Take 10 highly skilled practice lawyers and you will find still more different ways to shine in legal expertise. From financial and litigation skills to pioneering digital technology, the FT Innovative Lawyers awards seek out practitioners who go beyond sheer prowess to address the nexus of the law, business and wider society.

All the lawyers featured here were notable for leadership in their field and for having an impact on the future practice of law.

For our panel of judges, even if generative artificial intelligence had not been the story of 2023, on all these counts Danny Tobey would have stood out for general foresight, creativity and entrepreneurship in bringing the potential offered by legal technology to the sector. He is established as a corporate adviser to OpenAI and an early-stage litigator in the field.

He has long understood, and explained to policymakers, how generative AI’s potential for good or bad depends on the work being done now on the creation of guardrails for its use. Moreover, Tobey’s expertise in both the health and legal sectors means he has a vision of how AI could improve both innovation and fairness in healthcare.

Profiles compiled and edited by RSGI researchers and FT editors. “Winner” indicates an Innovative Lawyers 2023 award, the rest are in alphabetical order.

Judging panel

For the Innovative Practitioner and Change maker awards, winners were selected by a panel of judges from a shortlist compiled by RSGI. The panel comprised:

Harriet Arnold, assistant editor, FT Project Publishing (panel chair); Michael Kavanagh, FT Project Publishing contributing editor; Nathalie Kilby, commissioning editor, FT Project Publishing; Rob Chesnut, former general counsel and chief ethics officer, Airbnb; David Fisher, chief executive and founder, Integra Ledger; Laura Garcia, senior counsel, Ironclad; Jordan Schuetzle, product marketing manager, Thomson Reuters; Julie Sculli, assistant dean, office of graduate degree programmes, Columbia Law School; Laura Wenzel, global product marketing director, iManage; Yasmin Lambert, managing director, RSGI.

Danny Tobey
DLA Piper

A medical doctor and software entrepreneur, Danny Tobey is heading his firm’s efforts to establish itself as a leading legal adviser on artificial intelligence.

This year, Tobey, who chairs DLA’s AI practice, has led the expansion of a team that now comprises more than 100 attorneys, data scientists, coders, and policymakers focused on the topic worldwide.

He has helped OpenAI, the Silicon Valley start-up, in representations to Congress over future regulation of AI and helped lead its defence in a defamation suit against its ChatGPT product. Tobey is adviser to many Fortune 500 companies including CVS, 3M and Eli Lilly, and regularly speaks to a range of organisations on the risks and benefits of AI.

He continues to exploit his clinical qualification by advising the American Medical Association and other health organisations “to advance AI equity” in healthcare.

Katherine Forrest
Paul Weiss

A former district judge for the Southern District of New York, Katherine Forrest is a leading voice at the firm on the risks and opportunities of artificial intelligence. She speaks to the industry on the future possible impact of AI on the criminal justice system.

As co-chair of the firm’s digital technologies practice, she leads a team of experts and has advised more than 60 companies in the media, pharmaceutical and finance sectors on plans to implement AI in their businesses.

Forrest honed her expertise in the law surrounding the expanding digital economy as a judge. She has handled important cases including: United States vs Ulbricht (2015), where the leader of Silk Road, an online drug-trafficking operation favouring bitcoin for payment, was convicted; and notably ruled in 2018 that using someone else’s tweet on a website could classify as a copyright infringement.

Michael Goldberg

Michael Goldberg has handled many receiverships and has honed his flair for working with the many constituents involved.

He was selected as the receiver in charge of a group suit brought over the collapse of a condominium block in Miami, Florida, in June 2021 that killed 98 people, co-ordinating the sale of the land and property left behind, and the investigations that took place.

In May 2022, he helped secure $1.1bn in damages from insurers, contractors, and the building’s security agency over their civil responsibility for the collapse.

Goldberg’s goal was to avoid protracted litigation. He mediated between parties, including the victims and their families, mayor’s office, US Congress, police, judge, federal investigators, experts, and the lawyers for the class action suit.

He also liaised with emergency services, and oversaw the gathering of evidence and the return of items that survived the collapse.

Dee Martin

Dee Martin is co-chair of the firm’s policy resolution group, which specialises in strategic communications and government relations.

Acting on behalf of client Air Liquide, the practice also recently advised the Fuel Cell and Hydrogen Energy Association, a trade body, in its lobbying around the granting of tax credits for the sector included in last year’s Inflation Reduction Act, and the creation of several “hydrogen hubs” across the US backed by up to $7bn in public funding.

Martin, a board member of lobby group Feminist Majority, has used her advocacy skills in campaigns to defend women’s rights in the US and abroad.

She has helped The Trevor Project, an LGBTQ+ youth charity, to secure support for its suicide-prevention hotline. Martin has also helped establish “Minute Mentoring”, a speed-dating-style programme to introduce women in law to female mentors.

Valecia McDowell
Moore & Van Allen

Valecia McDowell has worked at the firm as a commercial litigator and investigator for 25 years and, last year, created its civil rights and racial equity assessments practice. Her work focuses on reviewing the performance of companies and public services on a range of race, gender and other diversity criteria and compliance with civil rights.

Following the US Supreme Court’s recent decision overturning affirmative action policies in US colleges, she and her team have been helping companies ensure they comply with civil rights legislation while avoiding challenges from opponents of affirmative action.

The outcomes of many of McDowell’s cases are private but, in one recent example, she ran an audit for prison operator CoreCivic, which houses roughly 50,000 inmates, reviewing its adherence to racial equity standards and making recommendations for improvements.

Adam Silverstein

Over the past year, Adam Silverstein has played a crucial role in clamping down on big corporations deploying the so-called Texas two-step, whereby a company facing mass damages claims sets up subsidiaries that are put into bankruptcy to limit the ability for claimants to pursue them.

He co-led at trial against 3M, which faced mass tort action on behalf of more than 250,000 veterans. They claimed earplugs supplied by a subsidiary to the US Army had failed to protect them from hearing loss.

3M was forced into a $6bn settlement after a federal judge in June overturned its attempt to put its Aearo unit into bankruptcy with just $1bn to cover settlement. He also co-led at trial against Johnson & Johnson where it was concluded that a financially engineered subsidiary, facing claims over illness caused by talcum powder, was “not sufficiently financially distressed to avail itself of bankruptcy”.

Cate Stetson
Hogan Lovells

Cate Stetson, co-director of the firm’s appellate practice, is determined to encourage younger and more diverse lawyers in her field of work.

She, herself, has argued more than 120 appeals before the US Supreme Court, the federal circuit court of appeals, and state appellate courts from New York to California.

Stetson has represented several defendants facing the death penalty and helped secure the release of Leon Brown and Henry McCollum after 31 years on death row, successfully arguing wrongful conviction.

In the commercial field, last year, she defeated Citadel Securities in its recent attempt to limit the operations of her client IEX in market trading.

To achieve change in her appellate practice, she has set targets to recruit from diverse backgrounds, spends time on mentoring young associates, and ensures they have early opportunities to argue in court.

Joshua Sussberg
Kirkland & Ellis

As a senior partner at Kirkland & Ellis’s restructuring practice, Joshua Sussberg is established as one of the most high-profile advisers in the field of bankruptcy and corporate rescues.

In the past two years, he has added to a long list of acting for prominent retail names facing collapse — including Bed Bath & Beyond and Cineworld, which emerged from Chapter 11 proceedings in July.

He has previously worked on attempted rescues of the distressed retailers ToysRUs, J C Penney, Barneys, and Macy’s and more recently WeWork, the highly indebted flexible office space provider, which filed for Chapter 11 in November.

His overall approach when possible, he states, is “to convince debtholders that the company is worth more alive than dead”. In the past two years, he has acted for crypto lenders Voyager, BlockFi and Celsius, which entered Chapter 11 in 2022.

John Timperio

As co-chair of Dechert’s global finance practice and real estate practice group, John Timperio has more than 25 years of experience working with some of the world’s largest asset managers and investment banks on various types of structured finance solutions.

He helped pioneer the emergence of specialised collateralised loan obligations and also helped develop the market in collateralised fund obligations — vehicles that parcel up stakes in private equity and similar assets.

His structured credit and CLO team is ranked one of the most active in the market and advises more than 50 asset manager clients involved in the field. More generally, Timperio advises managers and borrowers in a variety of fund financing structures.

Despite recent dislocation in the CLO market, Timperio has helped asset managers Centerbridge and Advent Capital to launch in the sector.

Ariel Wolf

Ariel Wolf helped found, and is general counsel to, the Autonomous Vehicle Industry Association — a trade group comprising 20 businesses, including Ford, Volvo Cars, Uber, and Lyft, that promotes self-driving cars and trucks in the US. The association has successfully lobbied in many states for laws allowing autonomous vehicles and for the California governor to veto a bill that would have banned self-driving trucks from being driven without driver oversight, despite overwhelming support among state senators.

Now chair of the firm’s autonomous and connected mobility group, Wolf has nearly two decades of experience in government affairs including a spell as a senior official at the US Department of Transportation until 2019. As well as advising private clients, he has testified to the US Congress and other forums on the topic of mobility technology and autonomous vehicles.

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