Published on March 2, 2018 by Marvis Osarhenrhen

In a career path seemingly characterised by success simply by being a part of it (from financial gains to the types of high-profile cases you can end up working on), what does real ‘success’ look like?

If you are passionate about the law and wish to become one of the top famous lawyers, you can start by learning about other successful lawyers and how to become like them. This guide will help you discover the best ways to emulate them.

Harish Salve

Where They Began: ‘India’s most expensive lawyer’ aspired to be an engineer as a young boy but ended up pursuing chartered accountancy.

Where Are They Now?: Salve is now a senior advocate at the Indian Bar and a UK barrister with Blackstone Chambers, after admission to the UK Bar in 2013. He specialises in commercial, constitutional and tax law.

Key Achievements:

  • 1999 – 2002: Solicitor General of India, an office in which he advised the government – including conducting the World Trade Organisation negotiations
  • 2009: Named the 18th most powerful person in India by India Today
  • 2015: Received the third-highest civilian accolade, the Padma Bhushan
  • Notable clients include: Vodafone, TATA Group and famous actor Salman Khan

Follow Their Path: You may not have started out as a chartered accountant but don’t let that deter you from following Salve’s impressive path!

To start, become a legal intern, which you can read more about on our Legal Internship page.

You’ll also want to develop your knowledge on commercial and tax law.

Fun Fact: In 2015, it was reported he charges Rs 3,000,000 per day – equivalent to a staggering £30,300!

Vernon Jordan

Where They Began: Vernon Jordan studied Political Science at DePauw University in Indiana (where he was the only black student in a class of 400) and earned his law degree at Howard University School of Law.

Where Are They Now?:

Jordan is currently senior managing director with Lazard Freres & Co, an investment banking firm. He is also on the board of directors of corporations including American Express, J.C. Penney and Dow Jones & Co.

Main Achievements:

  • Leading civil rights activist, who organised boycotts and demonstrations and led voter registration drives in the South
  • 1961: Played a critical role in winning a lawsuit against the University of Georgia for racial discrimination against two black students
  • 2001: Awarded the Spingarn Medal by the NAACP for lifetime achievement
  • Holds honorary degrees from more than 70 colleges and universities in America
  • Notable clients include: former US President Bill Clinton

Follow Their Path: If you want to become a famous civil rights lawyer like Vernon Jordan, you’ll start at university studying a political science degree.

Then, you can apply for the Graduate Diploma in Law (GDL), which you can read all about on our Law Conversions/GDL page.

Your best bet for following as close a path to Vernon Jordan is to get work experience with law firms who specialise in international or human rights law. It might also help if you get experience working as an activist at university, or with organisations such as Amnesty International.

Top Quote: “You are where you are today because you stand on somebody’s shoulders. And wherever you are heading, you cannot get there by yourself. If you stand on the shoulders of others, you have a reciprocal responsibility to live your life so that others may stand on your shoulders. It’s the quid pro quo of life. We exist temporarily through what we take, but we live forever through what we give.”

Amal Alamuddin Clooney

Where They Began: Lebanon-born Clooney studied Jurisprudence at the University of Oxford and completed her LLM at New York University Law School, before being called to the Bar in New York in 2002.

Where Are They Now?: Human rights lawyer for Doughty Street Chambers.

Key Achievements:

  • Represented Armenia in recognition of the Armenian Genocide, against Dogu Perincek, a Turkish politician convicted of genocide denial and racial discrimination.
  • Senior advisor to Kofi Annan, the UN’s Envoy on Syria
  • Counsel to the 2013 Drone Inquiry into the use of drones in counter-terrorism operations
  • Notable clients include: WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, former prime minister of Ukraine Yulia Tymoshenko

Follow Their Path: To follow Clooney’s path exactly, you’d have to study your law degree at the University of Oxford, which you can find a handy guide to here.

Already at university? Your best bet is to apply for the LLM (New York, anyone?), although the fees might well be a deterrent.

Nothing is stopping you becoming a hotshot human rights lawyer, however. Your best bet is to apply for work experience and mini pupillages in chambers that specialise in international or human rights law.

If you’re really desperate to follow in Clooney’s footsteps, you’ll also apply for one of  Doughty Street Chambers’ two elusive pupillage slots.

And don’t forget some pro bono work experience – find out more with our Ultimate Guide to Pro Bono Work Experience.

Top Quote: “If you are a lawyer, and you want to take on easier cases, you can prosecute traffic violations or something. You’d have a very high rate of success, and you probably could sleep more easily at night. But that’s not what drives me.”

Lord Denning

Where They Began: The son of a draper, Alfred Denning survived nearly dying at birth to fight in World War 1 in between studying mathematics at the University of Oxford. Afterwards, he became a teacher but, finding that boring, he returned to Oxford to study Jurisprudence and became a barrister.

Where Are They Now?: Known as ‘the people’s judge’, Lord Denning passed away after his 100th birthday in 1999, 17 years after his last office as Master of the Rolls.

Key Achievements:

  • 1944: One of the youngest judges ever in the High Court of Justice at age 45
  • 1963: Head of inquiry into the Profumo Affair – where he ruled that there were no security leaks after the Secretary of State admitted having an affair
  • Ruled that wives in divorce cases were entitled to an equal share of their husband’s wealth
  • Made a judgement that paved the way for cheap transatlantic flights by allowing Sir Freddie Laker to compete with British Airways

Follow Their Path: To follow Lord Denning’s path, you’ll start by studying law at Oxford, which you can read all about here.

To become a barrister, you’ll want to get work experience in criminal law at a chambers in the form of mini-pupillages. Find out more here.

You might also want to take a look at our insight into what the judiciary is like – read How to Become a Judge: From CILEx to the Judiciary.

Top Quote: “I was ambitious and saw [a career in law] as the best way to advancement.”

Cherie Booth

Where They Began: Cherie Booth, also known as Cherie Blair, studied law at the London School of Economics and was called to the Bar in 1976 while teaching law at the University of Westminster.

Where Are They Now?: Founder and chair of international law firm Omnia Strategy, where she practices strategic international legal and advisory work.

Key Achievements:

  • 2000: Set up ground-breaking legal practice Matrix Chambers, which sought to break down the barriers between providers of legal services
  • Represented clients in a number of leading cases before the European Court of Justice and House of Lords
  • 2008: Founded the Cherie Blair Foundation for Women, which aims to support and empower female entrepreneurs across the world
  • 2011: Set up Omnia Strategy, a pioneering international law firm – made up of barristers, solicitors and non-lawyers – which provides strategic counsel to governments, corporate and private clients
  • 2013: Appointed Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) for services to women’s issues and charity

Follow Their Path: First, you’ll want to apply to study law at LSE.

Already at university? Your next step will be to find teaching opportunities while studying for your Bar exams, if you’re truly dedicated to following in Cherie Booth’s footsteps.

Otherwise, follow the route to becoming a barrister, and apply to Lincoln’s Inn.

Not to mention, you’ll definitely want a firm grasp of international and human rights law to truly match up to Cherie Booth!

Top Quote: “The thing I want to see before I die is women achieving full equality in the world. I’m very passionate about injustice against women and there’s too much of it in the world. In so many parts of the world, women are not regarded as worthy or equal to men. In parts of the world, women are bought and sold.”

Brenda Hale, Baroness Hale of Richmond

Where They Began: Baroness Hale studied law at the University of Cambridge, before becoming an assistant lecturer of law at the University of Manchester. She was called to the Bar in 1969.

Where Are They Now?: President of the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom since September 2017.

Key Achievements:

  • Became Professor of Law at Manchester in 1986.
  • Appointed a DBE in 1999 upon becoming a judge in the Family Division of the High Court of Justice
  • First female Lord of Appeal in Ordinary
  • First female president of the supreme court of the United Kingdom

Follow Their Path: First of all, apply to study at Cambridge – here’s some tips on getting an offer.

Already at university? Your next step is to apply for law teaching jobs at universities, if you want to be true to Baroness Hale’s footsteps.

Otherwise, you’re going to want to follow the barrister route, before applying to Gray’s Inn. Baroness Hale worked part-time for a long time as a barrister and at the University of Manchester.

Finally, make sure you know a thing or two about family law – Baroness Hale oversaw a number of reforms in this area of law during her time with the Law Commission.

Top Quote: “Women are equal to everything”

Roy Black

Roy Black, popularly called “The Professor,” earned a bachelor’s degree in law at the University of Miami in 1967 and a Juris Doctor at the University of Miami School of Law. During his graduation in 1970, Roy earned the highest score in the Florida Bar exam, and since then, he has set a remarkable reputation in his career

Where Are They Now? Roy is currently a partner in Black Srebnick, a trial firm specialising in criminal defence and civil litigation in Miami. Roy is also an adjunct instructor of criminal evidence at the University of Miami School of Law. In addition, he provides commentary for various legal news on NBC shows and now has his own reality show, “The Law Firm”.

Key Achievements: In 1991, he gained acquittal of William Kennedy Smith on charges of rape which led to America’s public interest and television coverage of famous trials.

  • He was a successful defense of Eller Media (Clearchannel Outdoor) in Miami for charges stemming from the electrocution of a 12 year old boy.
  • He created a yearly fundraiser for kids with behavioural disabilities. 
  • His notable clients include Girls Gone Wild producer Joe Francis, Rush Limbaugh, and the famous Canadian singer Justin Bieber. 

Follow Their Path: If you wish to become like Roy Black, a famous civil and criminal defense trial attorney, you should start by studying law at the university. Then you will earn a juris doctor degree and pass your bar exam. 

After getting your degree, you should also apply to be an intern at a law firm near you.

The best way to become as successful as Roy Black is to focus on experiencing and expanding the system rather than becoming famous. 

Top Quote

“Fight against prejudice, battle the oppressors, support the underdog. Question authority, shake up the system, and never be discouraged by hard times and hard people. Embrace those placed last, to whom even the bottom looks up. By showing me injustice, he taught me to love.”

Wichai Thongtang

Wichai Thongtang came from a humble farming family, and with the support of his father, he studied law at Thammasat University and graduated in 1970. He practised law in Thailand for decades before he became a known attorney. 

Where Are They Now? Wichai is now both an attorney and a business tycoon; he is the current CEO of 21 different companies and also the chairman of Grande Asset Hotels and Properties, Wichai Thongtang law firm, Sriracha Nakorn General Hospital, and Cable Thai Holding Company. 

Key Achievements

  • In 2001, he represented Thaksin Shinawatra, a former Thai prime minister, in an asset concealment case. 
  • He is the CEO of 21 different high-profile companies. 
  • A major shareholder in Cable Thai Holding
  • Owns 15% of Bangkok Dusit Medical Services.
  • His notable clients include former Thai prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra.

Follow Their Path

Wichai Thongtang is both a lawyer and a businessman, so to become one of the successful lawyers of our time, you must study law at university and pass the bar exam. You can also apply to be an intern at the Wichai Thongtang Law firm and strive to get work experience.

When you begin your law practice, your target clients could be high-profile companies in commercial lawsuits. In addition, Wichai Thongtang has other degrees that have aided his career success, and you may consider acquiring some of them; a good example is a master’s in political science from the university.

Top Quote

“If it flies, floats, or fornicates, rent it and let your investments from your lawyer earnings grow.”

Bill Neukom

Bill is one of the most famous lawyers in the world. He got his first law degree from Dartmouth College and went ahead to further his studies at the prestigious Stanford Law School. He fully started law practice when he could represent Bill Gates’s 12-person software startup run. This was the start of an incredible career for Bill. 

Where Are They Now? Bill Neukom is now the World Justice project’s founder, CEO, and president. This foundation was established to strengthen the rule of law to promote equity worldwide and develop communities with opportunities. 

Key Achievements

  • He served as the lead lawyer for Microsoft Corporation for over two decades.
  • He was Executive Vice President at Microsoft. 
  • He won the case of the “trial of the century,” otherwise known as United States v. Microsoft.
  • He was once the vice president of Law and Corporate Affairs.
  • In 2007-2008, he served as the president of the American Bar Association. 
  • From 2008 to 2011, he became the CEO of the San Francisco Giants and led the team to its first world series win. 

Follow Their Path

To become one of the famous lawyers of our time, like Bill Neukom, you must have a law degree from a college or university. Then, study at law school and become a legal intern in a corporate law firm. 

Developing your knowledge of technology and intellectual properties is also advisable to defend and represent high-profile brands like Microsoft. However, before you start landing big clients, you can practice law in a small firm to gain work experience or try to establish your firm.  

Top Quote

“We believe that part of innovation has to be integrating useful technology into new and improved products.”

Willie E. Gary

Willie is an American lawyer who started his law career by studying law at Shaw University. Before he went into law, he tried his hand at many commercial jobs, and with perseverance and hard work, he succeeded as a lawyer. 

Where Are They Now? Willie is currently a managing partner at the Gary, Williams, Parenti, Watson, and Gary, PLLC; he is also a motivational speaker and has appeared on the early show as a legal analyst.

Key Achievements

  • He was one of the top 50 US attorneys on the Forbes list.
  • He was one of the 100 most influential African Americans by Ebony magazine.
  • He won a $500 million-dollar settlement to an undisclosed client from Mississippi.
  • In 1993, he won the Black College Alumni Hall of Fame.
  • In 1995, he won the National Bar Association C. Francis Stradford Award.
  • Successfully sued Florida Power & Light Co. over the electrocution of seven members of a Jupiter, Florida, family.
  • In 1997, he earned the Turner Broadcasting Company Trumpet Award.

Follow Their Path

You may not have a sports scholarship like Willie E Gary. Still, the best way to follow his path and become a personal injury and medical malpractice attorney is to get an undergraduate law degree and attend law school. 

It would be best to practise as an intern to gain work experience in a reputable law firm specialising in personal injury and medical malpractice.

Final Thoughts

There are only a few famous lawyers in history, despite the fact that it’s easy to argue that “best” is a relative phrase. These few lawyers discussed here have contributed significantly to modern law and culture. People like them are why laws are respected and changed when they no longer serve a purpose.

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