Perhaps now more than ever, the legal profession is in the spotlight for its role in upholding—or, in some cases, defying—the rule of law, as a politically tumultuous year comes to a close. Here we highlight some of the profession’s most notable leaders, from the “liberal lion of the federal court” Judge Stephen Reinhardt to Mayer Brown’s Stephen Shapiro whose life was tragically cut short, who passed away in 2018.
Cravath, Swaine & Moore’s first female partner Christine Beshar died at her home in Manhattan in January at age 88. Beshar, who focused on trust and estate law, made partner at the firm in 1977, becoming one of the first female partners on Wall Street. She also worked to establish a child care center at Cravath in 1989, a first for a major New York law firm.
Gandolfo “Vince” DiBlasi
Longtime Sullivan & Cromwell partner Gandolfo “Vince” DiBlasi passed away in January due to complications from pneumonia at age 64. DiBlasi spent four decades at the firm, earning a reputation as a hard-nosed litigator. He was also credited for redefining the Wall Street firm’s “white-shoe” reputation, by picking up white-collar defense and investigations work and taking over litigation matters for the firm’s financial service industry clients, including The Goldman Sachs Group Inc., which he worked with as its principal litigator for 20 years.
Plaintiffs bar giant Melvyn Weiss passed away in February the age of 82. Co-founder of the now-defunct Milberg, Weiss, Bershad, Hynes & Lerach, which at one time was the largest plaintiffs firm in the country, Weiss became a securities class action pioneer. But in 2008, he pleaded guilty to racketeering for illegally paying named plaintiffs and was sentenced to 30 months in federal prison.
Judge Stephen Reinhardt
Judge Stephen Reinhardt of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit died in March after suffering a heart attack in Los Angeles. The “liberal lion of the federal court” was first nominated to his post in 1979 by President Jimmy Carter and was the sixth-longest serving judge on the Ninth Circuit appeals court. He also presided over a number of high-profile cases, including one challenging California’s ban on same-sex marriage.
Longtime Morgan, Lewis & Bockius partner and the “fairy godfather of Philadelphia startups” Stephen Goodman died in March at 77. Goodman began working with early-stage companies, a then neglected area of the law by larger firms, five decades ago when he launched his own firm. Over the years, Goodman worked with promising entrepreneurs throughout Philadelphia and the mid-Atlantic region, and later in Europe, advising clients on strategy and guiding them through all phases of their evolution. He joined Morgan Lewis in 1994, where he founded the firm’s emerging business and technology practice.
Dovey Johnson Roundtree
Civil rights activist, ordained minister and attorney Dovey Johnson Roundtree died at age 104 in May. During her first year of legal practice in 1952, Roundtree, along with Julius Winfield Robertson, took on the bus desegregation case, Keys v. Carolina Coach, that was used by Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy during the 1961 Freedom Riders’ campaign that successfully compelled the Interstate Commerce Commission to end Jim Crow laws in public transportation. Roundtree also broke down the color bar for minority women in the legal community in Washington, D.C., when she was admitted to the all-white Women’s Bar of the District of Columbia in 1962. In 1970 she co-founded D.C. law firm Roundtree, Knox, Hunter and Parker and later became general counsel to the National Council of Negro Women.
Robert Traurig, one of three lawyers who launched Greenberg Traurig in Miami, passed away at 93 in July. Traurig began his legal career in the 1950s, specializing in administrative law, government relations and real estate litigation. His special knowledge of zoning and development made him the “go-to” attorney for builders in Miami’s post-World War II boom. But in 1967, he partnered with Mel Greenberg and Larry J. Hoffman to found Greenberg Traurig, which today employs 1,944 attorneys with $1.48 billion in gross revenue in 2017, placing it 14th on The American Lawyer’s 2018 Am Law 200 ranking.
Stephen Shapiro, a nationally lauded appellate court advocate who launched Mayer Brown’s U.S. Supreme Court and appellate practice, died in August after being shot in a domestic-related shooting at his home in northern Chicago. Shapiro first joined Mayer Brown in 1972 and became a partner in 1978. He then left to serve in the Solicitor General’s Office, eventually serving as U.S. deputy solicitor general during the Reagan administration. He rejoined the firm in 1983 and started what was possibly the first private practice in Big Law dedicated to arguing before the Supreme Court. Throughout his career, Shapiro argued 30 cases in front of the high court and briefed more than 200.
Robert Young, the former Morgan, Lewis & Bockius chairman who led its transition from a regional firm to a national giant, passed away at 97 in October. When Young became managing partner and chairman of the firm in the 1970s, it had just 125 lawyers in three offices: Philadelphia, Harrisburg and Washington, D.C. Under his tenure, Young paved the way for the law firm’s growth to a nearly 2,000 lawyers in 30 offices around the globe.
Gabriel MacConaill, a partner in Sidley Austin’s Los Angeles office, committed suicide in the parking garage of the firm’s downtown Los Angeles office in October. MacConaill first joined the firm in 2009 and became partner in the firm’s bankruptcy practice in 2014. Prior to his death, MacConaill represented the likes of American Airlines Inc., Aricent Technologies Holdings Ltd. and GE Capital Retail Bank in bankruptcy court proceeding and was one of several of the firm’s attorneys to land a lead role on the Chapter 11 filing by Mattress Firm Inc. Following his passing, MacConaill’s widow, Joanna Litt, penned an open letter about her husband’s suicide that cast a light on mental health and wellness in the profession.