Insight

Best Lawyers: Perspectives Through the Decades

Since the first issue's release in 1983, Best Lawyers has continued to evolve, embrace and adapt to the everchanging nature of the growing legal profession.

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Headshot of man with dark hair in black suit

Justin Smulison

August 16, 2023 11:00 PM

Since the inaugural issue of Best Lawyers® in 1983, the legal industry has continually evolved to meet the demands of an ever-changing world. New practice areas have formed to protect clients and a society impacted by emerging risks in business and healthcare, for example, while advances in technology have provided opportunities to try cases without physically being in a courtroom.

Furthermore, every lawyer aims to meet and exceed the expectations of clients, which can be challenging when changes in various sectors can outpace the reaction time needed to prepare legal strategies.

To chronicle how different practice areas have changed, along with the profession overall, we spoke with several legal leaders nationwide who were first recognized by The Best Lawyers in America® from each decade since the 1980s, as well as Best Lawyers: Ones to Watch® in America recipients from the last four editions. They revealed how they embraced change and continue to adapt and the role Best Lawyers print publications and online outlets played in their career development, brand and reputation.

What are the most significant changes in your practice area or the legal landscape you’ve experienced since entering the profession?

Ilona Ely GrenadierGrenadier, Duffett, Levi, Winkler & Rubin, P.C.
Recognized in The Best Lawyers in America since 1983 in Family Law
Alexandria, Virginia

My practice stems back to 1983, but my answers to this question stretch back to 1968. I started out as one of a very few women attorneys, and as I recall, only two that were active litigators.

Prior to 1983, [family law] was an evolving area, especially in my specialty of domestic relations. Our courts were evolving, as in the “olden days,” our Fairfax, Alexandria and Prince William courts were one, with a “competing Alexandria Corporation court” with some overlap in jurisdiction. They all eventually became separate jurisdictions. Our laws were simple as to custody, distribution of property and alimony. We had no charts for support, and you needed to be creative to accomplish what seemed like the inevitable for “fair” distributions, obligations for child support and alimony—only husbands paid.

Significant evolvements occurred beginning [I believe] in 1981 when Virginia passed what we call an “equitable distribution chart” for property distribution. That law has evolved into our court’s ability to distribute and/or make awards for each spouse regardless of the owner in using all marital assets. These were the assets acquired during marriage, exclusive of inheritance, and those, if traceable, acquired prior to the marriage. Child support, in particular, has evolved by use for the most part of charts, and both child support and alimony are paid by men as well as women.

C. Steven “Steve” Yerrid The Yerrid Law Firm, P.A.
Recognized in The Best Lawyers in America since 1989 in Personal Injury Litigation – Plaintiffs
Tampa, Florida

When I chaired the Board Certification Committee in Florida, one thing I did that I thought was extremely important was to make the Ethics section a green or red light. If you didn’t pass the section on Ethics—even if you scored outstandingly on the other sections—then you wouldn’t achieve board certification because I do not believe an unethical or dishonest lawyer should be recognized for anything but what they are. And that certainly would not include the privilege and accomplishment of being “board certified.” That particular mandate is still [in effect]. And it’s as valid today as it was then—probably even more so now.

Andrew C. “Drew” Meyer, Jr.Lubin & Meyer PC
Recognized in The Best Lawyers in America since 1995 in Personal Injury Litigation – Plaintiffs
Boston, Massachusetts

In the past 20 years, we’ve seen mediations, arbitrations or alternative dispute resolution (ADR) gain popularity as an alternative to traditional courtroom litigation. ADR can offer clients a faster, less expensive and more private resolution to their claims.

Additionally, the creation of legal research databases dramatically streamlined many of our time-consuming legal processes. Now, being on the cusp of integrating artificial intelligence (AI) in document review and case analysis, we hope to continue to see this process become increasingly more efficient and cost-effective.

Adam Leitman BaileyAdam Leitman Bailey, P.C.
Recognized in The Best Lawyers in America since 2015 in Real Estate Law
New York, New York

When I became a real estate lawyer and litigator [in 1995], I was told that real estate moved very slowly. Since I became a Best Lawyers honoree almost a decade ago, real estate litigation could be compared to an action movie. The COVID-19 pandemic caused the courts to close and laws to be suspended, causing the most creative solutions to be devised by attorneys.

There were also prior challenges. The Great Recession in 2007 required desperate measures to keep America in business. Adam Leitman Bailey, P.C. found the Interstate Land Sales Full Disclosure Act (ILSA) and many other creative ways to help developers and bankers and borrowers to financially survive. ILSA was so effective that Congress repealed the statute when the Great Recession was over. And in 2012, we were hit with Superstorm Sandy, which caused a natural disaster to many buildings in New York where we practice, causing great tests to real estate attorneys while forcing us to plan differently for the future.

Bottom line—maybe it was because we were named to Best Lawyers, but we were sure expected to act like the best lawyers since being recognized as one in the last decade.

Emily M. Renzelli – Rule Garza Howley LLP
Recognized in Best Lawyers: Ones To Watch® in America in 2024 in Antitrust Law and Commercial Litigation
Washington, District of Columbia

I’ve seen a heightened demand for specialists with deep knowledge of their field. When I went to law school, the focus was teaching you how to think like a generalist. I’ve seen law schools responding to this demand now by offering more classes and clinics in specialized fields.

In antitrust, because of its complexity, clients are looking for attorneys with a deep understanding and history in the field. At the same time, because the field is rapidly evolving, clients value nimble approaches to tackling emerging antitrust issues.

Separately, I’ve also seen an increasing demand for diversity in the legal profession, with clients asking for diverse teams and perspectives to be brought to the table.

Advancing technology has revolutionized the profession. Tools and processes that were the norm at the start of your career—or even just 10 years ago—may now be obsolete. How would you characterize your experience with virtual and emerging tech?

Angela Reddock-Wright – Reddock Law Group
Recognized in The Best Lawyers in America since 2020 in Litigation – Labor and Employment
Los Angeles, California

[Due largely to] the COVID-19 pandemic, the biggest change I have seen in the legal industry in my nearly 30 years of practicing law has been the industry move from being primarily an “in-person” system to one that now operates—or has the capability of operating—almost 100% virtually. Everything from the courts, including trials and law and motion practice—to the taking of depositions and mediations is now done virtually.

Even in my work as a mediator before the pandemic, although there was some talk about the use of online dispute resolution (ODR) in the future, most mediators and our clients never would have imagined a world where now, most of our mediations—at least in a state like California—take place primarily online.

When we ask attorneys and their clients if they want to return to in-person mediations, their answer most often is “no.” I believe they like the convenience of having mediations conducted online and believe the success rates are just as good as they were with in-person mediations pre-pandemic.

If you had asked me this same question prior to the worldwide stay-at-home orders in March 2020, I would have told you that there was a stronger possibility of our seeing flying unicorns before ever seeing the legal world move into a virtual future.

Laurie Webb DanielWebb Daniel Friedlander LLP
Recognized in The Best Lawyers in America since 2003 in Commercial Litigation
Atlanta, Georgia

Technology is my friend. I think it has been especially liberating for appellate lawyers because—for decades—I have been able to do the bulk of my work from anywhere in the world. For example, one of the best Eleventh Circuit briefs I ever wrote came together on the shores of Lake Geneva when I was visiting my daughter at a Swiss boarding school. And that was 15 years ago.

Platforms like Zoom and Teams have been such a boost for our appellate practice because we now can do moot courts with top practitioners from around the country. The quality of these oral argument preparations has increased tremendously and even as the cost has gone down. And two of the six lawyers at our firm work remotely. That flexibility has given us the chance to attract top talent which, of course, is critical to maintaining our standing as a “go-to” firm for high-stakes litigation.

Michele M. JochnerSchiller DuCanto & Fleck LLP
Recognized in The Best Lawyers in America since 2015 in Family Law
Chicago, Illinois

Technology has also been a driving factor in innovating continuing legal education. As the immediate past chair of the Illinois Supreme Court’s Minimum Continuing Legal Education Board (MCLE Board), I saw first-hand the benefits of harnessing technology to improve both the content of the course offerings, as well as the overall administration of the program.

Course providers have strived to create and deliver educational programs that are interesting, interactive and available on-demand, while Illinois has led the way in using technology to create an innovative transcript system that automatically tallies the attorney’s credits and allows instant viewing of the list of all programs taken and completed.

Christopher J. “Chris” ToeppAllen, Allen, Allen & Allen, P.C.
Recognized in Best Lawyers: Ones to Watch in America since 2021 in Personal Injury Litigation – Plaintiffs
Fredericksburg, Virginia

We live in a technologically reliant world. As a trial attorney, jurors expect me to use technology including, but not limited to, digital presentations and cutting-edge demonstrative exhibits in cases. Nobody goes home to watch a black-and-white television. There is a fundamental expectation that our trial presentation will mirror what jurors experience in all other areas of their daily life.

The onus is on myself and other younger attorneys to familiarize ourselves with the tools and products that can improve our work performance and streamline our processes. AI is a particularly attractive tool in that regard, and we certainly need to figure out how to incorporate it into our practice to better serve our clients.

How do you meet the demands of the profession and the business of law?

Kevin H. SharpSanford Heisler Sharp, LLP
Recognized in The Best Lawyers in America since 2008
Employment Law – Individuals
Nashville, Tennessee

Read and listen. There is an abundance of useful information available to those willing to pay attention. From articles on cutting-edge legal theories to innovative ideas on firm management, someone is thinking and writing about these issues.

In our firm, it’s like a contest to see who can find, filter and share these ideas first. Part of my job, as I see it, is to digest the information coming to me, actively listen to the ideas of those working with me and turn the best ideas into actions that keep our firm out front.

Angela Reddock-Wright – Reddock Law Group
Recognized in The Best Lawyers in America since 2020 in Litigation – Labor and Employment
Los Angeles, California

I keep up with the myriad changes and demands in the legal industry by attending and presenting at CLE conferences and events hosted by various bar associations and industry organizations. I also read daily legal periodicals and [follow] legal updates from distinguished law firms and attorneys that specialize in the areas that I primarily mediate in—employment and labor law, Title IX, sexual assault, hazing and bullying cases.

Andrew C. “Drew” Meyer, Jr. – Lubin & Meyer PC
Recognized in The Best Lawyers in America since 1995 in Personal Injury Litigation – Plaintiffs
Boston, Massachusetts

As the legal landscape evolves, we prioritize continuous learning to stay informed about the latest trends and their impact on personal injury cases. We attend, and host workshops, webinars, and seminars focused on legal issues to ensure we have a deep understanding of how these principles affect our clients and their claims.

Engaging with other legal professionals and industry experts is an invaluable way to gain insights into legal developments. By participating in legal forums, joining relevant associations and collaborating with colleagues, we can better exchange knowledge and strategies to navigate complexities in personal injury cases. We regularly conduct comprehensive research on issues that intersect with personal injury law. This includes monitoring academic journals, law reviews and industry publications to be aware of any changes, precedents or best practices that may arise.

How would you characterize your practice when you were first listed in Best Lawyers? How did the recognition impact the firm?

Ilona Ely Grenadier – Grenadier, Duffett, Levi, Winkler & Rubin, P.C.
Recognized in The Best Lawyers in America since 1983 in Family Law
Alexandria, Virginia

I first received the rating for Best Lawyers in 1983, which is something I will never forget. I learned about the little red book from a colleague, Joe Condo, who called and said: “We are in a book called Best Lawyers.” I think we were both overwhelmed and appreciative.

The brand grew—as the years rolled on—very important, and I am sure impacted those of us who were chosen to be included. It spread across the country as it grew, as I would look for an attorney to recommend or to co-counsel, first to look in Best Lawyers along with, later, the American Academy of Matrimonial Attorneys (in my specialty). I cannot say with specifics, but I believe my inclusion has had an impact on my client base and reputation.

C. Steven “Steve” Yerrid – The Yerrid Law Firm, P.A.
Recognized in The Best Lawyers in America since 1989 in Personal Injury Litigation – Plaintiffs
Tampa, Florida

I don’t put my name out there with other publications. Best Lawyers has always had an appeal to me as a great accomplishment because you cannot buy your way in. In this world of commercial adventure, I like the fact that accomplishment still means everything.

Andrew C. “Drew” Meyer, Jr. – Lubin & Meyer PC
Recognized in The Best Lawyers in America since 1995 in Personal Injury Litigation – Plaintiffs
Boston, Massachusetts

Our law firm and the legal landscape were markedly different 28 years ago. Marketing and advertising were less prevalent in the legal community. We relied on word-of-mouth referrals and a reputation built on successful case outcomes and client satisfaction. With the creation of attorney rating directories, specifically Best Lawyers, our firm had far greater visibility, attracting more clients and cases and positively impacting our growth. The Best Lawyers recognition is widely respected in the legal community, and having this honor associated with our firm greatly enhanced our reputation. Such third-party validation instills trust in our capabilities and bolsters our clients’ confidence in working with us. In a competitive legal landscape, being recognized in Best Lawyers has given our firm a competitive edge. It sets us apart from other law firms and allows us to stand out in the minds of potential clients.

Kevin H. Sharp – Sanford Heisler Sharp, LLP
Recognized in The Best Lawyers in America since 2008 Employment Law – Individuals
Nashville, Tennessee

With the accessibility of online search engines, selecting an attorney has evolved from the days of Yellow Pages and word-of-mouth marketing. Potential clients have access to so much information it can be overwhelming to know what’s useful. Does the “click” actually lead to quality representation? Being included in Best Lawyers is an important guide for clients to use when searching for counsel. While not the only factor, it certainly lets potential clients know they’re on the right track.

Laurie Webb Daniel – Webb Daniel Friedlander LLP
Recognized in The Best Lawyers in America since 2003 in Commercial Litigation
Atlanta, Georgia

Recognition by Best Lawyers definitely was a milestone because it is an objective validation of achievement. When I say “milestone,” I mean it was a marker on my path, signifying I was well on my way to who I wanted to be known as, as a lawyer, but certainly not the final destination. I knew then where I wanted to go with my career, but I was still young and wanted further experience, particularly in my area of focus—appellate advocacy.

Being listed in Best Lawyers always was important when I was part of Big Law. Competition is fierce, and this honor is a meaningful distinction to purchasers of sophisticated legal services. And when I left Holland & Knight to start my own practice, I was pleased that the recognition of my achievements transferred to Webb Daniel Friedlander. Most of all, I am hopeful—and I fully expect—that my young partners will carry on this tradition of excellence and also be recognized by Best Lawyers in their own right.

Angela Reddock-Wright – Reddock Law Group
Recognized in The Best Lawyers in America since 2020 in Litigation – Labor and Employment
Los Angeles, California

My recognition in Best Lawyers has had a tremendously positive impact on my career and practice as a mediator—particularly the recognition in 2022, where I was honored to be included in a cover story. At the time the article ran, I was two years into transitioning my practice from an employment and labor law and Title IX litigation and workplace investigations practice into a full-time mediation and alternative dispute resolution practice. The Best Lawyers cover story provided me the opportunity to share my journey as an attorney and now mediator, along with providing insights on what motivates and inspires me to do the work I do.

I believe my story resonated with many of my fellow colleagues and clients and helped them to get to know me beyond my CV/resume. I know not everyone gets the opportunity to tell their story in such great detail, so for this, I am truly grateful to Best Lawyers.

Christopher J. “Chris” Toepp – Allen, Allen, Allen & Allen, P.C.
Recognized in Best Lawyers: Ones to Watch in America since 2021 in Personal Injury Litigation – Plaintiffs
Fredericksburg, Virginia

Recognition in Best Lawyers: Ones to Watch in America is a validation of years of hard work and dedication to the practice of personal injury law. The stringent selection criteria that Best Lawyers employs distinguishes this recognition and provides a valuable marketing tool for attorneys like me who draw clients from the public.

Having been on the “Ones to Watch” list for three consecutive years, I look forward to joining my partners who are recognized by Best Lawyers in our field.

Why is Best Lawyers a good resource for features, news and legal developments?

Ilona Ely Grenadier – Grenadier, Duffett, Levi, Winkler & Rubin, P.C.
Recognized in The Best Lawyers in America since 1983 in Family Law
Alexandria, Virginia

The articles are useful for providing communication. I think today the “book” is still important; I still refer to it when seeking a recommendation for associate or counsel for referral.

Andrew C. “Drew” Meyer, Jr. – Lubin & Meyer PC
Recognized in The Best Lawyers in America since 1995 in Personal Injury Litigation – Plaintiffs
Boston, Massachusetts

Best Lawyers articles are an extremely valuable resource for legal professionals seeking to stay informed in an ever-evolving legal landscape. The articles are sourced from some of the most accomplished and reputable legal experts in various practice areas providing readers with well-researched and authoritative perspectives on a wide range of legal topics.

The magazine[s] keeps abreast of current legal events, ensuring its content is timely and relevant. Whether it’s new legislation, landmark court decisions or emerging industry trends, Best Lawyers magazine[s] articles offer critical insights into what’s happening in the legal world. Staying informed about legal trends and developments ensures we are all better equipped to serve our clients effectively.

Angela Reddock-Wright – Reddock Law Group
Recognized in The Best Lawyers in America since 2020 in Litigation – Labor and Employment
Los Angeles, California

As a California lawyer, it’s easy to become insulated and to focus only on legal and other developments in my state. However, reading the Best Lawyers magazine[s] helps me to learn more about what is happening around the country and how those developments correlate to or differ from what is happening in California. This broadens my perspective and understanding of the law and helps me to better serve my clients in mediation.

How naturally does contributing to Best Lawyers publications and online outlets come to you? How has it enhanced your professional and digital profiles?

Michele M. Jochner – Schiller DuCanto & Fleck LLP
Recognized in The Best Lawyers in America since 2015 in Family Law
Chicago, Illinois

As researching and writing has always been my passion, it was a perfect fit for me to contribute to the magazines. I have now written several articles for different Best Lawyers publications and have greatly benefited each time, not only by solidifying and expanding my own knowledge through the process but also by adding these national publications to my catalog of more than 200 articles. It has been a joy not only to work with the Best Lawyers staff but also to be part of such a professional and respected organization.

Adam Leitman Bailey – Adam Leitman Bailey, P.C.
Recognized in The Best Lawyers in America since 2015 in Real Estate Law
New York, New York

I love to write and educate, but when I am able to write and Best Lawyers publishes the article, the reader first gets to read something that I believe is important.

What advice do you have for other rising risk professionals regarding eligibility for Best Lawyers ratings and other accolades?

Adam Leitman Bailey – Adam Leitman Bailey, P.C.
Recognized in The Best Lawyers in America since 2015 in Real Estate Law
New York, New York

Building your reputation and brand cannot be underestimated, and ignoring Best Lawyers and other reputable ranking award companies should not be an option. We lawyers have very few chances to be awarded and recognized, and Best Lawyers is one of the few platforms.

Michele M. Jochner – Schiller DuCanto & Fleck LLP
Recognized in The Best Lawyers in America since 2015 in Family Law
Chicago, Illinois

It is important to always remember that in practicing law, reputation and integrity are everything. You can never go wrong if you do things by the book, treat others as you wish to be treated and keep your word as your bond. In this same vein, you must go that extra mile and always be well prepared for anything you do. In addition, treat your clients with respect and dignity, be available to answer questions and keep them informed.

By doing all these things, you also make a lasting impression on your clients and your colleagues that will follow you for your entire career. As your career progresses and you engage in more professional relationships, your peers will come to understand that you abide by the highest ideals of our profession, and, in time, this will be reflected in recognitions such as a Best Lawyers listing and other awards.

Andrew C. “Drew” Meyer, Jr. – Lubin & Meyer PC
Recognized in The Best Lawyers in America since 1995 in Personal Injury Litigation – Plaintiffs
Boston, Massachusetts

Remember, awards are a byproduct of hard work, dedication and a passion for the law. While recognition can be gratifying, the primary focus should always be providing exceptional legal services to your clients and contributing positively to the legal profession. Stay true to your values, work diligently, and success, including awards and media acknowledgments, will likely follow.

Ilona Ely Grenadier – Grenadier, Duffett, Levi, Winkler & Rubin, P.C.
Recognized in The Best Lawyers in America since 1983 in Family Law
Alexandria, Virginia

Today’s world is a far cry from 1968—[it is] constantly changing, and to be included in Best Lawyers is an honor that is a statement that you have been recognized as an attorney to whom there is a comfort level in making a recommendation for your services. I’ve received a “Lifetime Achievement Award” in Virginia and a “Hall of Fame Award” from the Virginia National Legal Research Center. I’ve been included in the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers and the International Academy of International Lawyers [and these recognitions] are something young attorneys should aspire to achieve.

I am grateful for the inclusion in Best Lawyers; it was the “first” of such recognitions and most highly appreciated.

Headline Image: iStock/grki

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