Revisiting the Forbes 400 and Its Deep-Pocketed Attorneys
Jess Jackson Jr., a former successful real estate lawyer in San Francisco, left his legal career behind after buying an 80-acre California pear and walnut orchard in the mid-1970s. Jackson, who was 81 when he died in April 2011, saw that investment grow into the enormously popular Kendall-Jackson brand of wines.
The death of private equity pioneer Theodore “Ted” Forstmann at age 71 in November 2011 led to Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld picking up the lead role for the liquidation of New York–based Forstmann Little & Company’s portfolio. Forstmann was an heir to a textile fortune depleted to the point that he took up playing cards to supplement the $150 a month he received from his trust while attending Columbia Law School in the early '60s, a fact noted in Barbarians at the Gate, the seminal 1990 book about the art of the leveraged buyout.
Longtime Warren Buffett confidant and Berkshire Hathaway vice chairman Charles Munger fell off the Forbes list in 2011 after distributing shares in the company to his eight children upon the death of his wife Nancy in 2010. Munger, a founding partner of Munger, Tolles & Olson until leaving the practice of law in 1965 to join up with Buffett, owns California legal publication the Daily Journal, which Bloomberg reported this summer was profiting nicely from some savvy investments by its owner. (Forbes pegs Munger’s current net worth at a mere $1.2 billion. )
Also falling short of the Forbes 400 with a net worth of $1.25 billion is Todd Wagner, an ex-associate at Akin Gump and Hopkins & Sutter who made his fortune during the early Internet boom by co-founding Broadcast.com with Mark Cuban.
Wagner made partner at Hopkins & Sutter, which later merged with Foley & Lardner, but quit the firm against the advice of its senior partner in order to team up with Cuban in 1995. The two entrepreneurs sold Broadcast.com to Yahoo for $5.7 billion in 1999. (Cuban is ranked No. 222 on the current Forbes list with a net worth of $2.5 billion.)
Joseph Craft III’s connections to the University of Kentucky—from which he graduated with a law degree in 1976—run deep. A major booster of the school’s top-ranked men’s basketball team, Craft worked as an in-house lawyer in the coal industry, which is where he made his fortune after leading a management-backed buyout of a unit that became Alliance Resource Partners. But a 2011 divorce put a serious dent in what was a $1.4 billion fortune that now stands at $625 million, according to Forbes.
William Connor II, the son of a former trade attaché to General Douglas MacArthur during World War II, earned a law degree from Santa Clara University before joining The Connor Group, a Hong Kong–based sourcing and logistics business started by his father in 1949. Forbes puts Connor’s current fortune at $1.07 billion, down from $1.6 billion in 2010.
Colony Capital founder and chairman Thomas Barrack Jr. began his career as a lawyer. After law school at the University of Southern California and University of San Diego, Barrack went to work at Newport Beach–based Kalmbach, DeMarco, Knapp & Chillingworth, a firm founded by Herbert Kalmbach, the personal attorney to President Richard Nixon. (Kalmbach is now of counsel at Baker & Hostetler in Costa Mesa, Calif.) Barrack, who is still listed in California Bar records, started Colony Capital in 1991 to buy bad real estate loans after the savings and loan crisis. In 2005, he foresaw the looming real estate bubble, and he's once again issuing warnings about an overheated U.S. housing market. Forbes puts his fortune at an even $1 billion, down from $1.2 billion in 2010.
Korean immigrant James Kim, a founder of microchip maker Amkor Technology, attended law school in Seoul but never graduated. As a result, we did not include him in our 2010 report, but thought we’d note him falling off the Forbes list in 2011 as a result of his fortune being divided among his family.
One former lawyer who also did not appear in our 2010 article but who climbed onto the Forbes list in 2012 is Paul Singer, the founder of New York–based hedge fund Elliott Management. Singer graduated from Harvard Law School in 1969 before going on to work at two Wall Street firms and the real estate division of investment bank Donaldson, Lufkin & Jenrette. Singer opened Elliott in 1977 with $1.3 million from family, friends and savings, according to the Financial Times. Alas, a year after climbing onto the Forbes list, his $1.25 billion net worth caused him to slip back off, putting him in a category of 60 other billionaires that Forbes notes are simply not rich enough to make its top 400. Blame it on Argentina.