Hollywood's Troubleshooters: Top 20 Lawyers for Crime, Divorce and Other Sensitive Matters

6:00 AM 12/4/2017

by Ashley Cullins

From Harvey  Weinstein to Mel  Gibson, these attorneys have seen (and fixed) it all.

Illustration by: Jason Raish

This story first appeared in the Nov. 29 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.

  • Blair Berk

    Tarlow & Berk

    Courtesy of Subject

    CATEGORY Criminal

    "It can be a very terrifying thing to be accused of something and have to defend yourself with the whole world watching," says Berk, who has long been a go-to defender for Hollywood A-listers in trouble — and now is representing Harvey Weinstein amid sexual assault and harassment allegations. "When someone's liberty is at stake, it's not a game in any way," she says. Berk has been passionate about due process since she was young, when her lawyer parents would encourage discussions about the Constitution. The Harvard Law grad has represented everyone from Kiefer Sutherland to Kanye West — but she wishes her clients weren't public. Says Berk, "I want for my clients not to have their lives defined by a few moments of trouble."

    Have you ever argued your way out of a traffic ticket? "I immediately confess and request the ticket. It works every time."

    Who was your childhood hero? "Atticus Finch."

  • Roy Black

    Black, Srebnick

    Courtesy of Subject

    CATEGORY Criminal

    Black, who has represented Justin Bieber, Rush Limbaugh and Kelsey Grammer, traces his path toward criminal defense back to high school, when his family relocated to Kingston, Jamaica, and a math teacher at his new school singled him out because he was American. "He used to torture me," says the Florida-based attorney. "I got a real hatred for petty authority." Any time a famous name is involved in a case, says Black, prosecutors and judges go on high alert. "The only way you can win a criminal case," he says, "is to outwork the federal or state government by a factor of three or four."

    Who should play you in the movie of your life? "Barack Obama."

    What's the most Hollywood thing about your life? "My wife, Lea, former 'real' housewife and this season appearing on Flipping Out."

  • Benjamin Brafman

    Brafman & Associates

    Steve Mack/FilmMagic

    CATEGORY Criminal

    The Manhattan defense attorney is the latest member to be added to Harvey Weinstein's legal team, but he's no stranger to high-profile cases or celebrity clients. Brafman made global headlines in clearing a sexual assault charge for former International Monetary Fund head Dominique Strauss-Kahn, who was accused of attempted rape by a hotel maid. Brafman's star-studded client list has also included Michael Jackson, Jay Z, Sean "Puff Daddy" Combs, Dinesh D'Souza, former NFL star Plaxico Burress and embattled pharmaceutical executive Martin Shkreli.

  • Bradford Cohen

    Jeffer Mangels

    Courtesy of Subject

    CATEGORY Trust and Estates

    Cohen traded in a career as an IRS auditor for one representing clients across film, television, music and sports. "You really get to see what makes people tick and what they're made of," says Cohen, a hybrid income tax and estate lawyer. "You get to hear how they feel about their spouses, their kids and philanthropy." The New York University School of Law grad says intangible assets, like posthumous rights of publicity, and contingent compensation make planning for entertainers more complex. As Cohen explains, "You need to build an infrastructure so that the estate can maximize and monetize these assets in an appropriate way."

    What’s your comfort food? "Anything that doesn’t have legs."

    Have you ever argued your way out of a traffic ticket? "I blamed it on my wife."

  • Jeffrey Eisen

    Mitchell Silberberg & Knupp

    Courtesy of Subject

    CATEGORY Trust and Estates

    As an undergrad at the University of Pennsylvania studying accounting, the Staten Island native initially thought he would become a CPA. "I had actually never met a lawyer before I decided to go to law school," he says. But as the lawyer for estates like that of Farah Fawcett, Eisen discovered a much more exciting and rewarding profession than if he were a typical number cruncher. "Representing Muhammad Ali and his wife has been the greatest honor of my career," says Eisen. "Some people think estate planning is like a cookie cutter. That couldn't be further from the truth."

    Have you ever argued your way out of a traffic ticket? "My wife got a ticket a few years ago for having our dog on her lap while driving. I looked up the Vehicle Code statute listed in her citation, and it didn’t actually outlaw having a pet on your lap. She told the judge that and he invalidated the ticket. They’ve changed the law since then, I think."

    Who was your childhood hero? "Tom Seaver. I cried when the Mets traded him to Cincinnati a few days before my 10th birthday."\

  • Abby Feinman

    Katten Muchin Rosenman

    Courtesy of Subject

    CATEGORY Trust and Estates

    "My father used to sit me down at night and prod me to figure out what I wanted to do," says Feinman, who settled on a law career while still in high school. As the head of her firm's L.A. trust and estates practice, she works with many Hollywood types. Probate documents revealed Feinman reps Carrie Fisher's daughter, actress Billie Lourd, but she'll just say her client list is an eclectic mix. "I can't think of any aspect of entertainment that I don't have a client in," she says, before playfully adding, "I don't have a makeup artist."

    What’s the last TV show you binged? The Man in the High Castle

    What’s your good luck charm? "A golf ball I found in college."

  • Mark Geragos

    Geragos & Geragos

    Courtesy of Nicholas Koon

    CATEGORY Criminal

    The SoCal native learned early on that he wasn't cut out to be a prosecutor: When he was barely in kindergarten and began tagging along with his father, a prosecutor with the L.A. District Attorney's office, Geragos realized, "There's a certain type of talent you have to have to be able to separate yourself from people when you're prosecuting them." While some of his clients have made headlines — like Chris Brown, whom he has repped for more than a decade — Geragos says 90 percent of his work is ending cases before they publicly begin. "Every time I see a prosecutor say, 'We're going to treat this person like anyone else,' I have to laugh to myself," says Geragos. "Things I would be able to make go away in a heartbeat if it weren't high profile require enormous heavy lifting if it is high profile."

    Who should play you in the movie of your life? "Denzel Washington or Joe Pesci."

    Who was your childhood hero? "My father and Gregory Peck in To Kill a Mockingbird."

  • Larry Ginsberg

    Harris Ginsberg

    Courtesy of Subject

    CATEGORY Divorce

    "I don't look at divorce as a failure," says Ginsberg. "I think of it as the evolution of a relationship." The Pepperdine Law grad, who has represented the likes of Mel Gibson and Kate Hudson, aims to minimize the drama of a highly emotional process and keep it as private as possible. "It's nobody else's fucking business," he says. Ginsberg's parents went through a difficult divorce when he was 6 years old, and he has no doubts the experience contributed to his decision to study social work and practice family law. "A therapist would have a field day with why I enjoy my work as much as I do."

    What’s the last TV show you binged? Veep

    What’s your comfort food? "Mac and cheese, and if you add bacon I’m done."

  • Neal Hersh

    Hersh Mannis

    Courtesy of Subject

    CATEGORY Divorce

    The Beverly Hills attorney's first ultra-high-profile case was representing Robin Givens in her divorce from Mike Tyson in 1989. "When I finished that case, people would say, 'I'm sure I'm not a big enough case for you,' " says Hersh, who was then just beginning to build his practice. "People thought that I was so well known that they shouldn't come to the firm, but the opposite was true." Since then, he has been linked to such stars as Debra Messing, Kim Basinger and Camille Grammer. "I love being in trial, but more importantly, I like the strategic intellectual planning of how to navigate a case," he says. "Our job is to be creative and come up with solutions where people think they are not available."

    What’s the most Hollywood thing about your life? "I lived with my soul mate for 25 years, and married her one year ago."

    What’s your good luck charm? "Sterling silver Swiss Army knife."

  • Shawn Holley

    Kinsella Weitzman

    Courtesy of Subject

    CATEGORY Criminal

    Holley was discovered by Johnnie Cochran while working in the L.A. County Public Defender's office — and was soon hired on to O.J. Simpson's legal defense team alongside Robert Kardashian. Decades later, she counts his now-famous children and their Jenner siblings among her Hollywood clients. She likens answering midnight phone calls to the life of an ER doctor. "You immediately are jolted with all senses firing and go into problem-solving mode," says Holley. "Those first 24 to 48 hours are really crisis times, especially for someone who's high profile."

    What’s your comfort food? "In-N-Out combo No. 1 (Double Double, fries, pink lemonade)."

    What’s the most Hollywood thing about your life? "SoulCycle."

  • Daniel Jaffe

    Jaffe & Clemens

    Courtesy of subject

    CATEGORY Divorce

    One of Jaffe's first entertainment industry clients was Tichi Wilkerson, the widow of The Hollywood Reporter founder Billy Wilkerson. She ran the outlet for more than two decades. During 40-plus years in the business, he also represented Nicole Brown Simpson in her divorce from O.J. and Rupert Murdoch's second wife, Anna — who reportedly parted with more than a billion dollars. "Our client base is primarily entertainment people, business people and scions of enormously wealthy families," he says. "We deal with more money than virtually any other field of law. We're dealing with estates from $50 million to $8 billion."

    What’s the last TV show you binged? Ray Donovan

    Outside the office, you’re most passionate about … "Hanging out with other divorce lawyers."

  • Joseph Mannis

    Hersh Mannis

    Courtesy Photo

    CATEGORY Divorce

    Growing up, as he puts it, a "poor person from nowhere," Mannis liked the idea of working in an intellectual business. He almost took a job teaching at the University of Indiana, but his now-wife vetoed a move to the Midwest. Instead, he has spent decades as a divorce attorney to the rich and famous, such as Jurassic Park scribe and ER co-creator Michael Crichton. "The size of these cases just gets bigger and bigger because people have more and more money," says Mannis. "People spend hundreds of thousands of dollars fighting over who gets the cat."

    What’s your comfort food? "Steak and potatoes."

    What’s your good luck charm? "My dog, Jasper."

  • Thomas Mesereau

    Mesereau Law Group

    Gilbert Carrasquillo/Getty Images

    CATEGORY Criminal

    Bill Cosby is Mesereau's latest high-profile client, in a roster that has included Michael Jackson, Robert Blake and Mike Tyson. The Harvard and UC Hastings grad says he has deep empathy for the underdog and prides himself on "finding the good in people and making prosecutors and police prove their case." Mesereau trusts American juries to rise above the sensationalism of famous defendants, but he tries to keep his clients and himself out of the press by avoiding charges in the first place. "I find it despicable and very disturbing that many lawyers promote themselves at the expense of their clients," he says. "I've been quite upset at times when TMZ would call me and ask, 'Is it true you're representing someone?' and I had told nobody, except maybe a police officer."

    What’s your comfort food? "Red wine."

    Who was your childhood hero? "Muhammad Ali and General Douglas MacArthur."

  • Burton Mitchell

    Jeffer Mangels

    Courtesy of Subject

    CATEGORY Trust and Estates

    A colleague described Mitchell's client list as "everyone at the Oscars" — and that doesn't just mean stars. "There's an unlimited amount of work," says Mitchell, whose clients also include lawyers, accountants, agents and business managers. The Georgetown Law grad says wealthy individuals should give extra thought to the looming 40 percent federal estate tax and come in for an estate checkup every three years. "You can't wave a magic wand and make it go away," says Mitchell, "but there are legitimate steps you can take to transfer wealth to minimize taxes."

    Who should play you in the movie of your life? "Larry David."

    Have you ever argued your way out of a traffic ticket? "No, but I have for one of my sons. I felt like Perry Mason."

  • Michele Mulrooney

    Venable

    Courtesy of Subject

    CATEGORY Trust and Estates

    The USC grad represents clients in all areas of entertainment, including Mel Gibson, which became public during a custody battle with his ex-girlfriend. In addition to estate planning, Mulrooney also consults on prenuptial agreements and divorces. "I'm one of the few people whom they can really trust," she says. Mulrooney chairs her firm's West Coast trust and estates practice and is already creating her own professional succession plan. "I want to do this for quite a bit longer," says Mulrooney. "But when I don't want to do it anymore, my clients are going to have great representation."

    What’s the last TV show you binged? This Is Us

    Who was your childhood hero? "Audrey Hepburn."

  • Vicki Podberesky

    Andrues/Podberesky

    Courtesy of subject

    CATEGORY Criminal

    "I was always a bit of a renegade," says Podberesky, who discovered her passion while participating in USC's Post-Conviction Justice Project. "All I wanted to do was be a criminal defense lawyer." Among her highest-profile cases are representing Bruce Lisker, who was freed from prison 26 years after having been wrongfully convicted in 1983 for murdering his mother, and working on the legal team for Survivor producer Bruce Beresford-Redman, who is behind bars in Mexico following a murder conviction. Now she's representing a student athlete at her alma matter who lost his eligibility after Trojan basketball assistant coach Tony Bland was indicted for taking bribes from sports agents. Says Podberesky, "I have a truly innocent person who is being penalized because someone connected to him allegedly took some money."

    Where was your last vacation? "Rwanda and Tanzania, absolutely the best trip ever."

    Have you ever argued your way out of a traffic ticket? "I have sweet-talked, not argued, my way out of a ticket by letting the patrol officer know that I occasionally represent law enforcement officers and appreciate the difficult job they have."

  • Lance Spiegel

    Young, Spiegel & Lee

    Courtesy of Subject

    CATEGORY Divorce

    Spiegel doesn't usually talk to the press, which was evident when THR's first call for a scheduled interview was errantly transferred to a polite, yet blunt, automated message explaining the firm doesn't take media inquiries. Such is the protocol when Spiegel's clients include Brad Pitt, Reese Witherspoon and Meg Ryan. A child of divorce, Spiegel makes sure that splitting couples focus on their children's well-being. "I do a lot of custody litigation," he says, adding that the highlight of his job is knowing "there are kids sitting at holiday dinner tables and they're there because I helped make it happen."

    Outside the office, you're most passionate about … "USC football."

    What’s the most Hollywood thing about your life? "My personal trainer."

  • Robert Strauss

    Weinstock Manion

    Courtesy of Subject

    CATEGORY Trust and Estates

    Strauss represents industry elites on both sides of the camera — and one of his clients became public in a very Hollywood way. "I represent Gene Simmons, and he asked if he could film an estate planning episode for his TV show," says the UCLA Law grad. "I had to have a private conversation with him about the need to not disclose real stuff publicly." Strauss embraces the unique challenges of his niche. "The more complicated the matter," he says, "the more creative we get to be and the more value we can add."

    Outside the office, you're most passionate about … "My family (I have a wife and two adult sons), exercise (I was captain of the Harvard water polo team so many years ago) and reading (I co-founded an all-male book group more than 10 years ago and read more than 50 books per year)."

    Where was your last vacation? "Hiking in the Swiss Alps with the entire family."

  • Laura Wasser

    Wasser Cooperman & Mandles

    Courtesy of Subject

    CATEGORY Divorce

    Wasser, who reps Angelina Jolie and Johnny Depp, is a second-generation divorce lawyer who specializes in ultra-high-profile splits. When children are involved, the Century City-based attorney emphasizes productive co-parenting — and she's proof it can work. Wasser has two sons, each from a different relationship. "The dads and I are family," she says. "We're all having Thanksgiving with my current boyfriend and his two kids." She teaches younger associates at her firm to be less litigious and more settlement-oriented. "With that comes the ability to streamline things," she says, "and not end up arguing over a $400 lamp."

    What’s your good luck charm? "Anita Ko diamond ear cuff."

    Who was your childhood hero? "Margaret Sanger."

  • Laura Zwicker

    Greenberg Glusker

    Courtesy of subject

    CATEGORY Trust and Estates

    After she majored in history at Washington University in St. Louis, Zwicker's father told her there were no jobs in the humanities and she should consider law school. Now, she's working with ultra-high-net-worth families as head of her firm's private client services group. "We end up being involved in so many facets of a client's life because they all tie back to their wealth," she says. "I have clients who have me interview their household staff." One of her most challenging and rewarding matters was helping Shelly Sterling through the $2 billion sale of the L.A. Clippers after husband Donald was banned from the NBA.

    What’s your comfort food? "Rice, anything from risotto to rice pudding to yaki onigiri."

    What’s your good luck charm? "I have a desk chair in my office that was my desk chair when I was made a partner. That chair is not allowed to leave my office even though I don’t use it any longer and it is ugly, uncomfortable and doesn’t fit with any of the furniture in my office."