The best lawyers in America include 86 Utah attorneys working at 49 Utah law firms, according to the 1989-1990 edition of "The Best Lawyers In America," a book produced every two years by New York-based publisher Woodward/White Inc.

Heading the list of Utah firms named in the study was Salt Lake law firm Parsons, Behle & Latimer, which had 10 of its associates named in the biennial report. PB&L partner Gordon L. Roberts was named in three categories of law practice, more than any other Utah lawyer.Tied for second were Salt Lake firms Van Cott, Bagley, Cornwall & McCarthy and Watkiss & Campbell, each with eight partners or associates named in the report.

According to Steven W. Naifeh, a Harvard-trained lawyer and author of the publication along with Gregory White Smith, the ratings are the result of a yearlong poll in which tens of thousands of lawyers nationwide were asked to name the "best and the brightest" in the legal profession.

The result was the latest selection of 9,447 lawyers named Best in America, a figure that represents slightly more than 1 percent of the nation's 715,000 attorneys.

The book - which sells for a hefty $89 and is available only by direct order from the publisher - is due out next month, but Woodward/-White made an advance copy of the Utah list available to the Deseret News.

Naifeh - who, along with Smith, also wrote the controversial "Mormon Murders," a novel detailing the Mark Hofmann bombing/forgery case - said the listing is recognized both inside and outside the legal community as "the definitive ranking" of the nation's lawyers and inclusion, he said, is regarded as a "considerable honor" within the legal profession.

"What makes our survey so credible," said Naifeh, "and the reason it is held in such high regard, is that we have the evaluating done by other lawyers. Someone who practices the same kind of law in the same area is uniquely well situated to assess another lawyer's competence."

Citing example's of the book's credibility, Woodward/White said Massachusetts and Minnesota, among other states, have admitted into evidence an attorney's listing in that publication as proof of high professional ability. Lawyers looking for ways to advertise "with dignity," have begun using the book, and others, running for judgeships and other elective offices, feature their listing in campaign ads.

Getting on the list, however, is one thing. Staying on is another.

"(Our) purpose is not to memorialize reputations," said Naifeh. "It is primarily a referral list and, therefore, people come and go for a variety of reasons."

Those who have disappeared since the last list was published two years ago include well-known San Francisco attorney E. Robert Wallach. And Los Angeles "palimony" lawyer Marvin Michelson has never made the list. Personal injury lawyer Melvin Belli was on the list four years ago but has since been dropped.

The book also cites trends in the legal profession. In past years, many corporate lawyers who made the list cited antitrust work as their specialty. After eight years of Reaganomics, most have now turned their attention to mergers and acquisitions.

The book lists lawyers in 16 categories: family law, corporate law, business litigation, appellate law, tax law, employee benefits law, real estate law, personal injury litigation, trusts and estates, bankruptcy law, labor law, employment law, criminal defense, maritime law, natural resources and environmental law and entertainment law.