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When Maria T. Vullo went to law school in the 1980s, she intended to become a litigator. “The courtroom aspect attracted me to law school,” she says. She was excited by public speaking, and the intellectual battles appealed to her competitive spirit. As a teen-ager, Vullo was a varsity high school athlete in softball and volleyball. The lessons she learned from competitive sports weren’t of the win-at-all-costs variety, however. “The skills I learned were more reflective of my personality. I’m very much into teams, into working together toward a positive goal.” When she graduated from New York University School of Law in 1987, she says, she always intended to join a large firm. “I wanted the diversity of people, the diversity of the work.” But when she joined New York’s Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison, even Vullo could not have predicted just how diverse her career would be. During the past few years, Vullo has become one of the nation’s leading pro bono plaintiffs’ attorneys, while maintaining an extensive commercial litigation practice. On the pro bono side, in 2000, Vullo won a $745 million jury award against Radovan Karadzic over war crimes committed against Bosnian women in the former Yugoslavia. In 1999, she won a $107 million verdict for individual physicians and health care providers against anti-abortion activists. This award was set aside, but in October, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals granted Vullo’s petition for en banc review. On the commercial litigation side, in October, Vullo obtained a dismissal with prejudice of a shareholder class action against her client, the investment firm Wasserstein Perella. [Bruce Wasserstein, the chairman of American Lawyer Media, which includes the NLJ and law.com, sold the investment firm to Germany's Dresdner Bank last year.] Two years ago, Vullo won a jury trial against Rockwell International in a False Claims Act claim over environmental law violations at the Rocky Flats nuclear weapons facility in Colorado. She also handled the appeal, and in September, the 10th Circuit affirmed the entire $4 million judgment. So far, Vullo has yet to lose at trial. Vullo joined Paul Weiss in 1988, after clerking for Judge John A. MacKenzie in the Eastern District of Virginia. From the moment she joined the firm, she says, she began working on a variety of subjects, starting with her first trial, a trademark dispute. The firm never tried to push her into one area of law, she says. “If someone was going to trial, I would jump into it.” As a young associate, she began working on pro bono work in support of women’s rights. When the murders of abortion doctors and other assaults against abortion clinics began occurring, she says, “I had to do something.” That something was devising, developing and trying a lawsuit against 12 individuals and two anti-abortion groups, charging them with violating civil RICO laws and the federal Freedom of Access to Clinics Entrances laws by posting “wanted” posters on the Internet. While the ultimate fate of the 1999 verdict she achieved is now in doubt, since the decision, she notes, “there has been no major incident of shooting or bombing” at an abortion clinic and no murders of abortion doctors. She declines to take any credit, but adds, “if my case can have any positive effect on reducing terrorism, that’s all I want.” She’s not sure what the next high-profile pro bono case will be. “I would love to sue Osama bin Laden, if someone brings me that case.”

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