For nearly three decades Gerry Hanlon has been one of Morris County, N.J.,'s leading criminal defense attorneys, effectively handling scores of cases every year. Peers say he is a diligent and pragmatic attorney who takes an almost fatherly responsibility for his clients, some of them young people facing run-ins with the law for the first time. That paternal role comes naturally to the cheerful former high-school football coach, who, by his own admission, was something of a late bloomer. After graduating from Syracuse University, Hanlon enrolled in - and later withdrew from - Syracuse Law School, not yet ready for the experience and eager to get out of his hometown. He enlisted in the Marines, and later trained new officers at Officer Candidate School - "You know the guy who'd say, "Drop and give me 5 push-ups"? That was me." By his mid 20s, married and soon a father, Hanlon was coaching a 6-man football team at Pebble Hill School in Syracuse; the team won a league championship. Hanlon took a job as an administrator at Cornell University, and, transferred to the Army Reserves, was briefly posted at Sea Girt, N.J., at the time enrolling at Rutgers Law School - "I was a much better student the second time around" - Hanlon credits not only greater maturity but a nurturing spouse: "My wife put me through law school, no exaggeration." Upon graduating he took an appellate court clerkship, giving Hanlon his first taste of the courtroom; "I'd find that I had a knack for it, and I was good at it." He joined a small Morristown firm, and within four years had launched his own practice (His longtime partner, Robert Dunn, focuses on matrimonial and criminal, among others). "Our first office was a porch." Many of his early cases were from the public-defenders office. The soft-spoken Hanlon in many respects built his career and his reputation by "being there for the community," and his practice grew by handling a range of cases - drug-related, sex-abuse, organized crime ("They're not as glamorous as many might think"), and, increasingly, white-collar cases such as fraud and embezzlement. Perhaps his highest profile case was the defense of a mentally unstable woman who murdered her parents - she was acquitted by reason of insanity ("It was a fairly straightforward case"). Today, at age 60 (he could pass for ten years younger), Hanlon is an enthusiastic runner and still keeps roots upstate, where he has a summer home on the Finger Lakes. He and his wife Rose Ann have two grown children; their daughter is a physician in Rochester, N.Y., and their son attends Boston College. "There was a lot of fate involved in the paths I took - but you know what? I wouldn't trade any of it for all the tea in China."