For our 2022 “They’ve Got Next: The 40 Under 40” issue, we asked all nominees to submit recommendation letters from fellow lawyers with their applications. Recommending lawyers spoke about the nominees’ recent client successes, their pro bono contributions, and their overall participation and impact within the legal community. We wrote in our submission guidelines that the letters would be on the record.
We heard from chief legal officers and other high-ranking in-house counsel, law firm practice group leaders, a law professor, a bar association executive director, and a former U.S. attorney general and more.
Read below to see how these legal leaders describe this year’s winning class.
On Megan Gerking: “As a young prosecutor, she compiled evidence from several sources and leveraged criminal plea agreements from corporations and individual executives. I have watched Megan grow into a confident and agile antitrust lawyer who skillfully navigates her clients through civil and criminal government investigations, leveraging her DOJ experience.” — Eric Meiring, associate general counsel of litigation at Meta Platforms Inc.
On Meegan Hollywood: “An exceptional attorney and leader, Meegan is a tireless advocate for victims of unlawful conduct and those without access to justice. In my role as co-lead of the Antitrust and Trade Regulation practice group at Robins Kaplan, I frequently work with Meegan and have witnessed firsthand the extensive acumen and dedication to justice that she brings to every case she touches.” — Kellie Lerner, co-chair of antitrust and trade regulation group at Robins Kaplan
On Creighton Macy: “Creighton has earned the trust of not only some of the nation’s top antitrust enforcement officials but also the trust of numerous in-house lawyers with significant responsibilities. Creighton’s skills range from being available to informally bounce ideas and legal theories around on an ad hoc basis, to doing complex investigations and research for companies facing significant regulatory exposure. There is no doubt in the great deal of trust that I have with Creighton.” — Matthew J. Bester, director of competition law and director of confidentiality compliance at Accenture plc
On Sabria McElroy: “Part of what makes Sabria incredibly special is that she comes to the table with the ability to engage folks, start and finish conversations, ask questions and actually listen to the answers. I have been with her while she prepares a witness and defends a deposition. She has a talent that allowed her to effectively prepare our witnesses while also connecting with them and making them feel comfortable during an incredibly uncomfortable time.” — Febronia Christ N’Dri, vice president and managing senior counsel at LoanCare LLC
On Margaret Segall: “She has a remarkable, fine-tuned ability to anticipate any concerns the government might raise and to devise creative solutions to avoid or neutralize objections. Having worked with Maggie for so long, I am tremendously proud to see how her tenacity and commitment to excellence have propelled her to be one of the most capable antitrust attorneys in the country, demonstrated in particular by her taking the lead antitrust role in an ever greater number of matters.” — Christine A. Varney, chair of antitrust practice at Cravath, Swaine & Moore and former commissioner of the Federal Trade Commission
On Z.W. Julius Chen: “Julius has assisted in other matters on behalf of the Korematsu Center as well, and through this work a pattern emerges: he has an astute legal mind, a keen ability to identify and extrapolate the crucial arguments in a case, and a passion for advocacy on issues of civil rights and racial justice that mirror the mission of the Korematsu Center. As we have seen this past year, we are at a critical moment in addressing centuries of racial injustice. Now more than ever, I rely on law firms like Akin Gump and exceptional lawyers in the private bar like Julius Chen to help our country achieve our highest ideals of justice and equality.” — Robert S. Chang, professor of law and executive director of Fred T. Korematsu Center for Law and Equality at Seattle University School of Law
On Elisabeth Theodore: “She knows that our global company has a unique culture, with idiosyncratic—and sometimes even illogical—requirements. She accepts those realities and excels under the pressure, always providing timely advice. Winning over the client is every bit as important as winning over the judge. She does both.” — Jordan Flournoy, senior director of litigation at Samsung Electronics America Inc.
Appellate & Intellectual Property
On Luke McCloud: “When I joined Williams & Connolly, one of my first projects was working with Luke (then just an associate) to prepare him for an argument in the Fifth Circuit. I could see right away that Luke is a truly gifted oral advocate—he was as smooth as butter. It was a challenging case—the panel had previously called our argument frivolous—but Luke used his signature clear and calm demeanor to handle even the toughest questions. His moots were so impressive that our co-counsel, who initially hadn’t wanted Luke to argue that case, came around completely and enthusiastically supported giving him the opportunity.” — Lisa Blatt, chair of the Supreme Court and appellate litigation practice at Williams & Connolly
Banking & Finance
On M. Shams Billah: “Shams’ soft skills are the reason why he was consistently the only associate I used to invite to my clients’ charity events and annual golf outings. He has an adept ability at business development and maintaining client relationships. From an early stage in his career, Shams has made sure to take out our clients without me asking him to do so because he understands the importance of building rapport at all ranks of an institution. He has and will continue to earn my respect given his ability to successfully establish early ownership of key roles in client matters and relationships.” — Kenneth A. Lefkowitz, deputy chair and executive committee member at Hughes Hubbard & Reed
On Kamal Nesfield: “His judgment, insight, and decisiveness allow him to draw incisive deductions from limited or evolving information. He also is adept at anticipating potential areas of weakness in his client’s position that must be fortified while identifying crucial weaknesses in the opposition’s argument. Kamal’s ability to connect with clients and colleagues is extraordinary. An active listener and excellent communicator, Kamal has a natural ability to engage and earn trust.” — Jerome P. McCluskey, managing director and general counsel at Charlesbank Capital Partners LLC
On Amy Hoang: “I am not sure that I have ever encountered an associate or young partner as well-rounded, mature, poised and capable as Amy. She does not strike one as being the absolute smartest person one has ever met (although she is incredibly smart), or the best public speaker one has ever met (although she is incredibly good at presentation), or the best writer one has ever met (although her writing is tight, pointed, and extremely effective). However, viewed holistically—she is the best young attorney I have ever encountered.” — Stuart Nibley, retired partner and former chair of the government contracts practice group at K&L Gates
On Alyssa Caridis: “When diving into Netflix’s complex technology, she’s come to understand our systems in short order and with impressive recall of details not discussed for several months. On our matter, she became so indispensable that she was present for the deposition of every Netflix witness. And, seeing as how this was Netflix’s first trip through a full discovery process for eight years, that was quite many more witnesses than we were accustomed to. But all of our witnesses were well-prepared, survived the depositions unscathed, and a few even told us they had fun.” — Isaac Peterson, director of litigation at Cruise LLC and former head of IP and litigation at Netflix Inc.
On Dustin Guzior: “In a rare trait for many lawyers, Dustin has been able to achieve all of the above whilst also communicating with me and my internal team and our other external counsel worldwide in a sensible way—we are never burdened with too much but always know where we stand, we have been involved and consulted yet not bombarded with extraneous information, been listened to and felt part of the process.” — Lucy E. Wojcik, chief intellectual property counsel at Ocado Group plc
On Amy Proctor: “She so impressed Vestas with her intelligence, drive, and common sense thinking on complicated matters, that both the U.S. and Danish legal teams have continued to use her for our other U.S.- based IP matters. Furthermore, Amy is not only an outstanding lawyer, she is kind, easy to work with, and most importantly, a good person. Litigation is never fun for the client, but if we were ever in a similar situation, Vestas would choose Amy because we know we would be in good hands.” — Joanna Brody, director of litigation, risk, and employment at Vestas-American Wind Technology Inc.
Labor & Employment
On Nakimuli Davis-Primer: “She is a well-respected member of any team, whether she is the appointed leader or one of the de facto leaders. She achieves respect by connecting with and listening to everyone on the team and then playing to their strengths. Nakimuli has not only had an impact on the teams she manages, but also to Baker Donelson as a whole, which has contributed to the Firm’s efforts in building a strong culture of communication, accountability and extraordinary performance.” — Mark A. Baugh, chief diversity and inclusion officer at Baker, Donelson, Bearman, Caldwell & Berkowitz
On Stephen Blake: “Not only is Steve a brilliant technical lawyer, but he is also a multi-dimensional, thoughtful litigator who is able to focus on both the complex, intricate details of each individual matter as well as his clients’ larger business goals. This enables him to devise specific litigation strategies to address immediate challenges and needs, while also seeing around corners for his clients to the commercial horizon. It is no surprise that, even at a young age, clients around the world come to him time and time again for some of their most pressing, complicated issues.” — Jonathan K. Youngwood, global co-chair of litigation department at Simpson Thacher & Bartlett
On Muhammad Faridi: “In sum, Muhammad’s intellect, curiosity, drive, determination, motivation and empathy are exceptional—he holds a distinguished record of lawyering consistent with the finest traditions of law through his public service and professional activities.” — Lisa E. Cleary, senior litigation partner and former co-chair and managing partner at Patterson Belknap Webb & Tyler
On Shirlethia Franklin: “With Shirlethia by my side, I launched the National Initiative for Building Community Trust and Justice, and visited dozens of cities across the country to critically examine police-community relationships, develop sustainable solutions, and facilitate reconciliation where trust had been eroded. Shirlethia’s innate leadership, impeccable work ethic, and impressive ability to inspire and motivate others to work collectively toward a common goal made her an irreplaceable member of my team.” — Eric H. Holder Jr., partner at Covington & Burling and former U.S. attorney general
On Lena Konanova: “Lena’s dedication to equity and inclusion shines through in her legal advocacy for the public employees we serve. Whether it is a teacher from the Bronx, or a bus driver from southern Florida, Lena has treated each AFT member she has encountered with dignity and respect. She approaches each person’s personal financial struggle with the same degree of consideration and understanding, and then fights tirelessly to ensure that their rights are represented fairly.” — Sarah Tammelleo, assistant to the president for research and strategic initiatives at American Federation of Teachers, AFL-CIO
On Jesse Ryan Loffler: “In his professional capacity, Mr. Loffler has been recognized over the years for his active pro bono practice serving a diverse range of clients in impact litigation, including but not limited to matters relating to voting rights, LGBTQ+ political asylum, women’s access to health care, and transgender rights. In my experience as an advocate in the LGBTQ+ movement, there is no one more deserving of recognition than Mr. Loffler.” — D’Arcy Kemnitz, executive director of The National LGBTQ+ Bar Association
On LaRue Robinson: “If there were a legal equivalent of Bill Gates, it would be LaRue Robinson. LaRue is a spectacular lawyer, who works harder than anyone else at honing his incredible technical skills. He is the rising star of today and Big Law’s best hope for the future. LaRue, after all, represents the potential of the practice of law. He runs circles around his opponents in the courtroom and demonstrates uncanny empathy outside of it. LaRue isn’t just an unbelievable lawyer, he is a leader—the type of leader who could very well lead our country one day.” — Lindsey D.G. Dates, partner at Barnes & Thornburg
On Benjamin Wilson: “In addition to being an excellent practicing attorney, Mr. Wilson has assumed management responsibilities at Holland & Knight and is considered an emerging star by the Firm.” — Stephen B. Shapiro, construction industry practice group leader at Holland & Knight
Mergers & Acquisitions
On Mark Bekheit: “I was barely into my second week when Okta kicked off discussions to acquire customer identity provider Auth0 for $6.5 billion. My first important decision was who to hire. Mark and his Latham team quickly became the obvious answer. Looking back on it, that was the best decision I’ve made since joining Okta. As the sole in-house M&A lawyer at Okta supporting our largest acquisition to date, Mark set me up for success.” — Bud W. Jerke, director, corporate development counsel at Okta Inc.
On Lauren Boehmke: “We counsel boards and general counsels on highly sensitive matters, from board diversity metrics to risk oversight to how ESG considerations may factor into a potential investment. I trust her with these important relationships, and have seen her skillfully guide and inform corporate leaders in discussions of complex issues and dilemmas.” — Melissa Sawyer, global head of mergers and acquisitions group and co-head of corporate governance practice at Sullivan & Cromwell LLP
On Aaron Gruber: “His knowledge extends to every line in each agreement across the suite of documents, and more importantly, he understands how the agreements link together to form the big picture. This ability to be detail-oriented and relentless while simultaneously seeking practical solutions to address the broader business objectives is a huge benefit to our very demanding company, and a talent that I believe few lawyers consistently demonstrate.” — Thomas D. Salus, deputy general counsel of global BD and securities at Viatris Inc.
On Dohyun Kim: “Do is an excellent communicator and a strong collaborator providing invaluable counsel to our team. She is an incredibly impressive young attorney, with wisdom, capacity and intuition that would take most attorneys much longer to develop. Most important, Do is a trusted adviser of the highest character and competence.” — Rhonda Powell, chief legal officer and corporate secretary at BuzzFeed Inc.
On John Pitts: “John is judicious in his deployment of negotiating leverage, focusing on economic priorities while still making sure that we are sufficiently protected. On Alta’s last transaction, the team identified numerous examples where John’s skill saved us real dollars and ensured that we walked away from closing with compounding wins.” — Lauren Ford, general counsel at Alta Resources LLC
On Laura Turano: “What further sets Laura apart from her peers is a genuine self-assurance in her own legal instincts and resulting recommendations that inspires her team and earns a high level of confidence from clients, including me. While some of her best talents are in the fundamentals of technical transaction execution, she has a very strong ability to lead deal negotiations with a level of certainty that feels rooted in experience beyond her years.” — Brad Brown, partner and general counsel, 3G Capital
On Alexandra Wilde: “Alex takes a strategic, practical approach to advising clients and brings a unique depth and breadth of experience that relies in substantial part on her non-energy related work for significant private equity investors. This broad experience base enables Alex to provide clients with efficient yet creative solutions to complex legal issues no matter the role her clients are playing in a transaction. Alex is one of the rare talents who can be simultaneously thoughtful, patient, dogged, careful, practical and creative.” — Jeff Schlegel, global energy practice leader at Jones Day
On Michelle Ramirez: “Michelle started working with Bayer as a junior associate, and it was immediately apparent she was already a star. Her keen intellect and intellectual curiosity, her absolute preparedness, her collegiality coupled with an ability to organize and lead were evident from the beginning.” — Sarah Heineman, senior assistant general counsel of global litigation group at Bayer Corp.
On Jade Turner-Bond: “She is a personal magnet who draws diverse individuals together to forge strong alliances to complete complex tasks. The combination of demonstrated professional excellence and a continuous record of community involvement is deserving of recognition, and makes her a truly deserving candidate for this Bloomberg recognition.” — Kenneth C. Lind, partner and team leader of project finance and public finance at Nixon Peabody
On Michael Davis: “While the quality of Mike’s work speaks for itself, what truly impresses me about Mike’s character is the devotion of his limited free time to mentoring the next generation of lawyers and contributing to the real estate sector as a whole. As a busy partner at one of the largest law firms in the world, handling multiple transactions within condensed time frames, Mike’s free time is a precious asset. The fact that he chooses to devote a significant percentage of it to mentorship of law students and junior attorneys is a testament to his values.” — Russell Reiter, general counsel at Kayne Anderson Real Estate
On Kris Ferranti: “Kris is extraordinarily determined, talented, and effective and is recognized by our team for his expertise and the unique style he brings to matters. He has a keen attention to detail, a very good understanding of negotiation strategy and tactics, and always approaches his work with a positive attitude.” — John R. Knight, general counsel at Olayan America
On Whitney Salinas: “Whitney’s door is always open to young associates seeking mentorship, and she is committed to ensuring that new lawyers, particularly women, have every opportunity to gain the experience and knowledge they need for long-term success.” — Gregory J. Ressa, head of real estate practice group at Simpson Thacher & Bartlett
On Jennifer Caringal: “The fire she has for our clients comes from not only her lived experience and her family’s shared experiences coming to the U.S. She has done intensive human rights advocacy and legal work in conflict zones. I recall seeing photos of her with children in Kenya and at the Syrian border. She left the relative comfort of a large firm in San Diego to spend a year in Africa and Turkey to help the most forgotten and vulnerable people on the planet. It was a moving and powerful experience for her. She has channeled that passion for helping others—the certainty that we as lawyers can change lives!—into her work at the Firm.” — Danielle S. Myers, partner at Robbins Geller Rudman & Dowd
On Sheila Ramesh: “She is at her most impressive when she brings together often-fractious groups of attorneys who represent different clients with divergent interest. Sheila, though, is expert at helping them find common ground and common purpose. She drafts briefs that every bank in the joint defense group will happily co-sign. And then when the matter is won, she deftly deflects their effusive praise back to the clients (and the more senior partners at Cahill) even as she did the heavy lifting.” — David G. Januszewski, member of Cahill Gordon & Reindel’s executive committee and litigation practice group
On Renee Zaytsev: “I remember our first assignment together very well, for a client of one of the most important partners at the firm. It had a tight schedule, and I prepared myself for a late night. When I got Renee’s first draft of the legal brief, I was shocked. Even then, she was one of the most remarkably skilled legal writers I’ve ever met and her instincts already were advanced far beyond her years. It was also clear that she had not learned these skills at the law firm—this was her own natural virtuosity. Renee took the assignment and knocked it out of the park in a matter of hours. We prevailed on the arguments that Renee developed.” — Ellen V. Holloman, partner of global litigation group at Cadwalader, Wickersham & Taft
On Rachel Reisberg: “Rachel’s expert guidance has been integral to executing transactions that have created great value for our shareholders and continues to be invaluable to our ability to navigate continued compliance for prior transactions as well as analyze and creatively structure our future opportunities.” — Kendall Handler, executive vice president and chief legal officer at IAC/InterActiveCorp
White Collar & Government Investigations
On Abena Mainoo: “She is a giving mentor, embraces the recruiting and training of our next generation of lawyers (she has run our summer program for several years and now chairs our hiring and talent management committees), and is a strong voice for the advancement of women and underrepresented groups within the firm.” — Jeffrey A. Rosenthal, partner at Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton
White Collar & Government Investigations, Tax
On Alexander “AJ” Merton: “We have many excellent outside lawyers to support our company. In my experience however, no one can top AJ with respect to the multitude of personal attributes that mean so much to a client—he is tirelessly responsive, consistently professional, thoughtful, articulate, and skilled at building personal relationships—his attention to details (both with case-related issues as well as items of individual significance to PPG team members) is exceptional.” — Gretchen Roos, assistant general counsel of global ethics and compliance at PPG Industries Inc.
To contact the reporter on this story: