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5 Minutes With... Michele Roberts 

Michele Roberts (JD Berkeley 1980) is one of the most respected trial lawyers in the country, and has tried over 100 civil and criminal cases in federal and state court. Early in her career she worked for several years in the Public Defender Service for DC. In 2011, Roberts joined Skadden as a litigation partner in DC. She received the 2011 Chambers USA business trial lawyer award for excellence.

“I love that several grateful former criminal clients have named their children after me.”


Starting out, what did you expect from a career in the law?

While I currently represent 'corporate America', I began my practice as a public defender – my hope and goal was to assure that my clients received quality legal representation despite the fact that I was court-appointed counsel.

What do you consider to have been your big break?

My first big break was being hired by the District of Columbia Public Defender Service (PDS) – the premier defender organization in the country. Unlike other offices, PDS lawyers are able to practice without the burden of huge and unwieldy caseloads and with the support of investigative and expert resources. It gave me the platform to learn how to effectively and successfully defend otherwise unpopular clients before juries.

What differences do you see in today’s legal market compared to when you started?

While technology has, in some respects, improved the quality of litigation, civil discovery has become a tremendous – and expensive – burden.

What achievement are you most proud of?  

I love that several grateful former criminal clients have named their children after me – a couple of 'Micheles' and 'Michaels' are my namesakes.

What do you consider your greatest failure or regret?

Every trial lawyer regrets the losses – even as we appreciate that you can't win them all. You do, however, almost always win the very next one!

What law would you want to change, abolish or create?

Abolish the death penalty.

Who is your legal hero?  

Deceased: Justice Thurgood Marshall. Living: Charles J Ogletree, Jr.

What career would you have in your second life?

Either a back-up singer for Luther Vandross or tending a beach bar in Jamaica.

How would you like to be remembered?  

Like Churchill, she believed you "never, never, never give up."

What is the main thing legal employers could do to improve diversity in the profession?

If clients/in-house counsel insist on diversity, it will happen.