Image of Nicole Ortiz

Nicole Ortiz

/ Washington, D.C.'s Best Lawyers 2018

A Q&A with Marc Sorini with McDermott Will & Emery, 2018 "Lawyer of the Year" recipient for Food and Beverage Law in Washington, D.C.

How did you get into your practice area?

In the late 1980s and early 1990s, I fell in love with the then-very small “microbrewery” (as small brewers were known then) scene. Shortly after graduating law school in 1994, it occurred to me that I could combine my legal career with my love of interesting drinks.

Were there any particular inspirations (people or events) that spurred your interest?

First and foremost, Raymond Williams, who recruited me to McDermott in 1999 after a two-year “courtship.” Others include Gary Nateman (the “beer lawyer around town” back in the 1990s), Bob Maxwell (a colorful ex-ATF official), and Mark Rodman (a lovable curmudgeon who represented wholesalers).

Who are your typical clients?

Supplier-tier alcohol beverage companies (breweries, wineries, distilleries, and importers) and non-beverage alcohol users (often very big companies but with more limited needs for my services), with a smattering of big and/or unique retailers thrown in.

What is your ultimate goal in your practice?

To provide excellent, business-friendly counsel. We want (and have) long-term clients, with relationships spanning years and often decades.

Describe one of your most interesting or memorable cases.

In the early- to mid-2000s, we represented a coalition of flavored malt beverage producers (products like Mike’s Hard Lemonade and Smirnoff Ice) in a nationwide project to keep these products from being classified and taxed as distilled spirits (instead of beer). The work involved was with the primary federal agency, in Congress, at the state houses and alcohol agencies of several dozen states, and even included a few pieces of litigation. One of the more memorable moments came late in the lifecycle of the issue when my coalition overturned a California regulation as contrary to statute in a California Court of Appeals. The oral argument went so well (for us—the state’s lawyer surely thought differently!), I’ll never forget how good it felt walking out of that courthouse.

What qualities do you possess that you find particularly relevant/necessary for practicing your area of law?

You need to be versed in many areas of law. Our work includes supporting transactions, litigation and quasi-litigation, marketing work that feels a lot like what IP lawyers do, and excise tax work, to name a few. You also need to juggle a ton of small matters in my practice and treat each one like your most important case.

What lessons have you learned along the way?

There is no substitute for diligence.

Please provide anything else you would like to share regarding your practice.

It has been a blessing to combine my interest in great drinks with my legal profession.