These lawyers put the top of the biglaw salaries to shame. I thought it might be interesting and fun to take a look at the richest lawyers in the world. We’re talking about people with at least an eight-digit net worth. How did they become so rich?
Many of these familiar faces, like Judge Judy or legal and political analyst Alan Dershowitz, make regular television appearances and offer routine commentary. These individuals have tried cases of all kinds—from the massive and mundane to the captivating and bizarre. Over lengthy careers, they’ve amassed significant wealth and continue to dominate their respective fields as exceptionally hard-working, pioneering people.
Without further ado, here’s the current list of the top 12 wealthiest, practicing lawyers:
1. Wichai Thongtang
Net Worth: $1.8 billion
Wichai Thongtang is a powerful corporate billionaire lawyer in Bangkok Thailand who successfully represented former Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra in an asset concealment case back in 2001. That case instantly catapulted this humble farm boy celebrity status throughout Thailand and abroad.
Thongtang graduated from Thammasat University and began practicing law in the 1970s, representing Thai executives and their companies. He got rich by being a capitalist, following Felix Dennis’s rule that if it flies, floats or fornicates, rent it and let your investments from your lawyer earnings grow.
Though he is still chairman of his eponymous international law firm, much of Thongtang’s wealth comes from strategic investment holdings that he has acquired throughout his career, including several hospital-related holdings and a Thai cable company.
2. Charlie Munger
Net Worth: $1.6 billion
Charlie Munger might be better known as Warren Buffett’s partner at Berkshire Hathaway but he is a Harvard educated lawyer with a serious bankroll. Most of his net worth is tied up in Berkshire Hathaway but he is also the founding partner of Munger, Tolles & Olson LLP, a law firm he started in 1962.
Eventually Munger gave up the practice of law when he realized he could make significantly more money contracting on managing his investments and working with Warren Buffett (how’s that for a good financial decision – quit the law firm that you started in 1962 and open up a partnership with Warren Buffett). I bet his peers thought he was crazy at the time.
He’s got a lot of good quotes (see his book Damn Right!) but one of my favorite is:
To get what you want, you have to deserve what you want. The world is not yet a crazy enough place to reward a whole bunch of undeserving people.
3. Bill Neukom
Net Worth: $850 million
Bill Neukom, a Stanford Law School graduate, served as the lead lawyer for Microsoft Corporation for almost 25 years, skillfully guiding the company through treacherous anti-trust and intellectual property litigation. His high-profile cases include the “trial of the century,” otherwise known as United States v. Microsoft.
At Microsoft, he was responsible for managing legal and governmental affairs as well as its active philanthropic activities, retiring as the Vice President of Law and Corporate Affairs. Neukom was eventually selected to serve as the president of the American Bar Association from 2007-2008.
Neukom went on to become the CEO of the San Francisco Giants between 2008 to 2011, guiding the team to its first World Series win since moving to California in 1958. He now works as primarily as the founder, president, and CEO of the World Justice Project. His foundation is focused on strengthening the rule of law to promote the development of communities of opportunity and equity around the world.
4. Judge Judy
Net Worth: $440 million
Judge Judith Sheindlin, television’s beloved “Judge Judy,” has come a long way from her days as a family court judge. She raked in a cooll $47 million for the latest season of her small-claims court show. Her outspoken persona has made her one of the highest-paid women on daytime television.
Although Sheindlin’s actual net worth is unknown, Forbes estimates that she deserves a place on the list of the richest self-made women in America and named her the world’s highest-paid TV host in 2018.
Judge Judy has a penchant for real estate, tying up at least some of her fortune in several expensive homes around the country. She is also a best-selling author with a highly rated book Don’t Pee On My Leg and Tell Me It’s Raining.
She also decided to pass up commercial air travel after 9/11. Instead, she uses her own private jet to commute from the set of Judge Judy in Los Angeles from her home in Florida.
5. Robert Shapiro
Net Worth: $120 million
Robert Shapiro is a practicing lawyer who gained notoriety for being on the team responsible for exonerating O.J. Simpson from the murders of Simpson’s ex-wife and Ron Goldman. He has represented clients from Johnny Carson to Occidental Petroleum and Rockstar Energy Drinks.
Though he amassed most of his wealth from his legal career, Shapiro is also an effective entrepreneur. He is a founding member of LegalZoom, Shoedazzle.com, and Right Counsel. In addition, Shapiro has also starred as himself and as a lawyer on both television and the big screen. He earned the best film award from the Tenerife International Film Festival in 2015.
The 2005 death of his son due to a drug overdose inspired Shapiro to write the children’s book Somo Says No, which contains an anti-drug message. Along with his family, he founded the Brent Shapiro Foundation and Pickford Lofts to assist and rehabilitate drug addicts.
6. Willie E. Gary
Net Worth: $100 million
Willie E. Gary, named one of the “top 50 US attorneys” by Forbes, and one of the “100 most influential African-Americans” by Ebony magazine, is a trailblazing lawyer and entrepreneur from Georgia who went to law school in North Carolina. He is one of the founding partners of the first black law firm in Martin County, Florida, where he continues to practice.
Gary has led several high-profile litigations against large corporations, including a $500 million-dollar settlement to an undisclosed client from Mississippi, that have earned him significant wealth and prestige. He has been interviewed on the Oprah Winfrey Show and other talk shows. Despite some recent legal troubles of his own, Gary is a renowned philanthropist. Along with his wife, Gloria, he funds college scholarships for at-risk students through the Gary Foundation. He has also donated substantial sums to his alma mater and other black universities in the US.
7. John Branca
Net Worth: $100 million
John Branca, born in Bronxville, New York, is one of the richest lawyers practicing entertainment law today. He moved to Los Angeles at age 11 and has lived there since. Branca received his law degree from UCLA law school in 1975 and is responsible for pioneering many entertainment-focused ventures.
An avid musician, he specializes in representing rock and roll acts and independent music labels. Over 30 of his clients, including The Rolling Stones, Aerosmith, ZZ Top, Fleetwood Mac, and The Doors, are in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame—more than any other entertainment lawyer.
Branca is responsible for much of the success of Michael Jackson’s Thriller music video. He sought financing for the project and his production influence led to millions of sales of that album. He also advised and facilitated Michal Jackson’s purchase of ATV Music publishing—a move that made the Jackson family hundreds of millions of dollars while they owned it. After fighting Michael’s mother over the absence of a will after his death, he continues to manage Jackson’s estate. Branca is credited with restoring and reviving Michael Jackson’s legacy through several lucrative posthumous films, shows, and experiences.
8. Roy Black
Net Worth: $65 million
Roy Black is a civil and criminal defense trial attorney based in Miami. He defended William Kennedy Smith against rape charges in 1991 and has also represented other big names like Rush Limbaugh, Kelsey Grammer, Jeffrey Epstein, and Justin Bieber.
He is famous for brilliantly-delivered, well-studied arguments during trial, and he received the highest possible score on the Florida Bar exam when he took it in 1970. Black is often referred to as “The Professor,” possibly alluding to time that he spent teaching as an adjunct professor in criminal evidence at the University of Miami.
Black frequently appeared on Good Morning America and the Early Show as a legal consultant. He has also appeared on The Real Housewives of Miami as his third wife, Lea Black, is one of the castmates. Black began dating Lea a few months after she served as a juror in Black’s case for William Kennedy Smith.
9. Jane Wanjiru Michuki
Net Worth: $60 million
Jane Michuki is a Kenyan lawyer, investor and businesswoman who graduated from the University of Warwick in the U.K. She is the managing partner of Kimani & Michuki Advocates. Her firm currently represents an extensive list of clients including Equity Group Holdings, Ltd., which is the largest bank holding company in Africa, serving over 9.2 million customers. Michuki served lead counsel for several massive housing project developers in Kenya, including the Suraya group.
In addition to practicing law, she is the largest female stockholder on the Nairobi Stock Exchange. Michuki is also a recognized humanitarian, serving as both a Human Rights consultant with the United Nations and the Special Representative to the Secretary General to the United Nations Mission Liberia.
10. Alan Dershowitz
Net Worth: $25 million
Dershowitz is a distinguished attorney and respected Harvard Law School professor. He was born in New York, leaving to obtain his law degree at Yale University.
Dershowitz was the youngest full professor of law at Harvard by 28 years of age, serving until his retirement in 2013. Since then, he has continued to work within his expertise of constitutional and criminal law as a frequent political commentator, legal analyst, and media contributor. He defended Supreme Court Nominee Brett Kavanaugh against allegations of rape leveled by Julie Swetnick prior to Kavanaugh’s confirmation.
Dershowitz recently cemented his legacy as a household name during Donald j. Trump’s recent impeachment trial. He initially joined Trump’s defense team, even offering to work for free in an effort to hold up a pure, scholarly defense of the continuation. In fact, Dershowitz published an entire book in 2018, The Case Against Impeaching Trump, to defend his position. As additional evidence surfaced, he clarified his previous statements, reversing his position and ultimately publicly calling for Trump’s impeachment.
11. Mark Geragos
Net Worth: $25 million
Geragos is an Armenian-American criminal defense and civil litigation lawyer based in Los Angeles. He was one of the lawyers in charge of a class-action suit against New York Life Insurance and AXA, securing sizeable settlements on behalf of Armenians who were issued insurance policies during the time of the Armenian genocide.
His first landmark case, however, was representing Susan McDougal of Whitewater notoriety. He has also defended Scott Peterson (later sentenced to death for the murder of his wife, Lacey), Chris Brown, Kesha, and, more recently, Colin Kaepernick and Jussie Smollett. Geragos briefly represented Michael Jackson in his molestation case but was replaced due to a very hectic schedule.
Geragos frequently appeared on CNN and Larry King Live as a legal consultant before being removed in 2019, pending his implicated involvement in an extortion scheme with Michael Avenatti. He’s also been featured on Good Morning America, 60 minutes, and Anderson Cooper 360.
12. Thomas Mesereau
Net Worth: $25 million
Thomas Meseareau, a Harvard and UC Hasting’s College of Law grad, is a criminal defense attorney. After Geragos was taken off Michael Jackson’s molestation case, Mesereau stepped in and famously had him acquitted of all charges. He’s also represented celebrities Bill Cosby and Mike Tyson at one point.
Mesereau is one of the top trial lawyers in America, having won an unheard-of three federal criminal jury trials in succession. If that’s not enough, he has a reputation for taking on high-stakes cases with impossible odds, too.
His hourly rate is so high that it isn’t published, but Mesereau does take on pro bono cases through the Mesereau Free Legal Clinic that he established. Every year, he represents a capital murder defendant from the south who can’t afford representation.
Bonus: Judge Lynn Toler
Net Worth: $15 million
Judge Lynn Toler is best known for the thirteen years that she spent on her television show, Divorce Court. Before she was a celebrity, Toler served as the only municipal judge in the Cleveland Heights Municipal Court in Ohio, winning her first judicial race by only 6 votes since she ran as a Republican in a Democratic district. Judge Toler is known for her level-headed, common-sense approach to the cases that she hears as well as non-traditional judgments, like hand-written essays.
In 2008, she hosted the show Decision House, and served as co-executive producer of Wedlock or Deadlock, a Divorce Court spinoff. She continues to contribute to her community, receiving the Humanitarian of the Year Award from the Cleveland Domestic Violence Center, and serving on the boards of charities like the Juvenile Diabetes Board and the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill.
Our list only contains living attorneys, so we did not include the estate of Joe Jamail who was estimated to have a net worth of $1.5 billion (known as the “King of Torts“) and responsible representing Pennzoil in a landmark lawsuit against Texaco where he reportedly netted $355 million on a contingency fee
Are you a lawyer that wants to get rich?
If you’re a lawyer earning a normal salary and you want to build wealth, then you’re going to need to learn about personal finance, investing, student loans and the other topics we cover on Biglaw Investor.
Sign up for our FREE email list and join thousands of other lawyers on a path to financial independence.
Joshua Holt A practicing private equity M&A lawyer and the creator of Biglaw Investor, Josh couldn’t find a place where lawyers were talking about money, so he created it himself. He spends 10 minutes a month on Personal Capital keeping track of his money and is currently fascinated by the JD Mortgage products offered by several banks.