Top 5 Greatest U.S. Criminal Defense Attorneys

5. Billy Martin- With a client roster that has included everyone from Michael Vick to Allen Iverson, not to mention a slew of celebrities and politicians, Martin is one of the most in demand high profile lawyers currently practicing law. A former prosecutor, Martin is widely respected for his extraordinary talent as a trial attorney and for his remarkable ability to connect with juries. Martin is the lawyer defendants go to when they need someone who is going to get them the best deal possible under the circumstances, especially when those circumstances indicate a high likelihood of significant prison time. In many cases, he has been able to secure drastically lower sentences for his clients than would normally be expected. Michael Vick was facing six years in prison for his charges, but Martin got him a 23 month sentence. Martin also defended former Atlanta Mayor Bill Campbell who was facing up to nine years on racketeering and bribery charges. He got an acquittal for those charges but Campbell was ultimately convicted of tax fraud and ended up with only a 30 month sentence.

 4. F. Lee Bailey- A member of the OJ Simpson defense team, Mr. Bailey is a shining example of what many defense attorneys aspire to be in the courtroom. Tenacious, tactful, and a keen trial strategist, his work during the OJ trial was integral to the acquittal. By undermining one of the key prosecution witnesses and exposing him as dishonest through aggressive cross examination, the defense team was able to discredit a lot of the evidence the prosecution wanted to use. Bailey took on many high profile cases before the OJ case, including defending Ernest Medina, the U.S. Army Captain facing court martial for his role in the My Lai massacre, a case that he won. Bailey also gained notoriety for receiving a re-trial from the Supreme Court after a successful grant of habeas for Sam Shepard, accused of murdering his wife in a very highly publicized case. The subsequent acquittal in the new trial is attributed to Bailey’s trademark, masterful cross examination of key prosecution witnesses that eviscerated the prosecution’s case by demonstrating to the jury the lack of a murder weapon linking Shepard to the crime.

3. Judy Clarke- Judy Clarke is possibly the most famous unknown lawyer in the United States. Most don’t know who she is, and it’s probably what she prefers. Press shy and careful to avoid press interviews, she is known for representing some of the most notorious criminals in U.S. history and trying to save them from capital punishment. Clark is a very special kind of lawyer- courageous, principled, compassionate and dedicated to her profession on an almost maniacal level. Her ability to avoid the death penalty for some of the most reviled defendants to pass through the criminal justice system goes beyond just being a great attorney, it is something that requires a remarkable ability to connect with juries in a way that is difficult for most people to understand. From the Unabomber to Eric Rudolph, Clarke’s record is truly admirable, regardless of one’s stance on capital punishment.

2. Johnnie Cochran– Perhaps most famous for being OJ Simpson’s trial lawyer, the “if the glove don’t fit, you must acquit” lawyer got his start trying cases against the LAPD. Not many remember the social justice side of his legal career, but Mr. Cochran makes the list for not only his performance during one of the most televised, high profile cases in U.S. history, but for his extreme gift as a trial lawyer. Cochran may have successfully defended OJ, but his court room demeanor, oral argument, ability to captivate juries, extreme intelligence, and his effectiveness as an advocate earn him a spot on this list. His fearlessness and aggressiveness in tackling police abuse cases as a minority lawyer against such a powerful establishment such as the LAPD should not be excluded when remembering his legacy. As for the OJ case, Cochran did what any defense attorney should do- advocate for their client and do whatever they can within the bounds of the law to get the best result.

1. Clarence Darrow- Clarence Darrow is an American icon and is widely regarded as the greatest American attorney to ever step foot in a courtroom. Darrow embodied the very essence of what it means to be a good lawyer. The cases he took, the people he fought for, and the legacy he created is one that continues to shape the course of our history. His contributions to the profession simply cannot be measured. Darrow defended the most unpopular, despised, hated members of society. He was a trial legend, using his wit and eloquence to put on riveting performances that took juries on emotional roller coaster rides, leaving them at times floored, shocked, speechless or in tears.  One of the founders of the ACLU, Darrow’s hard fought battles for the most disenfranchised and underrepresented groups of people should be an inspiration for all defense attorneys. His work and advocacy on behalf of the labor movement has had a lasting effect on U.S. history. Darrow is number one on this list not only due to his remarkable achievements during his lifetime, but for his continuing legacy that continues to inspire lawyers fighting for some of the most under served members of our society.