Top 7 influential lawyers that helped shape our world

influential lawyers like Barbara Jordan
Who do you think of when you think of influential lawyers? Here are seven who have left an unforgettable mark propelling legislation forward towards a more inclusive and just world. 

“I do solemnly swear to uphold, protect, and preserve the Constitution…” This is the oath that nearly every US attorney, justice, and even some paralegals commit to. Every legal professional contributes in some way to upholding these rights in their daily work. 

Here are seven influential lawyers whose contributions have left an unforgettable mark on today’s legal world by influencing social trends and propelling legislation forward towards a more peaceful, inclusive, ethical, and just world. 

#1. Gloria Allred, Women’s rights attorney

Influential lawyer Gloria Allred Known for taking high-profile and often controversial cases, particularly those involving the protection of women’s rights, Gloria Allred is one of the most prominent female attorneys in the United States.  

What drove her to handle such cases? In 2018, Netflix released an original documentary covering some of her most notable cases in “Seeing Allred.” In the documentary, Allred reveals, “My commitment to women comes from my own life experience.” 

Notable accomplishments: 

#2. Dr. Clarence B. Jones, Counsel and legal advisor to Martin Luther King Jr.

Influential lawyer Dr. Clarence B. Jones

Clarence Jones played an important role not only for Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., but the Civil Rights Movement as a whole. He began as King’s personal counsel and legal advisor when King was faced with tax fraud charges by the State of Alabama. He later assisted King with his speeches and drafted the first portion of the historic 1963 “I Have a Dream” speech. This experience led Jones to write two memoirs. 

In recognition of his contributions to the United States, Jones received multiple honors including an honorary doctorate earlier this year. In his 2019 commencement address, Jones told a class of 119 USF Law School graduates, “I have faith that you can change our country and our world. . . I believe that you can be the leaders of a fourth American revolution for social justice and freedom in our country — a revolution to redeem the soul of America, to achieve the beloved community that Dr. King envisioned.” 

Check out the trailer for the Clarence B. Jones documentary “I KNOW WHO I AM.”  

Notable accomplishments:

  • Part of the successful defense team for King and Christian leaders in New York Times v. Sullivan which led to a landmark decision on the current law of libel 
  • Drafted the settlement agreement between the City of Birmingham and Martin Luther King, Jr. to bring about the end of demonstrations and desegregation of department stores and public accommodations  
  • First African American to be named an allied member of the New York Stock Exchange 
  • Personally, smuggled the iconic “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” from Dr. King’s prison cell in Alabama which was later printed and distributed nationally 
  • Secured bail money from former New York Governor Nelson Rockefeller who provided the funds for King and other prisoners to be released from Birmingham  
  • Helped organize the March on Washington 

#3. Sandra Day O’Connor, First female justice to serve on the Supreme Court 

Influential lawyer Sandra Day O'ConnorSandra Day O’Connor is best known for being the first woman to serve on the United States Supreme Court. In 1981, she was nominated by President Ronald Reagan and approved unanimously by the Senate. During her 20-year career as a justice, she was known to be an unpredictable voter at times and helped promote women’s interests and protect their rights  



Notable accomplishments: 

#4. Thurgood Marshall, Attorney and first African American Supreme Court justice 

Prior to becoming the first Influential lawyer Thurgood MarshallAfrican American Supreme Court justice, Thurgood Marshall had a successful private practice as an attorney. The Howard University alum is perhaps best known for his critical role in ending legal segregation through the landmark 1954 case Brown v. Board of Education that distinguished him as a respected social advocate for change.  

Notable accomplishments: 

Check out the trailer for “Marshall,” a biographical film based on a young Thurgood Marshall (played by Chadwick Boseman) during his time as an attorney for the NAACP.  

#5. Barbara Jordan, Lawyer, educator, and congresswoman  

Influential lawyer Barbara Jordan Barbara Jordan was known for delivering great speeches and opening statements, as well as being a strong defender of the constitution and ethics.  

“There was simply something about her that made you proud to be a part of the country that produced her,” said former Texas governor Ann Richards in remembrance of her colleague. President Bill Clinton said, “Barbara always stirred our national conscience.” 


Notable accomplishments: 

#6. Jan Schlichtmann, Environmental lawyer 

Jan Schlichtmann is a prominent complex civil litigation attorney that specializes in protecting the rights of consumers and toxic torts. Named one of “The Best Lawyers in America” (via a peer review process) and received an AV/preeminent score from the Martindale-Hubbell Law Directory. 

Notable accomplishments: 

  • Famous for his lawsuit against W. R. Grace and Beatrice Foods in which he represented 8 families over leukemia deaths caused by contaminated drinking water in Woburn, Massachusetts. This case was the basis for A Civil Action which won a National Book Critics Circle Award and was made into a film starring John Travolta 
  • Successfully represented 69 families in Toms River, New Jersey whose children contracted cancer allegedly due to pollution caused by three companies—Ciba Specialty Chemicals, Union Carbide, and United Water Resources 
  • Cofounded the Legal Broadcast Network (now known as Sequence Media News) to help bring public attention to important issues of law, justice, and the environment 

#7. Hugo Grotius, Dutch attorney general, legal scholar, and philosopher 

You cannot mention the history of international law without mentioning the 17thcenturyInfluential lawyer Hugo Grotius Dutch jurist, legal scholar, and philosopher. Hugo Grotius. He served as an attorney general of Holland, Zeeland, and West Friesland 

Notable accomplishments: 

    • Author of the De iure belli ac pacisOn the Law of War and Peace (1625) — considered a foundational and significant work in international law 
    • Known as the “father of modern international law” and a firm opponent of war 
    • Wrote a book and prepared a brief (against Britain’s King James I) on behalf of the Dutch East India Company about the freedom of the seas in which “cannon-shot range” — about three miles – became an international standard defining territorial waters 

These seven attorneys made a powerful impact on the world around them through the practice of law. Whether protecting the rights of women, minorities, consumers or citizens affected by violators of environmental lawthese are just a few of the many cases and advocates of a more just and equal society.   

Who do you think of when you think of influential lawyers or legal professionals who have made a difference? 

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