A list of famous lawyers, who either achieved fame as a lawyer or who went on to become famous in another field. Many US presidents started their career in the law.
Abraham Lincoln (1809–1865) President of US during the American civil war. Lincoln led the Union to victory and also enabled the end of slavery. Born in a single-room log cabin, Lincoln only had a very basic education, but he taught himself the law and founded a successful legal practise, where he advocated in criminal cases. He was considered a great legal mind, with the ability to present a case favourable to juries by the use of simple parable and explanation. Lincoln also stressed the importance of lawyers being honest.
Nelson Mandela (1918–2013) Mandela trained as a lawyer and in 1952 established the first attorney law firm owned by black people. As a lawyer, he represented the black community and took on cases of racial discrimination. Mandela became the leader of the ANC and spent over twenty years in jail for his opposition to the racist apartheid system which excluded blacks from many areas of society. He was elected the first President of democratic South Africa in 1994.
Thurgood Marshall (1908 – 1993) US civil rights lawyer. Marshall was the lead lawyer in the pivotal Supreme Court Case Brown vs Board of Education, Topeka (1954) which overturned legal segregation in the US. Marshall took on many cases to support individual rights in criminal cases and instances of racial discrimination. He served as the first African-American on the US Supreme Court.
Mahatma Gandhi (1869 – 1948) Gandhi trained as a lawyer in England before establishing a practice in South Africa where he became a leader of the Indian community in South Africa. Gandhi tried to fight the increasing discrimination faced by Indians in South Africa. He went on to become the leader of the Indian Independence Movement – pursuing a policy of ahimsa/non-violence. Indian Independence was achieved in 1947.
Barack Obama (1961- ) US President 2008-2016. After studying at Harvard Law school, Obama was a practising attorney in Chicago for a civil rights firm. With a background in law in 1996, he entered the Illinois Senate and made a meteoric rise to become the first black President in 2008, serving two terms until 2016.
Clarence Darrow (1857 – March 13, 1938) A famous American lawyer who took high profile murder defence cases, including the teenage killers Leopold and Loeb (1924). He also took many civil rights cases, including the racially aggravated murder case of Ossian Sweet. His most famous case was the ‘Scopes Monkey Case’ (1925) held in Dayton, Tennesee, where a supply teacher was tried for teaching evolution rather than biblical creationism.
Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. (March 8, 1841 – March 6, 1935) An American jurist who served as an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States from 1902 to 1932. He is the most widely cited judges; he advocated a legal realism that allowed greater interpretation of legal constitution to support liberty and government intervention. He supported progressive legislation, such as economic regulation and free speech.
John Adams (1735-1826) Founding Father and the second US President. Adams was an influential lawyer who was committed to the right to counsel and presumption of innocence. He went against strong anti-British sentiment to represent British soldiers accused of murder following the Boston massacre. Adams enabled most to be free. “Facts are stubborn things; and whatever may be our wishes, our inclinations, or the dictates of our passion, they cannot alter the state of facts and evidence. Adams assisted Thomas Jefferson in writing the Declaration of Independence and helped to pass the Declaration through Congress.
Shirin Ebadi (1947– ) Iranian judge and lawyer. She fought for the right for women to pursue a legal career in Iran. She has also defended opposition dissidents who have fallen foul of the Iranian judicial system. In 2003, she was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for her efforts to promote democracy and human rights.
Johnnie Lee Cochran (1937 – 2005) Cochran was a prominent lawyer who defended many high profile defendants, such as O. J. Simpson (in the murder ‘trial of the century’) Michael Jackson, Sean Combs and Snoop Dog.
Marcus Cicero (106 BC – 43 BC) Cicero was a Roman statesman, lawyer and writer. He was one of the most influential Latin writers having a strong influence over Western thought and the Renaissance. In an era of dictators, Cicero made a case for a return to the Republic.
Ruth Bader Ginsberg (1933 – ) Ginsberg had a long and distinguished career as lawyer before becoming the second women to be appointed to the Supreme Court in 1993. Ginsberg’s career has been concerned with civil rights and especially the advancement of women’s rights. She is known for her liberal opinions, and on a conservative court, she is often the dissenting liberal voice.
Gloria Allred (1941 – ) High profile lawyer who has taken on many cases involving women’s rights. Her cases have involved cases of sexual harassment, women’s rights, wrongful termination, and employment discrimination.
Sandra Day O’Connor (1930 – ) A retired Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States, who served from her 1981 to 2006.
Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826) Founding Father and principal author of The Declaration of Independence (1776). Jefferson was admitted to the Virginia bar in 1767. He took Jefferson took seven cases for freedom-seeking slaves. He was the third President of the US, as president, Jefferson helped to expand the territory of the US through the Louisiana Declaration (1803).
Alexander Hamilton (1755-1804) Founding Father, who served as a soldier, economist, and lawyer. In 1782 Hamilton passed the bar exam and gained a license to argue cases before the Supreme Court of the State of New York. He went on to be the first United States Secretary of the Treasury, establishing a national bank, and taxation system.
Bill Clinton (1946 – ) US President (1992-2000) After graduating from Yale Law school, Clinton served as professor of law at the University of Arkansas. He was attorney general of Arkansas from 1977 to 1979.
Hilary Clinton (1947 – ) Clinton studied law at Yale, where she met husband Bill. She practised law often taken cases of child rights. She became the first women to run for the office of US president for a major political party (Democrats). Also served as Secretary of State from 2009 to 2013. First lady for husband Bill Clinton.
Citation: Pettinger, Tejvan. “Famous Lawyers”, Oxford, www.biographyonline.net 23 July 2019.
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