters that she can’t solve. Kristen is knowledgeable professional who provides reliable, practical advice in a timely manner. Kristen is easy to turn to whenever we have a question and she is an excellent resource for all of our questions and concerns. She has worked many long hours on AstraZeneca’s behalf and I value her commitment to our company and our mission.” —Maryam Abdul-Kareem, former assistant general counsel, corporate, at AstraZeneca

Intellectual Property

On Cecilia Sanabria: “Cecilia’s dedication to excellence, her innate leadership ability and her desire to open doors for others in the legal industry have already positively impacted the lives of those around her and will undoubtedly continue to positively impact the industry and the broader legal community.” —Anand Sharma, managing partner, Finnegan

On Vishal Gupta: “Vishal has an outstanding ability to develop and execute creative litigation strategies. These abilities combined with his intelligence, attention to detail, clear oral advocacy and skill in condensing complex information make him a formidable force in our industry.” —Omar Jabri, senior director for Global Intellectual Property, Apotex Inc.

On Tom Gorman: “Tom Gorman is a clear leader in his field, not only as a deeply experienced litigator but a true counselor who understands what drives Silicon Valley companies, their leaders, and their employees. Tom’s role in the Waymo v. Uber litigation first caught my attention, but what caused me to hire Tom on multiple occasions was the way in which he helped us strategize and build a decision framework that made sense for us.” —Molly Abraham, former general counsel, Kitty Hawk

On Keyonn Pope: “It was important to our team that we work with a Black lawyer with specialized ability in the music industry, specifically jazz, who would understand the importance of Thelonious Monk’s legacy and assist in handling our IP, catalogue of compositions, existing relationships with record labels and additional business needs. When I first met Keyonn I understood immediately why so many in my network recommended him; his presence and demeanor, in addition to his evident skill as a lawyer, immediately set us at ease and confirmed we were in capable hands.”
—Douglas V. Holloway, president, Rhythm-A-Ning Entertainment.

International Disputes

On Nicolle Kownacki: “I learned to trust her judgment and foresight even when it differed from what I thought was my deep Talmudic understanding of the subject. She was truly always a few steps ahead. When she would author a brief, I knew it was a winner. One last word on her compassion and going the extra mile for a client. Once, when a court filing was due on a Jewish holiday and I was forbidden by Jewish law to answer email or use the telephone, Nicolle jumped on her bicycle, rode over to the location where we were celebrating the holiday and worked though the document with me. This, after she stayed up to the wee hours of the morning cramming to get it in on time. Oh, did I mention that this entire case was pro bono—more than 4 years of litigation? Nicolle has a uniquely sharp legal mind and is clearly a rising star in the legal world.”
—Rabbi Yudi Steiner, director, The Rohr Chabad Jewish Student Center at GW

Labor & Employment

On Alexandra Harwin: “Simply put: Alexandra is the most creative and effective advocate I have had the pleasure to work with in the past 26 years of law practice. She is supremely intelligent and attentive to detail; a tireless attorney with inexhaustible energy; and a consummate strategist, always angling to put the client in the best position possible.” David Sanford, chairman of Sanford Heisler Sharp

On Amber Rogers: “In what has traditionally been an area dominated by older white men, Amber has broken barriers by becoming one of the few young women of color to earn a deserved reputation as a go to traditional labor lawyer for major companies. Her clients, who are major retailers, electric utilities, food processors and sports teams consider her a trusted advisor and problem solver.” —Emily Burkhardt Vicente, co-head, Labor & Employment team, Hunton Andrews Kurth

On Jocelyn Cuttino: “Jocelyn has established herself as a go-to lawyer for employers seeking to conduct workplace culture assessments, investigate allegations of workplace misconduct, or would like counseling on anti-discrimination practices, employment policies, and HR procedures and best practices.” —Grace E. Speights, global chair of Labor and Employment practice, Morgan, Lewis & Bockius

On Menaka Fernando: “Energized by the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements, Menaka has devoted much of her practice to representing victims of egregious sexual harassment and assault. In collaboration with the TimesUp Legal Defense Fund, she has successfully represented waitresses, food servers, retail workers, and other brave, lower-wage female employees who have stepped up to call out workplace abuse.” —Wendi S. Lazar, partner, Outten & Golden

Litigation

On Bina Palnitkar: “Bina is one of the firm’s rising young leaders. She has tried cases winning multimillion-dollar verdicts, advised start-up companies along their journey to become billion-dollar valuations, and garnered a book of business at an early age.”
—Brian L. Duffy, chief executive officer, Greenberg Traurig

On Ryan McLeod: “Mr. McLeod is incredibly hardworking. Indeed, it is unclear to me that he sleeps. From our time working together, I witnessed his uncommon mastery of every factual detail and legal nuance underpinning the shareholder litigations.”
—Randall L. Jackson, executive vice president, Business & Legal Affairs, Lionsgate

On Rakesh Kilaru: “Rakesh has been representing the NCAA for virtually his entire tenure at Wilkinson Stekloff, sharing his considerable talents and versatility. From drafting successful motions and briefs, to playing an essential role on a winning trial team, to serving as a lead lawyer in bet-the-organization litigation, Rakesh consistently has demonstrated his expert abilities. Importantly, I have been a court side witness of Rakesh in action. His writing is superb and in his rookie appearance in a defamation case, he operated in the courtroom like a seasoned veteran trial attorney.” —Donald M. Remy, chief operating officer and chief legal officer, NCAA

On Moira Penza: “What sets Moira apart from her peers is her fierce ownership of the key roles she assumes in client matters. Early in her work for my company on several complex civil litigation matters, Moira established herself as an integral member of the Wilkinson Stekloff leadership team. She did this this in a variety of ways: gaining a deep understanding of our business and leveraging that knowledge to help develop big picture trial strategies; mastering detailed facts necessary to resolve thorny discovery issues; preparing company employees to provide testimony, tailoring her approach to the needs of each person; and, defending those employees in days-long depositions, exhibiting the tenacity necessary to hold her more seasoned, senior opponents at bay.”
—Michael Klein, senior assistant general counsel, Altria Client Services

On Michael Gervais: “I started working with Michael five years ago when we litigated the landmark case, O’Donnell et al. v. Harris County et al., a class-action constitutional challenge to the money bail system in Harris County, Texas brought on behalf of impoverished human beings charged with misdemeanors. Working pro bono, Michael played a critical role in this matter… Since the success of the O’Donnell misdemeanor bail reform litigation, Michael and I have continued to work together, including on the challenge to Harris County’s money bail system in Russell et al. v. Harris County, Texas on behalf of felony arrestees. Michael continues to show poise, intellectual acuity, persistence, and an unwavering commitment to the team and this case.”
—Alec Karakatsanis, founder and executive director, Civil Rights Corps

On Patrick Arenz: “When I faced a difficult legal challenge, and had to fight to reclaim the use of my own name and image, Patrick was an absolute champion for me. He is one of the finest attorneys I’ve ever had the pleasure to work with.” — Chloe Coscarelli, first vegan chef to win Food Network’s Cupcake Wars

On Quentin Smith: “Quentin has proved to have excellent instincts and a sense of the right tone and approach to take in any situation. I have come to fully rely on his judgment. It goes without saying that he is and will remain a go-to lawyer for me and the ExxonMobil law department, both in domestic and international litigation.” —Gene Silva, senior counsel, International Disputes Group, ExxonMobil

On Michelle Park Chiu: “While I’ve known many young lawyers, Michelle Park Chiu easily stands out who leads by example, treats others with kindness, and acts to advance diversity, equity and inclusion.” —Theodore T. Ting, senior vice president and assistant general counsel, Bank of America

On Bryan Heckenlively: “He led our team in motion in limine arguments, connected with prospective jurors in the voir dire, presented our opening statement and closing arguments, and handled multiple witness examinations, including the key cross-examination of the plaintiff. Bryan had command of the courtroom well beyond what one would expect for a lawyer of his vintage. At the end of the trial, Bryan presented a masterful closing argument that wove the case together and undercut all of the other side’s arguments.”
—John B. Anderson, managing counsel, Law Department, Wells Fargo & Co.

On Daniela Paez: “From the moment Daniela joined the team, she was essential to our efforts. Daniela took ownership of crafting a sophisticated and multi-pronged attack on the statute at issue. In fact, her efforts enabled us to bring a completely novel due process claim that, while brand new, was so obviously strong that it went virtually unchallenged.” —Amanda Martinsek, partner, Ulmer & Berne

Mass Torts

On Jonathan Schneller: “Jonathan works tirelessly to recruit diverse talent to O’Melveny and to mentor and elevate the associates already here. Multiple promising associates have told us that working with Jonathan is among the highlights of their experience at O’Melveny, praising his kindness, emotional attunement, and support for diversity.” —Charles Lifland, partner, O’Melveny & Myers

On Emmy Levens: “Emmy manages all day-to-day aspects of the [Flint Water Crisis] case, including spearheading the investigations into the legal claims, making key legal arguments, and taking the lead on drafting key briefs, including a pivotal brief in August 2018, which led to the court reinstating former Governor Rick Snyder as a defendant in 2019. Persuaded by Emmy’s brief, the court determined that Snyder not only knew about the health consequence of the State of Michigan’s and the Emergency Manager’s decisions, but covered it up, and “misled” Flint residents and “even encouraged them to continue to drink and bathe in the water.” —Theodore Leopold, Cohen Milstein, co-lead of Flint Water Crisis litigation

Mergers & Acquisitions

Sebastian Fain: “Sebastian exhibits leadership, insights, patience and incredibly hard work. He’s providing instrumental support as we navigate global regulatory clearances, UK and US shareholder approval requirements, SEC rules for mergers, employee retention matters, and acquisition financing, as well as compliance with a 108-page merger agreement. He deserves recognition for his work ethic, ability to “thread the needle” on complex, parallel workstreams, and demonstrable understanding of cross-border public M&A matters.” —Greg Mueller, deputy general counsel, Corporate, at AstraZeneca

Sonia Nijjar: “I have watched many partners develop over the years in my leadership role at Skadden. I’ve never seen a young partner develop a real client following as rapidly as Sonia has been able to do. Even while still an associate, she developed true ‘trusted advisor’ relationships with her clients. Sonia has been a key architect of deal terms that many M&A lawyers might never encounter in a lifetime of practice. She has a tremendous capacity for finding sophisticated solutions under the most intense pressures.” —Kenton J. King, partner, Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom

On Jonathan Davis: “The greatest testament you can give to any advisor is that you give them repeat business. Over the course of the eight years I have known Jonathan, whenever it has been my decision to make, I have without hesitation opted to hire him to work on my most significant transactions.”
—Chris Farrell, global head of M&A, Ahold Delhaize

On Jennifer Cheng: “Jennifer deserves much of the credit for Reed Smith’s growing status as a go-to M&A counsel for Fortune 500 international and middle market companies, representing them in transactions that range from ‘bet-the-company’ transactions and billion transactions to middle-market transactions. I have been particularly impressed with her ability to unseat incumbent firms —for example, she recently displaced Wachtell as the go-to M&A counsel for a large financial institution and she displaced Kirkland & Ellis as the go-to M&A counsel for a large publicly listed pharmaceutical company. —James Tandler, partner, Reed Smith; chair, U.S. Corporate Group

On Dotun Obadina: “I have worked with Dotun for nearly ten years. He has been my lead outside M&A counsel at two Fortune 500 companies where I have had in-house responsibility for all global M&A activity. Dotun shines as things get more complicated, more global, and more novel. Anyone who will be successful for the long term will need to excel in navigating these types of deals—Dotun is well ahead of his peers in this regard. —Louis Lambert, vice president, senior assistant general counsel & assistant secretary, Polaris Inc.

On Alex Kelly: “Alex explores issues from every angle and asks probing questions along the way. I like to joke that Alex is my outside counsel sibling—she can finish my sentences, but she also isn’t afraid to tell me what I need to hear in order to make the right decision. Because of these qualities, she has become one of my team’s most trusted advisors.”
—Zafar A. Hasan vice president, chief corporate counsel and secretary of DXC Technology Company

White Collar, Investigations & Crisis Leadership

On Melissa Colón-Bosolet: “The scope of Melissa’s litigation experience far surpasses the trajectory of the majority of her peers. She successfully represented a leading law firm, Norton Rose Fulbright, in a headline-grabbing discrimination case at the same time it was absorbing another leading firm, and its reputation was on display and at stake.”
—Yvette Ostolaza, chair-elect of Sidley Austin’s management committee and global co-leader of Litigation

On Lillian Hardy: “Lillian Hardy is a valued trusted advisor to the leadership of Gallaudet University. Her deep knowledge of the unique challenges that higher education faces is distinguished by her strength in managing multi-dimensional crises and helping clients prepare and prevent future ones.”
—Natalie T. Sinicrope, general counsel, Gallaudet University

On Brian Mahanna: “Brian is a stellar young partner at WilmerHale. After leading the New York Attorney General’s Office, we recruited him to WilmerHale where he has been a key player in some of our most complex undertakings involving the state Attorneys General.” —Ken Salazar, partner WilmerHale; former Colorado senator and Secretary of Department of the Interior

To contact the reporter on this special report: Lisa Helem at lhelem@bloombergindustry.com
Andrew Small and Darren Bowman also contributed to this special report. They can be contacted at asmall@bloombergindustry.com and dbowman@bloombergindustry.com.

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