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Michele A. Roberts Has Been One of the Nation’s Best Civil Attorneys for the Past Thirty-Three Years" src="https://www.lawcrossing.com/images/articleimages/Michele-Roberts_big.jpg" /> Michele A. Roberts is a partner at Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom, LLP, in Washington, D.C. She is a well-respected trial lawyer and a member of the firm's Litigation Group. Ms. Roberts' practice focuses on complex civil and criminal litigation before federal courts. She has tried more than one hundred cases to jury verdicts, representing clients in a wide variety of areas, which include securities regulation violations, racketeering, white collar, products liability, Title VII matters and premises liability. Washingtonian Magazine has called Ms. Roberts "the finest pure trial lawyer in Washington, D.C." She is a Fellow of the American College of Trial Lawyers.
She served for eight years in the office of the Public Defender Service for the District of Columbia, where she was named Chief of the Trial Division. Ms. Roberts also served as counsel in more than forty jury trials.
Over the years, Ms. Roberts has been awarded with several distinctions. She has been consistently ranked in the top tier for litigation: Trial Lawyers in both Chambers USA and Chambers Global. Ms. Roberts received the Business Trial Lawyer of the Year at the 2011 Chambers USA Awards of Excellence. In 2012, she was chosen as a finalist in the "Litigator of the Year" category at the inaugural Chambers USA Women in Law Awards. Ms. Roberts was included in the list of "Top Guns" in the Ethisphere Institute's 2012 "Attorneys Who Matter" rankings. In 2013, she was selected for inclusion in The Best Lawyers in America and was named one of Benchmark Litigation's "Top 250 Women in Litigation." In addition, Ms. Roberts was included in Who's Who Legal-Business Crime Defense during that same year. When the Washington Business Journal was looking for inspiring and innovative leaders, they named Ms. Roberts to their 2010 "Women Who Mean Business" list. She was recognized as one of Washingtonian's "Big Guns: Top 30 Lawyers in Washington, D.C." in 2007. Since 2003, Washingtonian Magazine has named Ms. Roberts to its top lawyer rankings, which includes the 2009's list of Washington's "100 Most Powerful Women." The Legal Times also listed Ms. Roberts among the top 10 white-collar lawyers in Washington, D.C. in 2006.
She is a frequent lecturer and presenter to both the bar and bench on a variety of issues related to trial and litigation practice. Ms. Roberts serves as an adjunct member of the faculty at Harvard Law School, teaching a three week Trial Advocacy Workshop every year. She also is an instructor with the National Institute of Trial Advocacy.
Ms. Roberts was born and raised in New York City. She graduated with a B.A. in Government and a minor in Philosophy from Wesleyan University. Ms. Roberts also earned her J.D. from Boalt Hall School of Law (University of California at Berkeley).
When the fearless attorney isn't working, she enjoys working out and gardening. Ms. Roberts is a frequent visitor of Washington D.C.'s Sorriso, a family owned authentic Italian cuisine restaurant. She is an avid New York Knicks fan.
Ms. Roberts' Successful Law Career
Does Ms. Roberts have a most memorable law school experience? During law school, she represented inmates at San Quentin State Prison, which is a California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation state prison for men. Ms. Roberts said she attended and won disciplinary ["D"] hearings on behalf of her clients. She explained that the hearings were significant for inmates because a not guilty verdict meant they would not miss out on conjugal visits. Ms. Roberts pointed out that it was a powerful scene to witness an inmate crying after receiving a not guilty judgment.
Why did she decide to become an attorney? Ms. Roberts stated that her mother used to go to court to watch trials. She acknowledged that she accompanied her mother to court and "was bitten by the same bug." Watching trials influenced Ms. Roberts to become an attorney.
So what is the best part of her job? "The best part of my job is when I can talk to jurors and work in the courtroom."
What is Ms. Roberts known for professionally? "Individuals see me as a jury trial lawyer. I am not hired for my brief writing skills."
What does she think about the legal field today? What would she change about it? Ms. Roberts believes that most civil cases should be tried in front of a jury, but matters are usually resolved before trial due to the cost of cases. She claimed, "I would like to see judges more aggressively sort out cases that are meritless. Discovery in civil cases is ridiculously expensive. Efforts are being made to reduce the cost of litigation, but not much success has been achieved at this point."
If she weren't a lawyer, what would Ms. Roberts probably be doing? She jokingly said, "I would be starving. If I was skilled in the sciences, I would have been a veterinarian. I love animals."
The trial lawyer was asked where she sees herself in five years' time. "As long as I have my wits and I am still effective as a lawyer, I believe I have five more years of jury trials in me. When I retire, I will pursue more pro bono work or practice in an area that isn't as taxing as courtroom litigation."
Working for the Office of the Public Defender Service for the District of Columbia, Speaking and Teaching Engagements, and Receiving Flattering Compliments
Ms. Roberts worked for eight years in the office of the Public Defender Service for the District of Columbia. What did she learn from this experience? "I learned at the end of the day, it's how well you serve each client. I never had a client who had a bad result during my public defender days who said, "That's fine. You did a great job for Joe last year!" There's no resting on your laurels in this business. My attitude back then and today is that each client deserves assurance that you view their matter as no less important than any of your other cases.
She is a frequent lecturer and presenter to both the bench and bar on a variety of matters related to litigation and trial practice. Will she continue her speaking engagements? "Yes. I enjoy speaking to young lawyers in our practice. There is a lot of information to share. I also enjoy the exchange of thoughts and ideas about the law with judges."
Ms. Roberts is an instructor with the National Institute of Trial Advocacy and she serves as an adjunct member of the faculty at Harvard Law School, teaching a Trial Advocacy Workshop. What motivates her to teach? "It's important for students to hear from a practitioner. They read a lot about the law, but they need to hear from a person who is practicing the law. It enhances the education of students. Teaching also helps me reevaluate my own approach to the practice on a regular basis."
Washingtonian Magazine has called her the finest pure trial lawyer in Washington, D.C. How does Ms. Roberts feel about this compliment? "I work very hard and I feel blessed with my success. Like every lawyer, I can get better and strive to make my next representation even more successful than the last. It's gratifying to get a compliment from a third party."
Harvard law professor Charles Ogletree, Jr. praised Ms. Roberts' courtroom presence, stating "She becomes the 13th juror, capable of seeing the case as the jury sees it, and therefore able to revise strategy, as necessary, mid-trial to address the jury's concerns." Does Ms. Roberts think Ogletree's assessment is accurate about her courtroom presence? Is she currently working on improving her courtroom presence? "What I like about the quote is it's how trial lawyers should be perceived. I spend hours preparing for trial, but in the end it depends on the jury and how they are receiving the evidence. Any good lawyer tries to readjust. I like the Ogletree quote because he describes it that way. I get better over time. My last case is better than my prior case and I intend to make the next one better still."
Ms. Roberts' Mentors and Mentoring Others, Pro Bono Work, Non Profit Organizations and Her Goals
Does Ms. Roberts have a mentor? Is she a mentor? She asserted:
"I have had many mentors throughout my career. Ogletree is one of my mentors. We used to work in the office of the Public Defender Service for the District of Columbia. I also have several mentors in private practice. I am currently mentoring several young lawyers, some who call me while they are in trial for advice and/or a "gut-check." I am especially interested in being available to mentor lawyers of color and women lawyers both in and outside of my firm."
Does she handle pro bono work? "Yes. I do pro bono work. I am supervising young lawyers who are representing victims of domestic violence seeking civil protection orders. I am also representing a client in a death penalty case. I try to have a pro bono case in my toolbox at all times. Pro bono cases give us [lawyers] a chance to use our skills and resources to help individuals who can't afford to retain us."
Is Ms. Roberts involved with any non-profit organizations? She serves on the Board of Directors for The Washington Ballet. Ms. Roberts also serves on the Board of Justice Aid, an organization devoted to raising money for various organizations throughout the country that seek to pursue justice for individuals. She is a former board member and continued supporter of Gideon's Promise, an organization that provides trial advocacy training to lawyers representing indigent criminal defendants throughout the South.
Does the New Yorker have goals? "Professionally, I always want the next trial to be more challenging and engaging than the last. Personally, I want to continue to wake up each morning proud of the work I have contributed to my profession and my community."