JD Jungle Magazine presents portraits of four lawyers who achieved success by age 35.
Age 32 | Criminal Law
Prosecuting Nazi war criminals for the United States Department of Justice can be slow going. Jonathan Drimmer gets the job done fast. Since joining the D.O.J.'s elite Office of Special Investigations (O.S.I.) three years ago, the 32-year-old UCLA law grad has had a hand in a half-dozen war-crimes convictions and deportations, and he's pitched in on several others. Those are big numbers in the Nazi-hunting business, in which some suspects have avoided capture for more than fifty years.
Drimmer's targets have included a former Treblinka labor camp guard; a Lithuanian auxiliary policeman who held some 4,000 Jews prisoner until they were executed by a mobile killing squad; and a Ukrainian accused of collaborating in the mass liquidations of the Warsaw and Bialystok ghettos. For two years running, Drimmer has received the U.S. Attorney General's Meritorious Award for outstanding job performance. But his biggest payoff comes the moment he introduces himself to his elusive quarry. "There's this instant of recognition," he says. "They know I've got them."
Just over two years ago, Drimmer was named as co-counsel in one of the department's most high-profile cases: the retrial of Ukrainian immigrant John Demjanjuk. Accused of guarding two of the worst Nazi death camps, Demjanjuk is widely viewed as the most notorious war criminal ever to enter the United States. Drimmer is now in the final stages of preparation for the trial, which is scheduled to start in late May.
A former litigation associate at Washington's Covington & Burling, Drimmer says he didn't expect much when he sent off a resumé to O.S.I. director Eli Rosenbaum in the fall of 1997. But his timing was good—an O.S.I. attorney had just quit—and a week or so later Rosenbaum (whom Drimmer had met during a fellowship in the Solicitor General's office) made him an offer. Although it meant giving up a big corporate salary, Drimmer jumped at the opportunity. "I thought 'Hell, when's the next time I'm going to get to hunt Nazis?' "
In addition to chasing down war criminals, Drimmer has had a longstanding interest in curbing the broad rights bounty hunters possess to break into suspects' homes, transport them across state lines and temporarily imprison them. He's written several law-review articles on the topic and has been interviewed on Court TV and 60 Minutes. He also helped draw up a bounty-hunter licensing system that fifteen states have adopted—and he's testified twice in Congress to promote a pending bill (which he helped draft) to make bondsmen liable for the actions of bounty hunters they hire.
Drimmer's third professional passion is disability law, inspired in part by his wife, Allison, an attorney who has cerebral palsy. While at Covington, Drimmer took on several disability-rights cases (two of them pro bono), and during law school he drafted an influential article on disability civil rights that's now used to teach a course on the subject at Georgetown.
What drives a lawyer to do so much for so many? Simple, Drimmer says. "I like to be a force for good."
Senior trial attorney, U.S. Department of Justice, 1998 to present
Adjunct professor, Georgetown University Law Center, 2000 to present
Associate, Covington & Burling, Washington, D.C., 1995 to 1998
Bristow Fellow, Office of the U.S. Solicitor General, 1994 to 1995
Judicial clerk, Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, 1993 to 1994
Legal intern, NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, 1993
Legal intern, Western Law Center for Disability Rights, 1992
UCLA School of Law, 1993
Age 30 | International M&A
There's a frontier aspect to overseas deals. "The way these transactions play out, we're helping to craft new law."
Mark Hutchinson's job at Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom is to do deals, so let's run the numbers on the biggest deals he's worked on. Since last fall, he's been advising Ireland's Eircom PLC on the proposed $4.1 billion sale of its wireless telecommunications business to U.K. telecom giant Vodafone. A year and a half ago, he helped represent Germany's Mannesmann in its hard-fought $200 billion–plus merger with Vodafone—the biggest M&A deal of any kind, ever. And fresh out of law school, he helped put together Daimler-Benz's $40 billion acquisition of Chrysler.
Add it all up and Hutchinson has worked on close to $250 billion in transactions since he joined Skadden as an associate in 1997. Divide that figure by his age, 30, and you'd be hard-pressed to find a lawyer with a fatter ratio of deal value to years spent on the planet. And that's just on deals that have closed.
Hutchinson grew up in the tiny town of Manchester, Maine (population 2,121), and made his way to Skadden's London mergers and acquisitions department via Boston College and Harvard Law School (he also picked up a master's at M.I.T. in international relations and political science). Besides loving to travel, Hutchinson was drawn to the frontier aspect of overseas corporate deals. "There's a lot more room for creativity," he says. "The way these transactions play out, we're helping to craft new law."
Hutchinson landed at Skadden as a summer associate in 1994. His enthusiasm and his proficiency in German (thanks in part to a college semester spent studying in Freiburg) caught the attention of Skadden M&A partner Mike Schell, who was working on the global public offering for Daimler-Benz. Soon, Hutchinson was neck-deep in the Daimler deal and several others, writing securities-law memos, participating in client negotiations and drafting contracts. "This was not a make-work keep-the-associate-occupied proposition," says Schell. "He was a real contributor."
In the summer of 1995, Hutchinson worked in Skadden's Frankfurt office, again on Daimler-Benz business. He joined the firm as a full-time associate in 1997 and transferred to the London office in 1999.
The secret of Hutchinson's precocious success, says Schell, is his unusual willingness to try new approaches. "He's not foolhardy or brash, but keeping an open mind is a relatively courageous way for a young person to approach things," says Schell. Hutchinson's own theory: "Growing up in a small town makes you appreciate opportunities—that's probably reflected in how much I care about doing a good job."
Of course, leaving a small town has its advantages, too. Every once in a while, for example, you run into the world's biggest rock star. This past winter, while Hutchinson was in Dublin working on the Eircom deal, he rubbed shoulders with Bono, who co-owns the hotel where Hutchinson was staying.
"That," Hutchinson says, "would not have happened in Maine."
Associate, Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom, New York (1997 to 1999) and London (1999 to present)
Intern, U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, Washington, D.C., 1996
Summer associate, Skadden, Arps, New York (1994) and Frankfurt (1995)
Harvard Law School, 1997
M.I.T., master's in international relations and political science, 1995
Age 35 | Human Rights
Powell's inspiration was Martin Luther King Jr., who linked human rights to civil rights. "Our goal is to start up the movement again."
People in the United States often think human rights violations happen only to 'those people'—'over there,'" says Catherine Powell. "But they also occur at home. We need to make that point more forcefully."
As the founding executive director of the Human Rights Institute (H.R.I.) at Columbia University Law School, the 35-year-old Powell has been doing exactly that. She's a pioneer in the use of international human rights principles to fight civil rights abuses in the United States.
Powell's inspiration was Martin Luther King Jr., who linked human rights to civil rights by linking racial justice to poverty. "When he was killed, the movement stagnated," says Powell. "Our goal is to start it up again."
To that end, Powell and her students are currently representing a Philadelphia advocacy group—the Kensington Welfare Rights Union—in a human rights matter before the Inter-American Commission (one of the principal human rights bodies in the Americas).
Using evidence gathered in "freedom bus tours" around the country, Powell and the H.R.I. are asking the commission to cite the U.S. for failing to honor a regional agreement guaranteeing the right to food, shelter, health and work. The U.S. doesn't recognize the agreement as legally binding, but a win, says Powell, would embarrass the U.S. as a human rights abuser. "That gets attention."
Last year, Powell and her students drew on international human rights treaties to argue for federal clemency for Kemba Smith, a young black woman sentenced to twenty-five years in prison for a minor role in her boyfriend's drug activities. Smith, whose sentence was commuted, was released last December. She has since been reunited with her six-year-old son and is attending college.
Powell and her students also tackle conventional international human rights cases. They've done innovative work, for example, in suing China's former premier, Li Peng, for alleged abuses committed during the Tianamen Square protests. (The case is currently in discovery in federal district court in Manhattan.)
Powell picked up her interest in social justice from her late father (a civil rights attorney) and her passion for teaching from her mother (an educator). After getting a degree from Yale Law School, she worked as a Ford Fellow in public international law at Harvard, clerked for Federal District Court Judge Leonard Sand of New York, then moved to the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund as assistant counsel. She joined Columbia, and the H.R.I., in 1998.
"Catherine is simply the best," says Columbia professor emeritus Louis Henkin, the founding chair of the H.R.I. and one of the fathers of modern human rights theory. "She has the institute's mission very much in her soul."
One big part of that mission involves raising global awareness of human rights issues. Powell is currently training eleven fellows (from Chile, Finland, India and Israel, among other places) to apply—and to teach—human rights tenets in their home countries.
Powell also wants to get her message out to the next generation. She's currently working on a multimedia project that will use videos, hip-hop and poetry slams to teach young people about international human rights.
If some of her work seems quixotic, Powell is okay with that. "I'm an idealist," she says. "I always wanted to work on social justice issues, and human rights is the perfect way to do that."
Founding executive director, Human Rights Institute, Columbia University Law School, 1998 to present
Assistant counsel, NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, 1994 to 1998
Judicial clerk, Southern District of New York, 1993 to 1994
Ford Fellow in public international law, Harvard Law School, 1992 to 1993
Yale Law School, 1992
Age 30 | Politics
Cruz's new political post is especially impressive considering his roots. His father, a Castro freedom fighter, came to this country with $100.
It was a Tuesday evening in June 1999, and Ted Cruz was just another lawyer scaring up cash at a Washington, D.C., fundraiser for George W. Bush. At the time, Cruz was an attorney at D.C.'s Cooper, Carvin & Rosenthal, a conservative litigation boutique. But a chance conversation that night sent his career in a whole new direction.
A law school classmate introduced Cruz to Joshua Bolten, the man in charge of hiring policy advisers for the Bush campaign. The two men chatted and Bolten invited Cruz, who'd also raised money for Bush's 1998 gubernatorial race, to come in for an interview the next day. It's fair to say they hit it off. By that Friday, Cruz had been offered a job as a domestic policy adviser to the budding Bush-for-President campaign.
Two weeks later, Cruz had wrapped up his practice, sold his house and moved to Austin, where he began advising the candidate on everything from tort reform and campaign-finance reform to the war on drugs and abortion rights. A second-generation Cuban American, he also weighed in on immigration, civil rights and other issues important to the Hispanic community.
When the Florida recount fight began, Cruz was tapped to be a member of the legal team, in part because of his constitutional litigation experience at Cooper, Carvin. He helped assemble lawyers, decide strategy, draft pleadings and brief the media. In the process, he helped deliver Bush to the White House.
After the election, Cruz was rewarded for his efforts with a request to pack his bags yet again—this time for a return trip to Washington. During the presidential transition, he served as one of four Department of Justice coordinators advising then Attorney General–designate John Ashcroft. By February he had been named to a permanent position—Associate Deputy Attorney General, where he's charged with overseeing D.O.J. policy initiatives in areas such as firearms enforcement, racial profiling and cyber crime.
Cruz's new political post is especially impressive in light of his roots. His father, a Castro freedom fighter, fled Cuba and the Batista regime in 1957 and arrived in America with only the shirt on his back and $100 sewn into his underwear. He settled in Texas, renounced La Revolucion, and raised Ted as a Republican.
The younger Cruz never strayed from his G.O.P. background. After graduating from Harvard Law School, Cruz clerked for Supreme Court Chief Justice William Rehnquist. From there, he took the job at Cooper, Carvin, where he quickly made his mark. Less than a year into his practice, Cruz took the lead role in arguing Ford Motor Company's appeal in a customs dispute before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit. He won.
Ex-boss and Florida recount comrade Michael Carvin attributes Cruz's fast start in politics to his one-two strength in both law and public policy. Cruz's timing isn't bad either. "He's fortunate to have come of age when a Republican president is being elected," says Carvin, "but he also worked very hard."
In his new role at the D.O.J., Cruz says he aims to take the election platform he helped develop "out of the world of campaign promises and make it a reality." If things get tough, as they inevitably do inside the Beltway, he says his father is a good reality check. "I remind myself that I've never been in prison or been tortured," says Cruz. "If you're still at the office at midnight, it doesn't really compare."
Associate Deputy Attorney General, U.S. Department of Justice, February 2001 to present
Department of Justice coordinator, December 2000 to January 2001
Domestic policy adviser, George W. Bush presidential campaign, 1999 to 2000
Associate, Cooper, Carvin & Rosenthal, Washington, D.C., 1997 to 1999
Judicial clerk, U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice William Rehnquist, 1996 to 1997
Harvard Law School, 1995