Knowing what he knows now, he said
he would argue it differently. “I’m arguing
from the wrong perspective, trying to
persuade the whole court about the whole
case, rather than persuade one or two
people about one or two strong points. I
just didn’t really know what I was doing.”
His next case, he won. He had converted
the third bedroom of his house into an
office and began cold-calling potential
clients. He offered to argue their cases for
free. The exposure, he believed, would be
“You’re trying to give the impression
that you’re qualified, which was debatable.
I would tell them, ‘I’m very interested, and
I’ll do the work for free.’ I was approachable,
nonthreatening, collaborative. I didn’t have a
lot to say about why I could do a good job.”
Cold-calling clients was unheard of then.
One justice reportedly dismissed Goldstein
as an “ambulance chaser.” Chief Justice John
Roberts was still practicing law at the time
and scoffed at the practice. “If I’m going
to have heart-bypass surgery, I wouldn’t go
to the surgeon who calls me up,” Roberts
was quoted as saying. “I’d look for the guy
who’s too busy for that.”
“It was incredibly controversial in the
beginning,” Goldstein recalled. “I stood
for things that they didn’t like. I think
they were very comfortable with an elite
Supreme Court bar. I didn’t know enough
to care. I was so completely on the outside,
that the acceptance of this group meant
nothing to me.”
In his first eight cases in his first three
years, he made a combined $8,000. “It was
the only way to get from there to here. I
had to make it happen.”
He now charges $1,250. An hour.
From nobody to Jeopardy!
Totenberg, who has covered the court
for 42 years, watched Goldstein mature
and improve. They remain close friends.
“He was never bad, but in the beginning I
would guess you’d have to say he was snotty
in his position, and they wanted to take
him down a peg,” she said. “He was young.
He was brash. He talked too fast. He had a
little bit of an attitude, and all that changed
in the course of his making his first 10
arguments. He got really good.”
Goldstein is credited with expanding
the bar, and lawyers routinely cold-call
clients, even at big firms. Except Goldstein
doesn’t; clients now come to him. He also
helped establish Supreme Court litigation
clinics at Stanford and Harvard, and he still
teaches at Harvard.
Legal Times named him one of the “ 90
Greatest Washington Lawyers of the Last
30 Years.” In 2010, the National Law Journal
named him one of the nation’s 40 most
influential lawyers of the previous decade.
He’s the superstar now.
But underneath his three-piece suits,
he remains a bit of a renegade. “I think
people who do what I do take themselves
way too seriously,” he said.
In 2015, he joined Totenberg in a video-taped play-by-play commentary for NPR
after oral arguments about state bans on
same-sex marriage. They deftly took turns
explaining what happened, and Goldstein
appeared both well-versed in the law and
comfortable before a camera.
After they finished, but with the video
still running, Totenberg turned to him