In the News The National Law Journal

The Decade's Most Influential Lawyers

These are the lawyers who've defined a decade.

For our annual Most Influential Lawyers special report, the editors of The National Law Journal have selected 40 attorneys in a dozen key legal areas whose work between Jan. 1, 2000, and Dec. 31, 2009, was so consequential that it helped to push the profession, an industry or a practice area substantially forward.

The lawyers were selected through our staff's reporting, as well as from more than 100 nominations submitted by the legal community. Associate Editor Leigh Jones valiantly spearheaded the effort, sifting through mounds of material to help us come to our difficult, final decisions. NLJ reporters Tresa Baldas, Amanda Bronstad, Jenna Greene, David Ingram, Jeff Jeffrey, Andy Jones, Carrie Levine, Sheri Qualters, Mike Scarcella, Karen Sloan and Jordan Weissmann contributed to this report.

The list spans law firms, academia, government and advocacy groups, but, consciously subtracts a few obvious categories: Members of the Supreme Court and attorneys general, for instance, are generally influential by definition, and they are not included here.

Instead, we have focused upon lawyers in the following specific practices: antitrust; appellate; bankruptcy; civil rights; corporate; energy and environmental; in-house; intellectual property; labor and employment; legal education; litigation; and regulatory. In other words, we're primarily focusing on hard-working lawyers who've been in the trenches on big deals or major litigation or who have been pioneering at in-house positions or the nation's law schools.

This week's edition isn't the last word on our Most Influential list. During the next several weeks, we will produce video profiles of some of our selections for And we'll be honoring all of the attorneys on this year's list at The National Law Journal's annual dinner, which is slated for June 15 at The Gotham in New York City. We hope that you'll join us.

In the meantime, think of this special report as a road map for those of you who aspire to most influential status in the decade ahead. The lawyers featured here point the way.


Corinne Ball, Jones Day
John "Jack" Butler Jr./Jay Goffman, Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom
Harvey Miller, Weil, Gotshal & Manges
James Sprayregen, Kirkland & Ellis

Kirkland & Ellis

The bankruptcy filing of United Airlines' parent company in 2002 threatened to shut down the world's second-largest airline and affected hundreds of thousands of employees and retirees. The company listed assets of $22.7 billion, but it was burning as much as $22 million a day. There were tangled labor disputes and negotiations with the federal government — all in the long shadow of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

It fell to Kirkland & Ellis partner James Sprayregen to help navigate the airline through four years of bankruptcy issues. He did so, and United emerged from bankruptcy in 2006. "There were lots of people who said that, what we ultimately got done, couldn't get done," Sprayregen said.

The process launched Sprayregen, 50, into the elite of the nation's restructuring lawyers. Yet he's done a lot more than work for United this decade. He represented financial services company Conseco Inc. in its 2002 bankruptcy filing, which at the time was the third-largest ever at $52 billion in company assets. The next year, he handled the multibillion-dollar bankruptcies of retail supplier Fleming Cos. Inc. and of NRG Energy Inc. In 2001, he led Trans World Airlines Inc. through a reorganization.

Sprayregen, who works out of Kirkland's Chicago office, saw multibillion-dollar deals from another angle during a break from the firm. From 2006 to 2008, he was co-leader of Goldman Sachs' restructuring group, where he honed his knowledge in areas such as capital markets and derivatives. As he puts it: "I was touching a different part of the elephant."

Since his return to Kirkland, Sprayregen has helped restructure auto parts supplier Lear Corp., Majestic Star Casino and the Reader's Digest Association. He credits his time at Goldman for aiding his success. "With no disrespect intended to some of my lawyer brethren," he said, "it's an experience that no one else has."