In the recently released 2023 edition of the Best Lawyers: Ones to Watch in America™ awards, less than 20,000 lawyers across the nation were selected by their peers to be recognized for the monumental strides they are taking in their legal career and the impact they are making on their communities.
The path to a law career is vastly different for many of our “Ones to Watch” honorees. While some proudly carry the weight of a family tradition, others are the first to choose this prestigious career. As we acknowledge the top legal talent within this group of practitioners with 5-9 years of experience, we have asked them to reflect on their start in law and specifically how they came to focus on their specific awarded practice areas.
Inspiring the Journey to Success
Camille M. Vasquez, 2023 Best Lawyers: Ones to Watch in America honoree for Commercial Litigation
Camille M. Vasquez, Partner at Brown Rudnick, is now a household name, after her stellar representation of Johnny Depp in his recent defamation case against his ex-wife, Amber Heard. But the work she was doing for her clients—the victories she was achieving for them—were already placing her on a path to success.
What is particularly interesting to note is that Camille, before she was known for her plaintiff defamation success, got her start in litigation and arbitration. Per her recent interview with Best Lawyers CEO Phillip Greer, her path to plaintiff defamation was not always clear. When asked if this specialty was always her plan, she responded, “No. It definitely was not, but I definitely work on cases…that I feel passionate about.”
Ultimately, what drives a good lawyer—and most ambitious professionals—is passion. Finding passion in what we do each day does not always come easy, but for lawyers, it is probable that passion comes in the continued drive to help clients.
Brian D. Goodrich, 2023 Best Lawyers: Ones to Watch in America honoree for Commercial Litigation
Bentley Goodrich Kison attorney Brian D. Goodrich gave us more insight into his career path. “I chose to pursue law because of my dad, Bob Goodrich—a career-long litigator. I love practicing commercial litigation because of the complexity of the issues. I had two great mentors, Morgan Bentley and Kevin Bruning, who hired me out of law school and showed me the ropes of commercial litigation. Both had a knack for expertly resolving complicated business problems in and outside of litigation.”
Goodrich went on to say that his father’s passion was infectious, helping him develop his own passion for helping others through litigation.
Jake Wyrick, 2023 Best Lawyers: Ones to Watch in America honoree for Technology Law and Venture Capital Law
A common thread among our awarded talent is a desire to serve others in the legal field from a young age. Jake Wyrick of WilmerHale told us he “drafted his first loan agreement in first grade” and ever since, he’s “been interested in how delicate the rule of law is, and how central it is to the welfare of people around the world.”
He has a reputation among his peers for “involving cutting edge technologies from the entrepreneurs and investors putting everything on the line to build them.” He admitted that working with start-up companies is inherently risky, but he finds excitement in his work and joy in the journey.
Davida S. Williams, 2023 Best Lawyers: Ones to Watch in America honoree for Commercial Litigation and Criminal Defense: White-Collar
Davida Williams, attorney at Green Espel, chose to study law because for her, it’s about helping people and problem solving. “Whether big or small, each case presents an opportunity to find novel solutions and make a difference for my clients,” she explained.
Her practice involves several focus areas, including her recognized specialties and others, like antitrust and competition law. With an array of knowledge in each, she is able to represent many clients and guide them to the best outcomes in their cases. For Williams, she said, “there’s no better feeling than arguing cases that can substantially impact the way businesses operate by ensuring markets remain fair and competitive. That’s the thrill of practicing antitrust and competition law. To be a successful antitrust attorney, you have to be willing to learn the ins and outs of different, and often niche, business industries. It’s challenging work, but very rewarding.”
Michael E. Kaplan, 2023 Best Lawyers: Ones to Watch in America honoree for Real Estate Law
WilmerHale attorney Michael E. Kaplan also found inspiration from his father, who is a lawyer. However, it was his work at a consulting firm prior to starting law school that solidified his decision to pursue a legal career. “I worked with amazingly smart people, but they never approached problems the same why I did. Specifically, the ‘why’ and ‘how’ questions were usually at the bottom of their list but were always at the top of mine. So, I talked with people in various fields and hearing how lawyers thought and problem solved resonated with me in a way that other professions did not,” Kaplan explained.
Once in law school, having taken interest in his undergrad work experience for a real estate developer and a class on urban planning throughout American history, Kaplan found himself studying real estate law. He explained further, “While I had opportunities to pursue other areas of law, none of them gravitated toward me the way real estate did. So, it took me a bit to find a job I was really interested and passionate about, but eventually, a great local Denver firm (Otten Johnson) took a chance on me.
Since his first job, Kaplan has since become counsel at WilmerHale, which he says, “has been integral to my continued growth as I regularly am presented interesting deals from our wonderful clients and receive great mentoring from our team across the country.” Kaplan’s resume is proof that experience, passion and mentorship can help shape and mold the foundation for a positive career.
Sally N. Davis, 2023 Best Lawyers: Ones to Watch in America honoree for Real Estate Law
For other lawyers, the path to law school starts as a blank slate, with practice decisions coming later in the curriculum. For Sally N. Davis, attorney at Ropes & Gray, she told us, “Admittedly, I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do in the long term when I decided to attend law school. I just believed strongly that a legal education would equip me with the analytical tools to grow and be successful in a wide variety of professional settings.”
It was not until she found appreciation and interest in a first-year property law class and second-year real estate transactions class that she directed her path towards Real Estate Law. “This interested solidified when I had the opportunity to take on several real estate and environmental projects and immerse myself fully in the Ropes & Gray real estate practice group.” Davis believes that, for her anyway, real estate law offers a balance, allowing her to tackle “complex and interesting transactional concepts while simultaneously engaging in the very tangible realms of real property investment, finance, management and operation.”
Kaitlin Konkel, 2023 Best Lawyers: Ones to Watch in America honoree for Criminal Defense: White Collar
Lawyers do work that many people shy away from because it can be challenging, painful and time-consuming. But it’s work that is necessary and good. For Kaitlin Konkel, lawyer at Arnold & Porter, she believes “there are so many ways to do good work in the world, both inside and outside the legal field.” She began her legal practice because it afforded her the chance to not only do work that was meaningful, but that she could use her “particular set of interests and skills, including written advocacy, problem-solving, teamwork and a commitment to our institutions and the rule of law.”
Konkel’s practice focuses on representing clients in government investigations and criminal proceedings, she explained. Her work includes “advising on international law enforcement issues like INTERPOL Red Notices and extradition requests, and challenging government action through civil litigation here in the United States.” Konkel’s clients often face uncertain outcomes, but for her, she said “It’s a privilege to show up and lend a hand on issues that are so consequential to our clients' lives.”
Evgeny Magidenko, 2023 Best Lawyers: Ones to Watch in America honoree for Tax Law
For some lawyers, the influential people they meet along the way in law school help them determine where their passions are in the field. For Evgeny Magidenko, partner at ArentFox Schiff, it was one of his law school professors who brought tax law into his life “with a combination of humor and a knack for elucidating complex concepts.” The late professor Douglas Kahn at the University of Michigan Law School is who Magidenko credits his decision to pursue tax law. With no background in the subject, Magidenko enrolled in one of Kahn’s classes his first year of law school, and it was there that everything changed.
“His knowledge was encyclopedic, but he was always approachable and glad to work through tax problems with his students. I was hooked and ended up taking Professor Kahn’s classes on partnership tax and corporate tax in later semesters,” Magidenko explained. He pursued other tax classes throughout his law school tenure and said that by the end of law school, “I could not imagine practicing anything other than tax. And the rest, as they say, is history.”
For nearly every lawyer we work with, the ones awarded the most prestigious of accolades, there seems to be one universal truth: joy. The elation they feel in helping others, in guiding clients through the most vulnerable times in life, is what motivates and drives their passion. They have cultivated careers on serving others through their talents and prowess, and their journeys from law school to court are only one stop along their illustrious resumes. Indeed, the rising talents, the lawyers making profound impacts on their firms, clients and the world: those are the ones to watch.