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The timbre of Donald Verrilli Jr.’s voice changes when he argues a pro bono case to the U.S. Supreme Court. For his paying clients at Jenner & Block, Verrilli, always soft-spoken and measured, is a master at gently steering the justices toward supporting his arguments in telecommunications and intellectual property disputes. His successful defense of music industry copyrights in MGM v. Grokster in 2005 secured his place in the top tier of high court advocates.

But when he argues on behalf of a death row inmate, mainly on issues of ineffective assistance of counsel, Verrilli’s careful voice seems to drop a half-octave. It transmits deep disappointment about the inadequate representation his client got in courts below, as well as a measure of disbelief that others might not view it as he does.

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