California has historically been a pretty good place to start for countless famous attorneys – and for a great start in general.

Say what you want about California; no one can deny that the state produces stars. From Katy Perry to Will Ferrell, some of the world’s most famous entertainers come from California.

It’s unsurprising, then, that many of the world’s most famous attorneys are from the Golden State.

In this light-hearted blog post, we’ll take a look at some of the state’s most prominent legal professionals from all walks of life, from academics to sports to entertainment to the second-highest political office in the land.

Regardless of their professional aspirations, these folks all have one thing in common: they’re all California legal professionals. I think we can all agree that’s a pretty special thing to be.

Let’s explore the most famous attorneys from California.

15. Antonio Villaraigosa (kind of)

We thought we’d start off this article with a famous not-attorney curveball entry that technically shouldn’t be on the list, not least because Villaraigosa never practiced in California.

After failing the California bar exam four times, he became involved in union work.

As a labor organizer and ACLU leader, Villaraigosa entered politics, serving on the Los Angeles City Council before making history as the city’s first Latino mayor in 2005, serving until 2013.

Just goes to show that if you’re struggling in the legal industry and looking for another opportunity, politics is never too far away!

14. David Boies

Boies is an esteemed American lawyer known for his influential legal career. After graduating from Yale Law School, Boies rose to prominence as a litigator with a remarkable track record, gaining national attention representing the U.S. government in the Microsoft antitrust case.

He continued to handle high-profile cases, including the landmark Bush v. Gore during the 2000 presidential election.

Co-founding the law firm Boies, Schiller & Flexner, he became a key figure in the legal world, and beyond litigation, Boies contributed to various public causes and served on advisory boards.

His legal prowess, strategic acumen, and commitment to justice have solidified his reputation as one of the foremost attorneys in the United States, let alone just California.

13. Earl Warren

Former Chief Justice Earl Warren was a prominent jurist and politician who played a pivotal role in shaping the nation’s legal landscape.

After serving as California’s Attorney General, Warren became the 14th Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court in 1953.

During his tenure, often termed the “Warren Court,” he witnessed landmark decisions that transformed American society, including Brown v. Board of Education, which declared racial segregation in public schools unconstitutional.

Warren’s court also expanded civil rights, criminal justice reform, and individual liberties.

Before his judicial career, Warren served as the Governor of California, where he implemented progressive policies and his impact on American law and civil rights remains indelible, marking him as a key figure in the nation’s legal and political history.

12. Jerry Brown

After earning a law degree from Yale Law School, Brown worked in private practice before embarking on a political career.

He served as California’s Attorney General from 2007 to 2011, where his legal acumen played a crucial role in addressing various legal issues, and his legal expertise further shone during his tenure as the state’s governor, where he navigated complex legal challenges, including fiscal matters, environmental regulations, and criminal justice reform.

His understanding of the law influenced policy decisions, and his pragmatic approach contributed to his reputation as a thoughtful and effective leader.

Jerry Brown’s legal background has been integral to his multifaceted contributions to California’s governance and legal landscape over several decades.

11. Robert Shapiro

After co-founding the law firm Glaser Weil Fink Jacobs Howard Avchen & Shapiro, LLP, Shapiro gained national prominence as a defense attorney.

He’s perhaps best known for being a key member of O.J. Simpson’s defense team during the infamous 1995 murder trial. His legal skills and strategic approach in the courtroom contributed to the trial’s intense media scrutiny.

Beyond this case, Shapiro has represented various celebrities.

10. Amy Trask

Former California attorney Amy Trask may not be a household name. Nonetheless, her accomplishments in the world of sports cannot be denied.

Specifically, Amy Trask was the first female Chief Executive Officer of an NFL team: the Oakland Raiders. She held that position from 1997 to 2013.

Today, Ms. Trask is the Chairman of the Board of the Big 3 (a USA Basketball organization), a sports commentator, and the author of You Negotiate Like a Girl: Reflections on a Career in the National Football League.

9. Jenny S. Martinez

Jenny S. Martinez is kind of a big deal in legal academia.

She currently serves as the Dean of Stanford University Law School, which was ranked as the second-best law school in the nation for 2023 by US News & World Report.

Prior to becoming Dean, Ms. Martinez was an international law and constitutional law litigator. She has been licensed as a California attorney since 2016.

8. Shannon Minter

Shannon Minter is the Legal Director for the National Center of Lesbian Rights.

Perhaps more importantly, he also served as lead counsel in the seminal case, holding that same-sex couples have a fundamental right to marriage.

Whether you agree with his politics or not, Minter’s legal accomplishments can’t be denied. He has won numerous awards for legal excellence, including California Lawyer of the Year in 2009 and the Ford Foundation’s “Leadership in a Changing World” award.

7. Tie between Ariel Clark & Allison Margolin

Ariel Clark and Allison Margolin share the #7 spot on our list of most famous legal professionals from California because of the overlap in their pioneering legal practices.

Specifically, Ms. Clark and Ms. Margolin — both California attorneys — are among the preeminent Cannabis law attorneys in the United States.

Ms. Clark, a Boalt Hall graduate and a named partner at California law firm Clark Howell, has won numerous accolades, including being named a “Top 100 Cannabis Leader” by Entrepreneur Magazine and one of the “75 Most Important Women In Cannabis” by Cannabis Business Executive.

Ms. Margolin, who heads her own firm, was one of the first attorneys to advertise on YouTube. She quickly gained notoriety as “L.A.’s Dopest Attorney” for her work in Cannabis law. A Harvard graduate, Ms. Margolin began her career by defending terminally ill patients who had been arrested for marijuana activity. She is also the author of Just Dope: A leading attorney’s personal journey inside the war on drugs.

6. Jeffrey Cohen

If you were between the ages of seven to seventeen in 1985, then you’re likely familiar with Jeffrey Cohen, although you might not recognize him as a California attorney.

That’s because in 1985, Mr. Cohen played the role of “Chunk” in the Steven Spielberg movie, “Goonies.”

Today, however, Mr. Cohen heads a firm called Cohen Gardner where he practices transactional entertainment law. He is also the author of The Dealmaker’s Ten Commandments: Ten Essential Tools for Business Forged in the Trenches of Hollywood.

5. Harvey Levin

Some would argue that Harvey Levin has achieved Hollywood icon status for his work churning out celebrity gossip for TMZ.

What many people don’t know is that Mr. Levin began his career as a California attorney.

In fact, credits his legal background for much of his current success. Not too long ago, he even gave a talk at the University of Chicago about using your law degree to start a business. Given his success in the entertainment industry, it’s probably worth a listen.

4. Erin Brockovich

No list of famous attorneys is complete without mention of the world’s most famous paralegal: Erin Brockovich.

Ms. Brockovich, whose career highlights became fodder for a Julie Roberts movie bearing her name, is a consumer advocate and environmental activist.

Back in the early 1990s, her work as a paralegal helped expose Pacific Gas & Electric as being responsible for massive groundwater contamination. Today, she heads her own consulting firm that helps people who have been injured by environmental toxins or faulty medical devices and pharmaceuticals.

3. Gloria Allred

For decades, Gloria Allred has been the preeminent protector of women’s rights.

Through the years, she has represented thousands of women whose rights have been violated in the workplace and beyond. In fact, if there was an issue of national scope impacting women, you’d better believe Ms. Allred would be on camera providing her wisdom.

Due to her long and tireless work, Ms. Allred has received innumerable accolades, including induction into the National Women’s Hall of Fame and the Trial Lawyer National Portrait Gallery, and receipt of the American Lawyer’s Lifetime Achievement Award, and the Dolores Huerta Adelita Award.

2. Katie Porter

Katie Porter is a member of the U.S. House of Representatives representing Orange County, California.

As a long-time lawyer prior to entering Congress, Rep. Porter quickly gained prominence for her hard-hitting interrogations during Congressional hearings.

Ms. Porter is also known for her no-nonsense explanations of issues impacting Americans, such as her recent explanation of the causes of inflation, which she recounted for popular podcast host, John Stewart.

1. Kamala Harris

Of all our most famous attorneys in California, the first position goes to none other than Kamala Harris, the current Vice President of the United States of America and the first woman to be elected to that post.

Prior to becoming the second-in-command to President Joseph Biden, Ms. Harris was a U.S. Senator from California.

Before that, however, Kamala Harris served as the Attorney General for the State of California, as well as the District Attorney for the City and County of San Francisco. In each of her roles, she has been known as a studious, hard-hitting attorney who places honor and justice above all else.

If you think about it, it is pretty impressive for one state to crank out so many famous attorneys – especially since we only mentioned one of the attorneys from the OJ trial!

Conclusion

California stands as a breeding ground for a rich array of famous attorneys who have left their mark on the profession.

From politicians like Jerry Brown and Kamala Harris to legal titans like David Boies and Gloria Allred, the state has produced a diverse set of legal professionals.

Even those who took unconventional paths, like Erin Brockovich and Harvey Levin, found success in the legal and media spheres.

California’s legal luminaries showcase a unique blend of talent and diversity, reaffirming the state’s reputation as a hub for exceptional individuals across various fields, including the distinguished world of law.

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