December 8, 2014 / 11:13 AM / 3 years ago

Innovative lawyer changed the way top firms operate

BETHESDA, Maryland (Reuters) - Although large firms dominate the list of those that are most successful at getting cases before the U.S. Supreme Court, there are a handful of exceptions.

Perhaps the most notable is the unusual four-lawyer firm run by Thomas Goldstein in a Washington suburb 10 miles from the high court.

Some of Goldstein’s success can be traced to innovations he brought to the Supreme Court practice – approaches once derided but now copied by white-shoe firms. These include using algorithms to identify cases the court might take; cold-calling and aggressively courting potential clients; strengthening firm brand by developing close links to the news media; and aligning the firm with prominent law school clinics.

Goldstein even created his own online publication – SCOTUSblog.com, short for Supreme Court of the United States.

“There was a wide open playing field in 1996…I just had the right attitude that fit the moment in time,” Goldstein said. “All of this was inevitable.”

When Goldstein entered the market, he stood out for all the wrong reasons. He didn’t have an Ivy League pedigree. He hadn’t held the requisite legal apprenticeships. He didn’t even have a downtown office.

“I had graduated from American University law school. I had no experience,” he said. “I hadn’t worked at the solicitor general’s office. I hadn’t clerked at the Supreme Court. I wasn’t in a big firm. I was working out of our third bedroom. I had to be aggressive.”

But as Goldstein identified cases that the justices were likely to take, worked with the mainstream media to brand himself as an expert, and built SCOTUSblog into a popular Supreme Court site, his practice grew. Goldstein and his partner represent a varied group: workers and investors suing companies, criminal defendants, and a smattering of business clients.

Goldstein now ranks among the eight private lawyers who’ve made the most oral arguments before the high court in the last decade. He spawned another development that helped a fellow member of that elite group of attorneys. In 2004, Goldstein helped start a Supreme Court law clinic at Stanford University, which law professor Jeffrey Fisher joined two years later. Fisher is a former law clerk to retired Justice John Paul Stevens. In 2005, Goldstein began a similar programme at Harvard.

Goldstein no longer needs to chase clients. This term, the court has agreed to hear four of his cases; two more cert petitions are pending.

On Dec. 9, Goldstein is scheduled to argue his 33rd case before the Supreme Court. He will be opposed by a lawyer who has appeared even more often before the high court: Seth Waxman, a former solicitor general. Waxman has argued twice as many as cases, and leads the Supreme Court practice at the law firm WilmerHale.

Reporting By John Shiffman. Edited by Blake Morrison.

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