The following people are considered by Pantheon to be the top 10 most legendary American Lawyers of all time. This list of famous American Lawyers is sorted by HPI (Historical Popularity Index), a metric that aggregates information on a biography’s online popularity. Visit the rankings page to view the entire list of American Lawyers.
With an HPI of 77.07, J. Edgar Hoover is the most famous American Lawyer. His biography has been translated into 53 different languages on wikipedia.
John Edgar Hoover (January 1, 1895 – May 2, 1972) was an American law enforcement administrator who served as the first Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) of the United States. He was appointed director of the Bureau of Investigation – the FBI's predecessor – in 1924 and was instrumental in founding the FBI in 1935, where he remained director for another 37 years until his death in 1972 at the age of 77. Hoover has been credited with building the FBI into a larger crime-fighting agency than it was at its inception and with instituting a number of modernizations to police technology, such as a centralized fingerprint file and forensic laboratories. Hoover is also credited with establishing and expanding a national blacklist, referred to as the FBI Index or Index List, renamed in 2001 as the Terrorist Screening Database which the FBI still compiles and manages. Later in life and after his death, Hoover became a controversial figure as evidence of his secretive abuses of power began to surface. He was found to have exceeded the jurisdiction of the FBI, and to have used the FBI to harass political dissenters and activists, to amass secret files on political leaders, and to collect evidence using illegal methods. Hoover consequently amassed a great deal of power and was in a position to intimidate and threaten others, including multiple sitting presidents of the United States.
With an HPI of 68.54, John F. Kennedy Jr. is the 2nd most famous American Lawyer. His biography has been translated into 38 different languages.
John Fitzgerald Kennedy Jr. (November 25, 1960 – July 16, 1999), often referred to as JFK Jr., was an American lawyer, journalist, and magazine publisher. He was a son of the 35th President of the United States John F. Kennedy and First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy, and a younger brother of Caroline Kennedy. After his father was assassinated, the funeral was held on John Jr.'s third birthday. From his childhood years at the White House, Kennedy was the subject of much media scrutiny, and later became a popular social figure in Manhattan. Trained as a lawyer, he worked as a New York City assistant district attorney for almost four years. In 1995, he launched George magazine, using his political and celebrity status to publicize it. He died in a plane crash in 1999 at the age of 38.
With an HPI of 65.59, Warren Christopher is the 3rd most famous American Lawyer. His biography has been translated into 41 different languages.
Warren Minor Christopher (October 27, 1925 – March 18, 2011) was an American lawyer, diplomat and politician. During Bill Clinton's first term as President, he served as the 63rd United States Secretary of State. Born in Scranton, North Dakota, Christopher clerked for Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas after graduating from Stanford Law School. He became a partner in the firm of O'Melveny & Myers and served as Deputy Attorney General from 1967 to 1969 under President Lyndon B. Johnson. He served as Deputy Secretary of State under President Jimmy Carter, holding that position from 1977 to 1981. In 1991, he chaired the Christopher Commission, which investigated the Los Angeles Police Department in the wake of the Rodney King incident. During the 1992 presidential election, Christopher headed Bill Clinton's search for a running mate, and Clinton chose Senator Al Gore. After Clinton won the 1992 election, Christopher led the Clinton administration's transition process, and he took office as Secretary of State in 1993. As Secretary of State, Christopher sought to expand NATO, broker peace in the Israeli–Palestinian conflict, and pressure China regarding its human rights practices. He also helped negotiate the Dayton Agreement, which ended the Bosnian War. He left office in 1997, and was succeeded by Madeleine Albright. Christopher oversaw the Gore campaign's Florida recount effort in the aftermath of the disputed 2000 presidential election. At the time of his death in 2011, he was a Senior Partner at O'Melveny & Myers in the firm's Century City, California, office. He also served as a professor at the University of California at Los Angeles.
With an HPI of 65.42, Bill Gates Sr. is the 4th most famous American Lawyer. His biography has been translated into 18 different languages.
William Henry Gates II (November 30, 1925 – September 14, 2020), better known as Bill Gates Sr., was an American attorney, philanthropist, and civic leader. He was the founder of the law firm Shidler McBroom & Gates (a predecessor of K&L Gates), and also served as president of both the Seattle King County and Washington State Bar associations. He was the father of Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates.
With an HPI of 64.76, Roy Cohn is the 5th most famous American Lawyer. Her biography has been translated into 20 different languages.
Roy Marcus Cohn (; February 20, 1927 – August 2, 1986) was an American lawyer who came to prominence for his role as Senator Joseph McCarthy's chief counsel during the Army–McCarthy hearings in 1954, when he assisted McCarthy's investigations of suspected communists. Modern historians view his approach during those hearings as dependent on demagogic, reckless and unsubstantiated accusations against political opponents. In the late 1970s and during the 1980s, he became a prominent political fixer in New York City. He represented and mentored the real estate developer and later President of the United States Donald Trump during his early business career. Born in The Bronx in New York City and educated at Columbia University, Cohn rose to prominence as a U.S. Department of Justice prosecutor at the espionage trial of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, where he successfully prosecuted the Rosenbergs' executions in 1953. As a prosecuting chief counsel during the trials, his reputation collapsed during the late 1950s to late 1970s after McCarthy’s downfall. In 1986, he was disbarred by the Appellate Division of the New York State Supreme Court for unethical conduct after attempting to defraud a dying client by forcing the client to sign a will amendment leaving him his fortune. He died five weeks later from AIDS-related complications, having vehemently denied that he was suffering from the AIDS virus.
With an HPI of 64.06, Alan Dershowitz is the 6th most famous American Lawyer. His biography has been translated into 25 different languages.
Alan Morton Dershowitz (; born September 1, 1938) is an American lawyer known for his work in U.S. constitutional law and American criminal law. He taught at Harvard Law School from 1964 through 2013, where he was appointed as the Felix Frankfurter Professor of Law in 1993. Dershowitz is a regular media contributor, political commentator, and legal analyst. Dershowitz is known for taking on high profile and often unpopular causes and clients. As of 2009, he had won 13 of the 15 murder and attempted murder cases he handled as a criminal appellate lawyer. Dershowitz has represented celebrity clients including Mike Tyson, Patty Hearst, Leona Helmsley, Julian Assange, and Jim Bakker. Major legal victories have included two successful appeals that overturned convictions, first for Harry Reems in 1976, followed by Claus von Bülow in 1984 who had been convicted for the attempted murder of his wife, Sunny. In 1995, Dershowitz served as the appellate adviser on the O. J. Simpson murder trial, part of the legal "Dream Team", alongside Johnnie Cochran and F. Lee Bailey. Dershowitz was a member of the defense team for Harvey Weinstein in 2018 and for the first impeachment trial of President Donald Trump in 2020. He was a member of the legal defense team for Jeffrey Epstein and helped to negotiate a 2006 non-prosecution agreement on Epstein's behalf. He was later accused of rape by one of Epstein's underage victims in a sworn affidavit and in the Netflix documentary, Jeffrey Epstein: Filthy Rich, which resulted in a lawsuit and his own counter lawsuit.Dershowitz is the author of several books about politics and the law, including Reversal of Fortune: Inside the von Bülow Case (1985), the basis of the 1990 film; Chutzpah (1991); Reasonable Doubts: The Criminal Justice System and the O.J. Simpson Case (1996); The Case for Israel (2003); and The Case for Peace (2005). His two most recent works are: The Case Against Impeaching Trump (2018) and Guilt by Accusation: The Challenge of Proving Innocence in the Age of #MeToo (2019). An ardent supporter of Israel, he has written several books on the Arab–Israeli conflict.
With an HPI of 60.88, Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. is the 7th most famous American Lawyer. His biography has been translated into 25 different languages.
Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. (March 8, 1841 – March 6, 1935) was an American jurist who served as an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States from 1902 to 1932. Noted for his long service, concise and pithy opinions, and deference to the decisions of elected legislatures, he is one of the most widely cited United States Supreme Court justices in history, particularly for opinions on civil liberties and American constitutional democracy, and is one of the most influential American common law judges, honored during his lifetime in Great Britain as well as the United States. Holmes retired from the court at the age of 90, an unbeaten record for oldest justice in the federal Supreme Court (although John Paul Stevens was only 8 months younger when he retired on April 12, 2010). He previously served as an Associate Justice and as Chief Justice of the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court, and was Weld Professor of Law at his alma mater, Harvard Law School. Profoundly influenced by his experience fighting in the American Civil War, Holmes helped move American legal thinking towards legal realism, as summed up in his maxim: "The life of the law has not been logic: it has been experience." Holmes espoused a form of moral skepticism and opposed the doctrine of natural law, marking a significant shift in American jurisprudence. In one of his most famous opinions, his dissent in Abrams v. United States (1919), he wrote that he regarded the United States Constitution's theory "that the best test of truth is the power of the thought to get itself accepted in the competition of the market" as "an experiment, as all life is an experiment" and believed that as a consequence "we should be eternally vigilant against attempts to check the expression of opinions that we loathe and believe to be fraught with death." During his tenure on the Supreme Court, to which he was appointed by President Theodore Roosevelt, he supported efforts for economic regulation and advocated broad freedom of speech under the First Amendment, although, previously, in the 1919 case, Schenck v. United States, he had upheld criminal sanctions against draft protestors with the memorable maxim that "free speech would not protect a man in falsely shouting fire in a theatre and causing a panic", and formulated the groundbreaking clear and present danger test for a unanimous court. His positions as well as his distinctive personality and writing style made him a popular figure, especially with American progressives. His jurisprudence influenced much subsequent American legal thinking, including the judicial consensus supporting New Deal regulatory law, and influential schools of pragmatism, critical legal studies, and law and economics. He was one of only a handful of justices to be known as a scholar; The Journal of Legal Studies has identified Holmes as the third-most cited American legal scholar of the 20th century.
With an HPI of 60.52, William Rehnquist is the 8th most famous American Lawyer. His biography has been translated into 32 different languages.
William Hubbs Rehnquist ( REN-kwist; October 1, 1924 – September 3, 2005) was an American lawyer and jurist who served on the Supreme Court of the United States for 33 years, as an associate justice from 1972 to 1986 and as the 16th Chief Justice from 1986 until his death in 2005. Considered a conservative, Rehnquist favored a conception of federalism that emphasized the Tenth Amendment's reservation of powers to the states. Under this view of federalism, the court, for the first time since the 1930s, struck down an act of Congress as exceeding its power under the Commerce Clause. Rehnquist grew up in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and served in the U.S. Army Air Forces during the final years of World War II. After the war's end in 1945, he studied political science at Stanford University and Harvard University, then graduated from Stanford Law School. He clerked for Associate Justice Robert H. Jackson during the Supreme Court's 1952–53 term, then entered private practice in Phoenix, Arizona. Rehnquist served as a legal adviser for Republican presidential nominee Barry Goldwater in the 1964 election, and in 1969 President Richard Nixon appointed him Assistant Attorney General of the Office of Legal Counsel. In 1971, Nixon nominated Rehnquist to succeed Associate Justice John Marshall Harlan II, and the U.S. Senate confirmed him that year. Rehnquist quickly established himself as the Burger Court's most conservative member. In 1986, President Ronald Reagan nominated Rehnquist to succeed retiring Chief Justice Warren Burger, and the Senate confirmed him. Rehnquist served as Chief Justice for nearly 19 years, making him the fourth-longest-serving Chief and the eighth-longest-serving Justice. He became an intellectual and social leader of the Rehnquist Court, earning respect even from the justices who frequently opposed his opinions. Though he remained a member of the conservative wing of the court, Associate Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas were often regarded as more conservative. As Chief Justice, Rehnquist presided over the impeachment trial of President Bill Clinton. Rehnquist wrote the majority opinions in United States v. Lopez (1995) and United States v. Morrison (2000), holding in both cases that Congress had exceeded its power under the Commerce Clause. He opposed Roe v. Wade and continued to argue that Roe had been incorrectly decided in Planned Parenthood v. Casey. In Bush v. Gore, he voted with the court's majority to end the Florida recount in the 2000 presidential election.
With an HPI of 60.21, Clarence Darrow is the 9th most famous American Lawyer. His biography has been translated into 23 different languages.
Clarence Seward Darrow (; April 18, 1857 – March 13, 1938) was an American lawyer who became famous in the early 20th century for his involvement in the Leopold and Loeb murder trial and the Scopes "Monkey" Trial. He was a leading member of the American Civil Liberties Union, and a prominent advocate for Georgist economic reform. Called a "sophisticated country lawyer", Darrow's wit and eloquence made him one of the most prominent attorneys and civil libertarians in the nation. He defended high-profile clients in many famous trials of the early 20th century, including teenage thrill killers Leopold and Loeb for murdering 14-year-old Robert "Bobby" Franks (1924); teacher John T. Scopes in the Scopes "Monkey" Trial (1925), in which he opposed statesman and orator William Jennings Bryan; and Ossian Sweet in a racially charged self-defense case (1926).
With an HPI of 59.82, Louis Brandeis is the 10th most famous American Lawyer. His biography has been translated into 23 different languages.
Louis Dembitz Brandeis (; November 13, 1856 – October 5, 1941) was an American lawyer and associate justice on the Supreme Court of the United States from 1916 to 1939. He was born in Louisville, Kentucky, to Jewish immigrant parents from Bohemia (now in the Czech Republic), who raised him in a secular home. He attended Harvard Law School, graduating at the age of 20 with the highest grade point average in the law school's history. Brandeis settled in Boston, where he founded a law firm (that is still in practice today as Nutter McClennen & Fish) and became a recognized lawyer through his work on progressive social causes. Starting in 1890, he helped develop the "right to privacy" concept by writing a Harvard Law Review article of that title, and was thereby credited by legal scholar Roscoe Pound as having accomplished "nothing less than adding a chapter to our law". He later published a book entitled Other People's Money and How the Bankers Use It, suggesting ways of curbing the power of large banks and money trusts. He fought against powerful corporations, monopolies, public corruption, and mass consumerism, all of which he felt were detrimental to American values and culture. He also became active in the Zionist movement, seeing it as a solution to antisemitism in Europe and Russia, while at the same time being a way to "revive the Jewish spirit." When his family's finances became secure, he began devoting most of his time to public causes and was later dubbed the "People's Lawyer". He insisted on serving on cases without pay so that he would be free to address the wider issues involved. The Economist magazine calls him "A Robin Hood of the law." Among his notable early cases were actions fighting railroad monopolies, defending workplace and labor laws, helping create the Federal Reserve System, and presenting ideas for the new Federal Trade Commission. He achieved recognition by submitting a case brief, later called the "Brandeis Brief", which relied on expert testimony from people in other professions to support his case, thereby setting a new precedent in evidence presentation. In 1916, President Woodrow Wilson nominated Brandeis to become a member of the Supreme Court. His nomination was bitterly contested, partly because, as Justice William O. Douglas later wrote, "Brandeis was a militant crusader for social justice whoever his opponent might be. He was dangerous not only because of his brilliance, his arithmetic, his courage. He was dangerous because he was incorruptible ... [and] the fears of the Establishment were greater because Brandeis was the first Jew to be named to the Court." On June 1, 1916, he was confirmed by the Senate by a vote of 47 to 22, to become one of the most famous and influential figures ever to serve on the high court. His opinions were, according to legal scholars, some of the "greatest defenses" of freedom of speech and the right to privacy ever written by a member of the Supreme Court.
Pantheon has 23 people classified as lawyers born between 1731 and 1966. Of these 23, 10 (43.48%) of them are still alive today. The most famous living lawyers include Alan Dershowitz, Michael Cohen, and Lawrence Lessig. The most famous deceased lawyers include J. Edgar Hoover, John F. Kennedy Jr., and Warren Christopher. As of October 2020, 7 new lawyers have been added to Pantheon including Bill Gates Sr., Benjamin N. Cardozo, and Robert Treat Paine.
1938 - Present
1966 - Present
1961 - Present
1966 - Present
1946 - Present
1942 - Present
1956 - Present
1959 - Present
1950 - Present
1962 - Present
1895 - 1972
1960 - 1999
1925 - 2011
1925 - 2020
1927 - 1986
1841 - 1935
1924 - 2005
1857 - 1938
1856 - 1941
1892 - 1944
1870 - 1938
1731 - 1814
Which Lawyers were alive at the same time? This visualization shows the lifespans of the 13 most globally memorable Lawyers since 1700.