For nearly two decades Mike Fingerman has been perhaps the leading independent practitioner of matrimonial law in Philadelphia, and increasingly one of the field's most influential forces. With a first-rate intellect, a judicious approach and an easy-going, almost low-key manner, the 52-year-old Cheltenham, Pa., native occupies a unique position - he is both a successful attorney, almost entirely now focusing on large-asset, high-stakes cases, and he is the leading independent arbitrator of major cases in the region. It's not a role that Fingerman himself makes a lot of; indeed, professional peers say he "speaks softly and carries a big stick." Fingerman possesses a soloist's competitiveness that emerges in original ways; in his freshman year he was Emory University's pocket-billiards champion, for starters. After graduating from Villanova law school he worked in Montgomery County for a renowned name in divorce law - Sandra Newman, who now sits on the State Supreme Court - which primed him for the burgeoning field (the state's equitable-distribution statutes were passed in 1980) and where he honed his litigation skills -- "I was in court five times a week." He then joined Pepper Hamilton, then the second-largest firm in the city. Ultimately, though, it was his desire to work directly with people that made him focus on matrimonial law. He launched his own practice in the early 80s, and has singlehandedly continued to build his reputation; his primary resource being his legal and analytical skills. With little pretense, Fingerman brings a workmanlike approach to the 18-inch stack of documents - tax returns, business valuations, experts' analyses - that are at the center of virtually every case he handles these days. Cheerfully, he says today, "I got into matrimonial law to work with people and not with papers and documents - and now I spend a lot of my time reviewing documents." He estimates that about a quarter of his work is on arbitration cases; Fingerman's decisions in them are binding "just like the court, only it cannot be appealed." Given the legal community's respect for Fingerman's judgment and arbitration skills, he maintains a large caseload, and a vigorous, efficient pace. ("I'm in early.") He has a small and capable staff, but Fingerman is increasingly selective and refers away many potential cases that come to him. Away from work he enjoys his family, travel and keeping up with his son's successful hobby: His 16-year-old is a small-bore caliber rifle champion, and Dad enjoys the sport as well ("I know it's little odd, a liberal Jewish guy who shoots guns"). He lives in Fort Washington, Pa.