Meet the marathon-running Atlanta lawyer representing rapper Young Thug

Atlanta rapper Young Thug, whose real name is Jeffery Williams, center, stands during a break in court next to his defense attorneys Keith Adams, left, and Brian Steel, right, at the courtroom of Judge Ural Glanville at the Fulton County Courthouse, Friday, March 22, 2024, in Atlanta. (Jason Getz /

Credit: Jason Getz

Credit: Jason Getz

Atlanta rapper Young Thug, whose real name is Jeffery Williams, center, stands during a break in court next to his defense attorneys Keith Adams, left, and Brian Steel, right, at the courtroom of Judge Ural Glanville at the Fulton County Courthouse, Friday, March 22, 2024, in Atlanta. (Jason Getz /

Young Thug’s attorney starts his days at 4:30 a.m. with a 2-mile run. Then it’s off to the gym to lift weights and swim. After court wraps, back to the pool.

Since the beginning of what has become the longest trial in the state of Georgia, Brian Steel has run six marathons. The exercise helps him think.

“I don’t wear headphones or anything. I think about my family and my life and our cases,” Steel, 59, told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “I could be looking at an issue for a month and I’m just jogging and it’s so clear to me. I can’t believe I didn’t see it before.”

When training for a marathon, he runs up to 25 miles on weekends.

Brian Steel runs the Thanksgiving Day half marathon in Atlanta.

Credit: Brian Steel

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Credit: Brian Steel

In his 33 years as a criminal defense attorney, Steel has represented judges, district attorneys, FBI agents, lawyers, medical doctors and professional athletes. He’s also helped many battered women, juvenile defendants and those who can’t afford counsel.

“When people call me to ask for help, I’m honored,” he said. “I find it the greatest privilege to help people in need.”

Brian Steel, defense attorney for rapper Jeffery Williams, known professionally as Young Thug, argues a motion to disqualify lead prosecutor Adriane Love from the YSL case on Thursday, April 4, 2024.

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The Grammy-winning Young Thug is among Steel’s many high-profile clients.

When former Glynn County District Attorney Jackie Johnson was indicted, accused of interfering with the investigation into Ahmaud Arbery’s murder, she turned to Steel. Johnson’s prosecution has been put on hold while Steel is tied up with the YSL trial.

In April 2023, Steel got former Los Angeles Lakers player and Atlanta native Javaris Crittenton out of jail. The basketball star, who also played for Georgia Tech, spent 10 years in custody following a woman’s shooting death. Sentenced in Fulton County to 23 years in jail, Crittenton was released early after demonstrating he’d learned from his mistakes.

“He’s trying to get people motivated, especially children, to live a lawful life,” Steel said.

In the Waffle House sex tape scandal, Steel secured an acquittal for attorney David Cohen, who was accused of advising his then-client, housekeeper Mye Brindle, to make a video of a sexual encounter with restaurant chain chairman Joe Rogers Jr.

Steel successfully represented former DeKalb County Superior Court Judge Cynthia Becker after she was accused of lying to state officials and trying to obstruct an investigation into her handling of a case. He also helped former Gwinnett County Superior Court Judge Kathryn Schrader avoid conviction on computer hacking charges, following years of litigation including a mistrial.

Steel has represented Young Thug, whose real name is Jeffery Williams, for a decade. He said he keeps his caseload small and chooses cases based on the issues and the defendant involved.

“I’ve never been motivated by money,” he said.

Atlanta rapper Young Thug speaks with defense attorney Brian Steel during his ongoing gang and racketeering trial at Fulton County Courthouse on Tuesday, Jan. 2, 2024. (Natrice Miller/

Credit: Natrice Miller/AJC

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Credit: Natrice Miller/AJC

Steel grew up in Queens, New York. He contemplated a career on Wall Street before deciding to become an attorney, having completed an undergraduate business degree at the University of Michigan. A tour of the stock exchange trading floor, where people were smoking cigarettes, screaming and pushing one another, convinced him to go instead to the Fordham University School of Law in Manhattan.

In his third year of law school, Steel was accepted into New York University’s master of laws program and planned to become a tax attorney. He was also invited by a litigation teacher to work on the murder case against Michael Quartararo, who at 13 was charged as an adult with shoving six stones down his classmate’s throat.

Steel sat at the defense counsel’s table during Quartararo’s retrial, convinced he was innocent. The guilty verdict was “crushing,” Steel said. He gave up a lucrative job at PricewaterhouseCoopers and his place at NYU to become a public defender in Fulton County, having heard good things about Atlanta from a friend working at Alston & Bird.

“I just couldn’t get him off my mind,” Steel said of Quartararo. “For the first time I understood the power of the government to incarcerate people.”

Steel worked for a couple of years as a public defender before teaming up with criminal defense attorney David Wolfe. Since 1997, he’s been a partner at his own law firm alongside his wife, Colette Resnik Steel, who is also a criminal defense lawyer. She is “the most wonderful, ethical, kind, hardworking, intelligent, fun,” person, Steel said.

In Cherokee County, Steel convinced an all-white jury to acquit a young Black man accused of murdering an unarmed mechanic who had repeatedly called him “boy” during an altercation. Alexander Walkine claimed he fatally shot 43-year-old Doug Eriquezzo in self-defense.

In another Cherokee County case, Steel proved that murder suspect Roberto Rocha was out of the country during the brutal slaying of 15-year-old Katie Hamlin, after Rocha had confessed to the crime during an interrogation by law enforcement officers. Rocha, who was mentally impaired, faced the death penalty. He spent more than a year in jail before the case against him was dismissed.

Steel got a retrial and acquittal for murder suspect Jack Dinning, who had been convicted of killing and robbing wheelchair-bound millionaire Eric Rider and his mother in their Rabun County home. Steel revealed that three Florida drug dealers were secretly promised immunity by the Rabun County sheriff in exchange for their testimony against Dinning at the first trial.

Brian Steel, attorney for former Atlanta Purchasing Director Adam Smith, speaks to photographers and journalists outside the Richard B. Russell Federal Building in Atlanta after Smith's sentencing on Jan. 16, 2018. CHRIS HUNT / SPECIAL

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Criminal defense attorney and former prosecutor Suri Chadha Jimenez, who has worked both alongside and against Steel, said district attorneys “put all hands on deck” when they learn Steel is representing a defendant.

Steel is known not only for winning tough cases in court, but also for his unwavering politeness and professionalism, several attorneys told the AJC.

“Everybody loves him,” Chadha Jimenez said. “He will destroy you in court, always like a gentleman.”

Steel’s even-tempered and by-the-book approach made it all the more shocking when he was held in contempt and sentenced to 20 days in jail – the maximum possible punishment – by the judge overseeing the ongoing gang and racketeering trial against Young Thug and his alleged associates. Many Atlanta lawyers expressed outrage at Judge Ural Glanville’s ruling, which was quickly put on hold by the Georgia Supreme Court pending Steel’s appeal.

The day Steel refused to reveal how he learned of Glanville’s private meeting with prosecutors and a key state witness, he referred to Glanville’s court as “this honorable court, or let me rephrase that, this court.”

“That’s the most unprofessional thing I’ve ever seen Brian Steel do and it wouldn’t make anybody else’s top 100,” said appellate attorney Andrew Fleischman. “Brian Steel is the nicest guy.”

Steel had been held in contempt once before, by a Gwinnett County judge who wanted Steel’s client to face trial on 11 charges, including seven that had been dismissed. Steel argued the trial could only proceed on the four remaining counts. He was being booked into jail when he was released on an order of the Georgia Court of Appeals, which found in his favor.

Steel said he has no remorse about his work, though he’s not proud of how many family dinners he missed while his three children, Jake, Bari and Alisa, were growing up.

“I was always working on something, but I just felt like if I took the obligation that’s what I needed to do,” he said. “My clients mean everything to me.”