The newest issue of Northern California Super Lawyers & Rising Stars, now available online as a digital magazine and in print, features employment litigator Nancy Sheehan, a partner at Porter Scott in Sacramento. Colleagues praise our cover subject's sense of humor and cordiality in an age when civility is sometimes lacking. Plus, "she's whip-smart," says radio personality John McGinness, who was a client of Sheehan's when he was the Sacramento County sheriff. "She plays chess when others are playing checkers."
As for civility, Sheehan values it herself-and says it should not be mistaken for weakness.
"The most feared attorneys are those who can get along with everybody and still get what they need for their clients," she says. "I fear them more than the attorneys who engage in endless skirmishes, who have a scorched-earth policy and serve papers at 5:30 Friday afternoon."
Another secret to her success as a management-side employment lawyer? "I'm a student of people," she says. "I am perfectly happy if my plane is delayed in an airport, because I can just sit there and watch people."
Also featured in this issue is Stephen C. Neal, a business litigator with Cooley in Palo Alto. His most famous client was Charles H. Keating Jr., who hired Neal in 1989, when Keating faced charges in the Lincoln Savings litigation. Neal got him off on the most serious charges, negotiating them down to lesser charges with no fine and only time served.
A more recent negotiation produced a big settlement in 2011 for Neal's client Nvidia, against chip-maker Intel over the rights to some of Nvidia's graphics-processing information. Intel agreed to fork over $1.5 billion to continue licensing Nvidia's product.
Neal's brushes with the famous began at age 12, when his family moved to Chicago's South Side neighborhood, also home to Muhammad Ali, Joe Louis' family, and Elijah Muhammad, leader of the National Islam.
Client Dr. N. Anthony Coles is president of Onyx Pharmaceuticals, which Neal successfully represented in a dispute with Bayer. Says Coles: "Steve had great presence, articulation and a dogged determinism that we could win this case. He has a clarity of thinking about the issues that others can't see, along with a great ability to execute ... a rare combination."
We also sit down with Mindy Lauren Ross, a San Francisco family law attorney at Winter & Ross who was bent on becoming a lawyer at age 11. That's when her grandmother suggested it as the perfect career for her. After law school, she went to work for Walter Winter, a notoriously demanding boss who was so impressed with Ross that he made her a partner after just six months. Sadly, Winter passed away suddenly soon afterward, and Ross-who had never even taken a deposition-had to take over his cases and keep the firm afloat. She never missed a beat.
Thirty years later, she is still heading up the firm, and her client list has included such luminaries as Sean Penn and Lars Ulrich of Metallica. She has also represented a number of heavy-hitting Silicon Valley venture capitalists.
"There are a lot of good lawyers out there, but many focus just on the issues," says family law specialist John McCall, now a private judge. "Mindy holds a much broader reach in mind that encompasses the well-being of all the people involved. She has an immense capacity for compassion that extends to all parties in the room."
We also touch base with Robert B. Kaplan, who practices bankruptcy and creditors' rights law at Jeffer Mangels Butler & Mitchell in San Francisco, which he co-manages. Kaplan represented Vallejo's largest secured creditor, Union Bank of California (now Union Bank), in the town's bankruptcy proceedings.
"You learn pretty quickly that it's best to be seen and not heard when you do what I do," Kaplan says with a smile. While the media was focused on the much-publicized bickering between the city and the labor unions, Kaplan was working on restructuring $46 million worth of debt owed by the city. After months of negotiations, a judge signed off on Vallejo's debt plan in July 2011.
"Bob is someone who's consistently performed outstanding work for us for a number of years," says Teryl Murabayashi, senior vice president and associate general counsel at Union Bank. "He's passionate about what he does."
Another attorney with a passion for his work is B. Robert Allard, a personal injury attorney and founding partner at Corsiglia McMahon & Allard. Allard's mission: protecting children from sexual abuse at the hands of coaches and other caretakers.
Allard sued USA Swimming in 2010, accusing the Colorado Springs-based organization of protecting pedophiles by covering up assaults and lacking a system to investigate complaints. Allard is proud that USA Swimming revamped its child-protection policies that year, requiring enhanced background screenings of coaches.
The attorney is pushing for a law that would give plaintiffs until age 35 to file child-sexual-abuse claims, ban confidential settlements in such cases, and require better reporting procedures at organizations that work with children.
"The personal dynamics and the emotional dynamics that oftentimes drive the litigation are interesting and challenging," she says. "And it's such a dynamic area. Every case has its own twists and turns, so there's nothing really routine about the work. ... A lot of what [families] fight about are items of tangible personal property, which may or may not have any value. The money, the property-that's kind of easy to divide up. But where there is one deer head, one piano, one favorite piece of art or piece of jewelry. ... Jewelry disappears. There's a lot of time spent over jewelry that has disappeared that you'll never find again."
Deer head? Yes, one client insisted on taking away from a stepmother "a very moth-eaten deer head" that had been in the family for years. Yes, her client got the deer head.
Also featured is estate planning attorney Mary P. White, with White Law in Menlo Park, whose signature orange briefcase is only one reason people remember her. The other is her success as a sole practitioner in Menlo Park, where many of her clients are wealthy venture capitalists.
Criminal defense lawyer Dean Johnson with the Law Offices of Dean E. Johnson, tells how he catapulted from running a solo practice to becoming a televised journalist, as well as an attorney. He has offered analysis of cases varying from the Scott Peterson trial to the sexual-assault case against Kobe Bryant. His coverage of Prop 8 was even submitted by ABC-7/KGO for Emmy consideration.
Finally, young lawyers get some great advice from David H. Blackwell, a land use/zoning attorney with Allen Matkins Leck Gamble Mallory & Natsis in Walnut Creek; Tracy Green, who practices bankruptcy law at Wendel, Rosen, Black & Dean in Oakland; and George Riley, an intellectual property litigator at O'Melveny & Myers in San Francisco.