NiaLena is a passionate and relentless advocate who doesn't take no for an answer. Through her boutique law practice, she gives personal, undivided, and often 'round-the-clock attention to all clients in an effort to provide the absolute best defense possible. As a strong believer in Robert Frost's "The Road Not Taken," NiaLena often chooses to travel "the road less traveled by" and, as a result, many of her courtroom successes as a criminal defense lawyer have come in matters that others considered hopeless.
NiaLena concentrates her law practice primarily in federal criminal defense and has substantial experience in high-profile criminal cases and in extremely complicated federal criminal cases involving extensive electronic surveillance and wiretaps. NiaLena's federal criminal defense practice extends not only to the Eastern District of PA (including Philadelphia and its surrounding counties) but to multiple jurisdictions in the U.S.
Early in her career, NiaLena was the youngest and only female attorney to defend a reputed organized crime figure in the federal RICO prosecution of U.S. v. Joseph Merlino. As described in the "Super Lawyers" feature article entitled "Fierce" that was written about NiaLena, she "wanted to buck the top-down strategy the rest of the defense team had devised" and "do the right thing" for herself and her client as the "spunky outsider" who was "arrayed against a coterie of high-powered attorneys drawn from the old-boy network of lawyers tapped into service by Mafia dons." Following a trial that lasted nearly five months, the jury acquitted her client, Frank Gambino, of attempted murder and racketeering charges, and her closing argument was subsequently selected among nationwide submissions and spotlighted as featured defense advocate by Center for Criminal Justice Advocacy in Houston.
She has since become lead counsel in numerous serious multi-defendant criminal cases and was recently the youngest and only female member of the defense trial team representing Senator Vincent Fumo, long regarded as the most powerful politician in PA during his five-month high-profile trial in federal court. At trial, NiaLena was the co-author of an emergency motion that made headline news in various local and national forums, including The New York Times and ABC News.
NiaLena has been able to develop a unique approach to the practice of law and to her interaction with her clients, largely as a result of the teachings of the Honorable Lisa Aversa Richette, a very prominent jurist and civic giant and independent thinker for whom NiaLena served as a judicial law clerk in the beginning of her career. NiaLena credits Judge Richette for showing her the way and helping her develop the compassion and the ability to truly see her clients as much more than defendants and to embrace them as human beings. The following excerpt of a client review recently posted on Avvo perhaps summarizes it best: "NiaLena had a vision for me that I couldn't see myself ... I chose NiaLena as my legal advocate because of her abilities and reputation and credentials, but little did I know that she would speak into my life things I didn't even believe of myself and convey to me a message of hope and belief in me and in who I can become. In the words of Ara Parseghian, Notre Dame's football coach, ‘A good coach will make his players see what they can be rather than what they are.’"
Retained to represent a high-ranking federal government official in one of the bureaus of the U.S. Department of Justice as well as a Washington D.C. senior executive of a Fortune 500 financial company and a New York Arab-American, NiaLena has been described by the Pulitzer Prize-winning Philadelphia Daily News as a "deliberate," "sincere," "extremely thorough," and "tireless advocate" with "courtroom poise" and by one of the most respected and recognized crime reporters in the country, George Anastasia, in The Last Gangster as "no-nonsense."
(1) US Supreme Court
(2) 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals
(3) US District Court for the Eastern District of PA
(4) Pennsylvania Bar
(5) Massachusetts Bar
Boston University School of Law (Juris Doctor, May 1993) -- Honors: (1) Commencement Award (BNA Law Student Award); (2) American Jurisprudence Award (Criminal Trial Practice); (3) Edward F. Hennessey Scholar; (4) Commencement Speaker to the Faculty
The Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania (Bachelor of Science degree in Economics; May 1988; graduated cum laude; dual major in Multinational Management and Marketing)
Professional Associations & Memberships
(1) Federal Criminal Bar for the Eastern District of PA
(2) Association of Federal Defense Attorneys (AFDA)
(3) Philadelphia Criminal Justice Section
(4) Pennsylvania Bar Association
(5) Pennsylvania Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (PACDL)
(6) National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (NACDL)
(7) The National Trial Lawyers (membership by invitation only)
(8) The National Trial Lawyers, Criminal Trial Lawyers' Association (membership by invitation only)
(9) The College of Physicians of Philadelphia; Section on Medicine, Ethics & the Law (membership by invitation only)
Honors and Awards
Only Criminal Defense Lawyer Ever Featured on the "Super Lawyers" Cover in Philadelphia Magazine
Featured on Cover of 2013 "Super Lawyers" Supplement, "Philadelphia Magazine"
Spotlighted in Feature Article Entitled "Fierce" (PA Super Lawyers, 2013)
Honored in 2014 and 2013 as a "Top Rated Lawyer in Federal and White Collar - Criminal Defense” by American Lawyer Media and Martindale-Hubbell
Recognized by Peers as “Pennsylvania Super Lawyer” in Criminal Defense; Philadelphia Magazine; Law & Politics Magazine; 2008-2009, 2011-2014
Honored by Avvo with the "Clients' Choice" Award for "Federal Crime"
Honored by Avvo with the "Clients' Choice" Award for "White Collar Crime"
Superb rating (10.0 out of 10) by Avvo.com in 2009-2014
Honored among "Top 100 Trial Lawyers" in 2012 and 2013 and 2014 (membership obtained by special invitation from The National Trial Lawyers and extended only to those "Top 100" in every state who exemplify superior qualifications of leadership, reputation, influence, stature & profile as trial lawyers)
Honored by the American Society of Legal Advocates as one of the "Top 100 Criminal Defense Lawyers" in Pennsylvania for 2013 and 2014, where membership is extended to only the top 2% of lawyers "who combine stellar legal credentials with proven commitment to community engagement, leadership, and the highest professional standards"
"Client Distinction Award" by Martindale-Hubbell®; 2013
AV® Preeminent™ 5.0 out of 5 Peer Review Rated; Martindale-Hubbell; 2003-2014
Spotlighted among the “Top Rated Lawyers in Criminal Defense: White Collar” in the October 2012 issues of both Corporate Counsel and The American Lawyer which have nationwide distribution, including Capitol Hill and Member’s Offices at the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives
Honored as 2011 and 2012 Global Awards Winner -- "PA Criminal Defense & White Collar Crime Attorney of the Year" by Corporate INTL Magazine
Selected as the only “Criminal Defense Attorney of the Year - Pennsylvania” recipient of both the Lawyers World Leading Lawyer Award as well as the Lawyers World Law Award; 2012
Selected as "Top Northeast Lawyer" by Avvo
Recognized as a Preeminent Lawyer in America by Martindale-Hubbell®
Only law firm in Pennsylvania to win the Corporate INTL Magazine 2010 Legal Award in "Criminal Law" and "White Collar Crime"
Recognized among the most elite women in the legal industry through her inclusion in the Martindale-Hubbell® Bar Register of Preeminent Women Lawyers™
Profiled among "Influential Philadelphia Area Lawyers"; SuperLawyers, Philadelphia Magazine; 2009
Recognized by Peers as "Pennsylvania Rising Star Super Lawyer" in Criminal Defense; Philadelphia Magazine; Law & Politics Magazine; 2005-2006
Spoltlight: Closing Argument in U.S. v. Merlino; Center For Criminal Justice Advocacy; 2003
Who's Who In American Law