Miers and the Top 100 Lawyers:
In President Bush's radio address this morning defending the nomination of Harriett Miers, he repeated the following claim:
  Beginning in the 1990s, Harriet Miers was regularly rated one of the top 100 lawyers in America, and one of the top 50 women lawyers in the country.
  A few days ago, Tim Grieve at (free access) took a closer look at the evidence supporting this statement. I'm not sure if Grieve gives us the whole picture — if not, I hope to hear about it in the comments — but here is his take:
  [T]here's a circular sort of logic in Bush's claim about Miers' rankings. When Bush referred to the "top 50" and "top 100" rankings, he seemed to have in mind the National Law Journal's occasional listings of the nation's "most influential" lawyers. Miers appears to have made the magazine's 100 most influential lawyers list in 1997 and 2000 and its 50 most influential women lawyers list in 1998.
  Now, one might suggest that there's a difference between a "top lawyer" — which in our mind suggests someone unusually brilliant and well schooled in the law — and a "most influential" lawyer: Larry Tribe or John Roberts might make the cut for the first list; Jack Abramoff would sit comfortably on the second.
  But let's accept for the moment that "top lawyer" is a fair sort of shorthand for "most influential lawyer." And then let's ask, why did the National Law Journal consider Miers to be so "influential"? If the NLJ items posted at the pro-Miers site are any indication, it wasn't because she had a keen legal mind or some other qualification for the Supreme Court. It was, in large part, because she was so well connected, even then, to somebody named George W. Bush.
  . . . When the NLJ named Miers to its 100 most influential lawyers list in 2000, it began by saying she was Bush's personal attorney, that she had served as general counsel for Bush's gubernatorial transition team, that she "handled background research, looking for possible red flags, during [the] early days of [Bush's] 2000 presidential campaign," and that Texas newspapers have suggested that she might be named attorney general or get some other "key administration post" if Bush were elected president.
  Does anyone know if there is another side to the story? Was Miers on any "top 100" or "top 50" lists beyond the ones Grieve mentions?
I've been making the same argument as Grieve for a while now. She might have won some significant award that was directly related to competence, but there's no evidence of it in the RNC press release touting her accomplishments. That press release seems to contain a pretty thorough list of every positive thing that has even been said about Miers, so I think it's safe to say that she hasn't.

The only awards that seem related to competence are:

1. Distinguished Alumni Award From The SMU Law School (at a time when she was already tied to Bush so it's unclear whether this relates to influence or competence)
2. The Sandra Day O'Connor Award For Professional Excellence By The Texas Center For Legal Ethics And Professionalism In 2005
3. The Women Of Excellence Award By Women's Enterprise Magazine (I have no idea what the criteria are)
4. The Women And The Law Section Of The State Bar Of Texas Has Awarded Its 1993 Sarah T. Hughes Women Lawyers Of Achievement Award To Louise Raggio And State Bar President Harriet Miers
5. One Of 20 Other Women Nominated For The 1996 Texas Trailblazer Award.
10.8.2005 3:18pm
Peder (mail) (www):
Don't have too much to add here, but rating her as one of the most influential lawyers in 1997 because of her connections to W seems a bit of a stretch. Maybe in 1998, and certainly in 2000 that would have helped but 1997 seems too early. Would we name anyone today as one of the most influential lawyers in the country because of their association with any of the possible 2008 nominees?
10.8.2005 4:01pm
Been There, Done That:
Was Bush not governor of Texas in 1997? There are only 50 states, of which Texas is high on the list of significance, so a wired-in Texas lawyer owned by the family that controls the state should make a list of 100 most influential lawyers.
10.8.2005 4:10pm

And frankly, being a retainer to the Bush clan is more important than just being a lawyer to any old governor.
10.8.2005 6:50pm
Peder (mail) (www):
Medis, is Jeb Bush's lawyer on the list over the last couple of years? How about Miers while helping out in the White House? I'm not convinced that she's qualified for the Supreme Court, but I'm not convinced that her rankings are solely due to her connections to W.
10.8.2005 7:37pm
Ted Frank (www):
Miers has had an impressive career by virtue of being one of the first female managing partners of a relatively large firm. She's at least as qualified as the average district court nomination, and definitely not in the bottom quartile of appellate court nominations. I don't think her career is any less impressive than Edith Brown Clement's; if the original rumors were true, and Bush had nominated Clement for O'Connor's seat, and then Roberts for Rehnquist's, there wouldn't be as much noise. Bush hurt himself because he raised expectations with the brilliant nomination of Roberts for O'Connor's seat, so it raised hopes that there'd be another home run instead of a weak dribbler to shortstop.

But "Top 100 influential lawyers" is a meaningless honor. It's worse than the USNWR law school rankings. There's a definite attempt to balance for race and gender and geography and type of legal practice. There's a lot of turnover on the list so that different people can be profiled each year, so there's really well over a thousand lawyers nationwide who've been mentioned on the list. Most are like Miers, relatively successful attorneys who have made it into the news one year when they hadn't before. Miers made it onto the list in 2000 because she was the most prominent female lawyer on the Bush team in a year when the Bush v. Gore litigation was making a lot of news.
10.8.2005 9:49pm
ElaineG (mail):
As Ted Frank noted, one real problem with the NLJ lists is that they self-consciously try to be balanced and diversified, particularly with regards to geography. Thus, in any given year, the entire list could be filled (for example) with lawyers who are based in New York or Washington but have national practices, representing clients from all over the country in courts all over the country, lobbying on behalf of clients from all over the country or doing deals of national and international scope, but the NLJ would never do that - they like to satisfy all regional constituencies.

Influence is of course totally intangible. Among my colleagues, friends, former classmates, etc., I know lawyers who wield influence by being trusted consiglieri types to some of the most powerful business leaders in the country. Others have wielded influence by going to Washington, shuttling in and out of government, and becoming part of the intricate web of political power in that city. Still others (and I think not only of public interest lawyers but also of certain members of the plaintiffs' bar who I've been up against time and time again or Eliot Spitzer, for that matter) wield influence by spearheading waves of certain types of litigation so that their cases actually become instruments of social change (for better or worse!) Yet others exert influence by being local powerhouses, fix it types, plugged into the political and business fabrics of their cities in a way that goes beyond the law.

There are of course other types of influence, including the policymaking role and political clout that can attach to running a state bar association. That last item is the ONLY type of influence APART from her association with the Bush family that I've yet to see credited to Miers. And it doesn't rank too high on my list.

People keep saying she represented Microsoft and Disney. When, how, and doing what? I've been with firms that have litigated for/against Disney on some pretty major matters, and I don't remember Miers, or her firm ever entering the picture. We all know the team that represented Microsoft in its massive battle with the federal government, and Miers wasn't one of those people. Saying you've done some work for companies of that size doesn't make you particularly special in the world of corporate litigation -- companies that size have thousands of matters, and retain at least dozens of firms every year.

Was she Microsoft and Disney's Texas lawyer? Or ONE of their Texas lawyers? Was she the go-to litigator for ANY major Texas based company? I'm not saying she wasn't, I just haven't heard yet that she was. I've never even heard that she was particularly active in representing the Bush business interests, more that she became a trusted FOG as he entered political life.

I find it strange that for someone who spent so long in practice there's so few stories (yet) about her lawyering style. Was she a brilliant brief writer? A breathtaking oral advocate? A behind the scenes broker of settlements? A gladhanding greaser of wheels? An innovative problem solver? Or, as the dribs and drabs tend to suggest, is she that partner every big firm lawyer knows who obsesses over punctuation but doesn't ever have a breakthrough idea that turns a losing case into a winner, who gets to the top by virtue of dedication and elbow grease rather than legal brilliance, and who ends up in management because of their admin skills more than their centrality to the firm?

Anyone from Dallas out there? Anyone know?

P.S. This is all a longwinded way of saying that if TPTB are going to sell me Miers as one of the leading litigators of our time, fine, I'd love a great practicing lawyer on the Court. But just waving the NLJ list around isn't going to do it for me.
10.8.2005 11:38pm
Ted Frank,

I'm not disputing your claim, but out of curiousity do you know how many other women had become managing partners of large firms before or around the same time as Miers? I know she was the first for her particular firm, but that, of course, is a different matter.

As an aside, I think if you take out Clement's time as a COA judge, you may be right that she and Miers are comparably qualified. By why would you take that time out of the comparison?
10.9.2005 11:16am