At least three distinct narratives describe Michael Trope's journey to the top of California divorce law - one professional, one personal and one, well, utterly original. For starters, he's been at the center of - and prevailed in - some highly complex and high-stakes family law litigation of the last two decades. And in Los Angeles, perhaps the capital of contentious, high-profile divorce. He's done that, too, entirely on his own - no small feat also when you're the oldest child of family law legend Sorrell Trope, whose shadow Michael Trope had to wrestle with in the legal field from the start. There is finally Michael Trope's early life statement, his ultra-bold move - when he was a 21-year-old student at University of Southern California, almost on a dare, to become a sports agent.
His drive and energy earned him respect and celebrity in the mid-'70s and early '80s as the preeminent football agent in the United States; he represented the recipients of 7 Heisman Trophies [one of which was his first client] and more than 100 NFL players. His Wikipedia page makes much of his years as America's youngest-ever player rep, and less of his legal work in precedent-setting cases in family law, but which in many ways is no less remarkable. Yet for all of his years on big stages, today Trope - he's in his early 60s now - remains low-key and lawyerly, still intense but coolly focused on facts, details - and outcomes. It's a competitive fire he shares of course with his father, who's now in his late 80s and continuing to practice (see separate Ten Leaders profile). The younger Trope recalls growing up "not so much with law talk at the dinner table, but finding Cary Grant sharing a drink in our living room with his lawyer."
At LA's Palisades High School Trope says he was "something of a rabble rouser who wasn't exactly studious" yet went on to major in history at USC where he graduated Magna Cum Laude in 1973. There, still an undergrad, he and his pals watched the now-famous 1971 Oklahoma-Nebraska football game in which Johnny Rodgers scampered 72 yards for a game-changing touchdown. At that moment, Trope brashly declared he'd like to represent Rodgers one day as his agent; his friends hooted with laughter. But in 1972 Trope summoned his unique moxie, hopped a plane to Lincoln, Neb., and sauntered onto a Cornhuskers practice field where he convinced Rodgers to talk to him; and to ultimately retain him after the football season. "Johnny and I were the same age and we hit it off."
In the ensuing decade Trope was front and center in the world of football agent business, during which time he represented more first-round NFL draft choices than any other agent in the country; including a record-breaking 33 NFL players drafted in the first three rounds of the NFL draft in 1979, and the first overall picks in the 1977 and 1978 NFL drafts. He represented Lawrence Taylor, in unwinding a contract he signed with Donald Trump's USFL New Jersey Generals; to clear the way for a then-record-breaking multi-million dollar deal with the New York Giants in 1984. Many of Michael Trope's clients, all stars of their time, from Earl Campbell to Tony Dorsett to Archie Griffin to Taylor, landed record-setting deals. Still, "within a few years I realized that the sports agent world wasn't the life for me." Thus Trope "chipped away" at law school at night; he wound up defending a former sports agent who'd been indicted on criminal charges, and spent a year in the Public Defender's Office.
From the start, Trope's practice focused on the courtroom; will contests in Probate Court, criminal defense; breach of contract cases; and other tort actions. Over the last two decades his practice has evolved into something of a hybrid of family law litigation and related civil court cases. In 1996, Trope obtained a jury verdict for a client for over a million dollars for the emotional distress his ex-wife caused him at a child custody exchange. Trope obtained another jury verdict for a client who sued her husband for sexual battery. Among his high-profile clients: Dennis Quaid and Larry Birkhead, one time partner of Anna Nicole Smith. In 2010, Trope obtained a settlement for client Lisa Bonder Kerkorian, former wife of Las Vegas hotel magnate Kirk Kerkorian, that included $10.25 million in retroactive child support and $100,000 in monthly future child support-for one child. It is regarded as the largest child support order for one child in state history. More recently, in 2013, Trope represented the producer/director of the Judge Judy Show whose wife sued him for domestic abuse and was requesting $3 million in damages. Trope obtained a defense verdict for his client, who was found not liable. In the last decade, Trope has handled many difficult child custody disputes.
Trope has been practicing law for over 25 years. In 1996, Trope partnered up with Patrick DeCarolis, Jr.; an accomplished family law trial lawyer. Both Trope and DeCarolis joined Sorrell Trope's firm, Trope and Trope, from 2001 through 2006. On January 2, 2007, Michael and Patrick formed Trope & DeCarolis, LLP where they continue with their law practice. Ten years ago Trope authored a biography of a hero of sorts; the early 20th century LA trial lawyer Earl Rogers, who once represented Clarence Darrow and won 74 of 77 murder trials, including one in which he surprisingly pulled and waved an unloaded pistol in the courtroom during his closing argument. He also authored an autobiography, Necessary Roughness published almost 20 years ago. As for his first career, Trope plays down any parallels between his counsel to Heisman Trophy winners (when he was not an attorney) and his trial work today. "I learned early on to work with very smart, very talented people who were under a lot of pressure to perform well, and that's carried over, I imagine. But the fact is the law presents unique challenges - intense preparation for trial and an intellectual rigor you rarely find elsewhere. Before I became a lawyer, I always wondered if I had the chops to try a case before a jury; and on a basic level I think I've done that."