Once again we provide our annual list of Top Lawyers in the New Orleans area. This year we have used the data collection services of a different company, Martindale-Hubbell. The New Providence, N.J.-based company is affiliated with the LexisNexis Corporation. Martindale-Hubbell is a big name in the field of legal resources research. The company has provided this statement about itself and its methodology:

For more than a century, lawyers have relied on the Martindale-Hubbell Law Directory as a guide to the worldwide legal profession. Thousands of people use the directory every day to find local attorneys, validate their credentials and select firms that provide services for their personal and professional legal needs. The Martindale-Hubbell Legal Network is power by a database of over 1 million lawyers and law firms in more than 160 countries.

Martindale-Hubbell’s trademarked Peer Review Ratings are used to select the attorneys named on these pages. To create the list of top lawyers in the greater New Orleans area, LexisNexis tapped its comprehensive database of Martindale-Hubbell Peer Review Rated attorneys to identify those who have been rated by their peers as both highly ethical and preeminent in their legal abilities. The list reflects attorneys who have received an “AV” rating – the highest Peer Review Rating available. These lawyers can be found online at lawyers.com and martindale.com.

Martindale-Hubbell Peer Review Ratings are driven by lawyers and members of the judiciary who receive invitations from Martindale-Hubbell – in electronic, “eConfidential” form or via the mail – to provide reviews on a lawyer or lawyers of whom they have personal knowledge. Peer Review Rated attorneys are not required to have a paid listing in the Martindale-Hubbell Law Directory to be rated. These ratings reflect the confidential opinions of members of the bar and judiciary. They appear in all formats of the Martindale-Hubbell Law Directory, in the online listings on martindale.com, on the LexisNexis service, on CD-ROM and in print.

Attorneys profiled for this selection were determined by the New Orleans Magazine editorial staff based on the listed names. In making our choices we looked for diversity as well as variety among specialties. There were no advertising considerations in selecting those listed or those profiled. We rest our case.

New Orleans Top Lawyers 2009

Planning for the Future

Janice Foster

Some people meander for a while until they figure out their desired careers, while others just know what they want to do. Janice Foster always knew that she wanted to be a lawyer.

“[Law] seemed like an area that was interesting and something a little out of the ordinary at the time I was growing up,” Foster says.

Foster grew up in New Orleans in the 7th Ward. She attended Xavier Preparatory High School. After high school she left New Orleans to attend Chestnut Hill College in Philadelphia, but came back to the city after graduating with a degree in political science.

“This is home. When I went to school in Philadelphia, I always intended to come home,” she says. “I just wanted to live in another part of the country.”

She attended Tulane School of Law. After graduating in 1970 she began working at Jones Walker law firm, where she still works today. Foster initially practiced law relating to civil matters such as real estate, titles and automobile defense. Two years later, she shifted her focus to estate planning and estate administration.

“I enjoyed the successions course in law school and when an opportunity presented itself to specialize in that [at Jones Walker] I was happy to,” she says.

Her job involves assisting clients with wills, trusts and estate planning. She also handles successions, which concerns the distribution of a deceased person’s property.

She says she enjoys practicing this kind of law because of its people-oriented nature. “I can hopefully help individuals to accomplish what they would like to see done with their estate,” she says.

Lucky for Foster, it is true that besides taxes, one of the only certain things in life is death: Her practice hasn’t changed too much with the economic downturn. “I guess to some extent that the priority of individuals is somewhat different. They perhaps are not necessarily as willing to engage attorneys for estate planning at this time,” she says. “But by and large most people have continued as they have in the past when it comes getting legal assistance.”

Outside of her practice, Foster is very involved in the community. She has served on the Baptist Community Ministries School Leadership Center Board, the Xavier University Board of Trustees, the Louisiana State University Board of Supervisors, the New Orleans Civil Service Commissions board, the Sewerage and Water Board, the St. Augustine High School Board, and the Board of Liquidation for the City of New Orleans. The Young Leadership Council designated her as one of its Role Models the same year.

She has two children, Suzanne and Sean, and outside of her community involvement she enjoys reading and taking walks.

– Lauren LaBorde

New Orleans Top Lawyers 2009     

Man About Town

Phillip D. Lorio

As an Uptown New Orleans boy, attorney Philip D. Lorio found himself called to his profession by the far away influences of Hollywood. While serving with the Louisiana National Guard, “I had many months to consider what to do upon my return to civilian life,” he recalls. “Several movies, including To Kill a Mockingbird and Love Story, on reflection, were somewhat instrumental in piquing my interest.”

Lorio’s family history was also a part of his decision to practice law. “I had a great uncle, Percy Viosca, who was a well-respected lawyer in the early- to mid-1900s,” he says. Lorio considers himself a “New Orleans lawyer” in every sense, and has practiced solely in the city for 35 years. After graduating from De La Salle High School, Lorio attended Loyola University and its School of Law for his undergraduate and law degrees, respectively.

It was during his in his graduate school days at work as a law clerk for the New Orleans City Attorney’s office that Lorio found himself specifically drawn to working for the city. “Upon admission to the bar in 1974, I became an assistant city attorney,” he says. “Working there was like interning at Charity Hospital. As a young attorney, I handled all types of cases, from city tax issues, to trips on city sidewalks, to defending police in alleged brutality cases.”

This wide range of legal experience gave Lorio the foundation for his current general litigation practice at Deutsch, Kerrigan and Stiles, where he has been for 31 years, and is now a general partner. His practice consists mainly of personal injury defense.

“I always thought after five years in the practice I would know everything there is to know,” he admits. “How wrong I was!” He notes the importance of keeping up with evolving law and court procedures and the advancement of technology in order to effectively defend his clients. “These all keep the practice of law constantly challenging and interesting,” he says.

“I particularly enjoy working directly with professionals like doctors and business owners, who take a personal interest in the outcome of the case, and are willing and able to teach us, as attorneys, what we need to know in order to defend them,” he says. He says many cases now go through mediation, in which both parties, with the help of their attorneys, attempt to settle. “It is rewarding to complete a mediation where your client is removed from the risk of trial and settles a case for an amount which both parties feel is reasonable at the end of the day.

“A good mediation is one where none of the parties are happy with the dollar amount of the settlement, but all are happy to be taken out of the risk that happens when a case is tried to a jury,” Lorio explains. “Of course,” he adds, “winning a trial is the ultimate high … and getting good settlements keeps your clients happy.”

Lorio currently serves as the Honorary Consul General of Austria for Louisiana and Mississippi. This involvement affords him the opportunity to work and support local Austrian activities, such as the University of New Orleans exchange program and Loyola’s summer program with Vienna. “Serving Austria in this way assists in creating political, economic, cultural and academic ties to our city and state,” he says. He also serves as vice president of the World Trade Center of New Orleans, and on the board of the Founders of the City of New Orleans.

Outside of his many professional and extracurricular activities, Lorio finds time to spend with his wife and children; his daughter is a lawyer, and his son is on his way – currently he’s a freshman at his father’s law school alma mater. He enjoys traveling to Europe and “exploring the history and culture across the pond,” but finds plenty of time to “enjoy all things about New Orleans.”

– Carrie Marks

New Orleans Top Lawyers 2009

Creating His Niche

Denis Juge

Denis Juge has focused on workers’ compensation before it was even considered an important facet of law.

He grew up in Metairie, where he attended the school that is now East Jefferson High School, and went on to the University of New Orleans where earned a bachelor’s degree in political science. He subsequently earned his master’s degree in political science from UNO, and then started attending night school at Loyola School of Law so he could focus on his family during the day. He later transferred to the day school and earned his juris doctor from the school in 1976.

He began his law career as an associate at a small insurance defense firm, where he first encountered workers’ compensation law.

“At the time I started practicing, a lot of the big firms in town didn’t consider workers’ compensation to be really important, so they would generally have younger associates handle it,” he says.

After becoming comfortable in that area and developing a substantial client base, Juge decided to branch off on his own and start a law firm based on the growing importance of workers’ compensation law.

“There was a major change in the law, and workers’ compensation became a much more important part of insurance law. So I was lucky enough at that time to learn about workers’ compensation and I would kind of develop a little bit of expertise and a reputation [in that area],” he says. “It was sort of like a market that was there, and I was lucky enough to work on that market before a lot of attorneys figured it out.”

The firm started with Juge and another attorney, but WC Defense has since grown to include 16 attorneys who are all trained in workers’ compensation law.

Juge’s job involves representing employers and insurance companies when someone is injured at work. He enjoys this focus because after many years of experience he feels confident in his abilities.

“There aren’t that many cases that come up that I haven’t seen or thought about. It’s a comfortable practice because it’s an area I feel confident in,” he says.

 “You get to know pretty much all of the attorneys representing claims and develop pretty good relationships with them, and there’s a smaller number of judges we appear before,” he says. “It’s a pretty good comfort zone dealing with judges you know, law you know and attorneys you’re familiar with.”

Recently Juge helped the Coushatta American Indian tribe to draft its own workers’ compensation law. He said it was a great experience because he was able to review workers’ compensation laws from all over the country in the process of drafting the law.

Since 1983 he has been involved with advising the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry with matters relating to workers’ compensation legislation. He taught insurance law and workers’ compensation at Loyola School of Law from 1982 to 2005, and has written a book about workers’ compensation and co-wrote another about insurance adjusting. He has also written a number of law review articles.

In his spare time he enjoys pursuing his interest in political science and law.

“I really enjoy the study of political science and law as an academic subject rather than a practice,” he says. “Every spare moment I try to read books on political science.”

He has a wife, Joel, and four children, one of whom may follow in his father’s footsteps.

“I have a 12-year-old, and based on the debates I’ve had with him, I suspect he’ll be a lawyer.”

– L.L.

New Orleans Top Lawyers 2009

With Sinners and Saints

Rick Simmons

As a criminal defense attorney in a city often notoriously renowned for its sinfulness, Richard Simmons has firsthand familiarity with the cases that most New Orleanians only see splashed across newspaper headlines. “I am always challenged by public interest cases,” he says. “Prior to Hurricane Katrina, the most interesting case in which I was involved was when I served as a member of the defense counsel in the 1985-’86 Gov. Edwards trial, in which all of the defendants were found not guilty. The 14-week trial involved practicing law with some of the most outstanding lawyers in the state of Louisiana.”

Simmons, who grew up and attended high school in the 9th Ward, was initially drawn to the practice of law by his father. “During his career, I went to his office on numerous occasions,” he remembers. “It was after observing him that I decided that I wanted to enter the practice of law.” After earning both his bachelor’s and law degree at LSU, Simmons obtained his master’s degree in environmental law at George Washington University. His ensuing 12 years of practice, however, were in a decidedly different field. He served and practiced in the Army Judge Advocate General’s Corp at various locations, including Charlottesville, Chicago, and Washington D.C. He then returned to New Orleans, where he practiced as a federal public defender, and finally as Chief of the Criminal Division of the U.S. Attorney’s office in New Orleans. Simmons decided to enter private practice in 1982. He remains in that field today, as a managing partner of Hailey McNamara.

“I have always liked the strategy aspect of criminal law legislation,” Simmons acknowledges. “The most difficult part about it is the pressures that come with literally having someone’s liberty in your hands as you attempt to defend them.” The weight of his responsibility seems not to faze Simmons; he has a history of involvement in cases that are not for the faint of heart. Along with the previously mentioned Edwin Edwards trial, Simmons also served as defense counsel for Dr. Anna Pou, who was arrested in connection with former state Attorney General Charles Foti’s investigation into deaths of patients at Memorial Hospital in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. “I worked on both civil and criminal cases involving the tragic deaths at Memorial after the storm,” he says. “Obviously, after dedicating over three years of your life to one particular case, the most rewarding aspect is a favorable result.” His efforts were certainly fruitful: “The public support given to Dr. Pou, and the Grand Jury return of ‘No True Bill,’ made the experience very rewarding,” he recalls.

In the spring of 2008, Simmons found himself further involved in the many legal issues left by Hurricane Katrina. “I spent a great deal of time working on the passage of Louisiana legislation to afford liability protection to medical personnel who serve us during disaster time,” he says. “The legislature amended the ‘Good Samaritan’ statutes, making it tougher to second guess medical judgment in those situations.”

As managing partner, Simmons devotes much of his time to his firm, and also serves as President of his homeowners’ association in the Bucktown/Metairie area. His wife, Melissa, and son, Richard III, fill up most of his downtime. He has room for one more passion, however: “I have been a Saints season ticket holder for 34 years, since my return from military duty,” he says. “I remember laboring through the ‘one-and-15 Saints season in the early 1980s, and now I am very excited about the fast start by the New Orleans Saints.”

– C.M.