Ask them about the best-known lawyer who has worked at Philadelphia's biggest law firm, and his ex-colleagues at Morgan, Lewis & Bockius L.L.P. stop returning phone calls. "Our firm policy is not to discuss former partners," spokesman Elliot J. Frieder told me.

Actions speak louder: Lawyers at Morgan Lewis keep sending money to their ex-partner, Rafael E. "Ted" Cruz.

Morgan Lewis employees form the second-largest donor group to the Texas Republican's U.S. Senate and presidential campaign committees. More than three dozen gave Cruz $136,000 through the end of last year, says the Center for Responsive Politics.

That's more than at Goldman Sachs, where Cruz's wife, Heidi, works, or the Wall Street law firms Sullivan & Cromwell and Jones Day, where partners have also stepped up for Cruz - though it's less than his biggest contributors, the bankers at Woodforest National Bank, whose branches are in Walmart stores. (It's also a lot less than the millions that energy, property, and hedge-fund moguls have given to pro-Cruz campaigns separate from the candidate's own.)

At Morgan Lewis, Cruz was much more than a letterhead partner, unlike those old-time politicians who parked themselves in big-city legal offices collecting checks between public payroll gigs.

Cruz had a real job: He led Morgan Lewis's national appellate and Supreme Court practice.

He was hired by Morgan Lewis in 2008 after six years as Texas state solicitor, a job in which he appeared before the U.S. Supreme Court defending Texas state positions on criminal penalties and medical spending.

At Morgan Lewis, Cruz defended drugmakers against allegations of overcharging and wrongful firing, a Chinese tire company against claims of theft of U.S. intellectual property, and New Mexico residents against two nursing homes seeking to void $50 million-plus damage judgments, among other cases.

He earned his million-dollar-plus yearly pay arguing both corporate and plaintiff positions, whatever the client was paying for, as top corporate lawyers do. He left the firm when he was elected after an insurgent campaign to the U.S. Senate in 2013.

In campaign speeches, Cruz also has highlighted his pro-bono work against gun control and in favor of keeping Christian crosses and the Ten Commandments on public property.

"He has some really incredible legal credentials, and a truly stellar legal career," says John Soroko, chairman at another Philadelphia corporate law firm, Duane Morris, and a high-ticket Republican donor.

Soroko and Cruz were on the same side of a sprawling 1990s case, during Cruz's first stint as a private-sector lawyer after graduating with honors from Princeton and Harvard Law and clerking for Supreme Court Justice William Rehnquist and in the Fourth Circuit federal appeals court.

Their client was prosaic: hundreds of Meineke muffler-shop franchise operators, who challenged the company's use of their advertising fees. Duane Morris represented the franchisees and won a fat initial settlement in federal court in North Carolina.

To reverse that award on appeal, Meineke hired Kenneth Starr, the former Whitewater prosecutor who dug up Bill and Hillary Clinton's Arkansas financial deals and relentlessly probed President Clinton's misbehavior with intern Monica Lewinsky.

"Starr was a formidable and politically well-connected lawyer," recalls Soroko. To "counter his influence," the franchisees' lawyers went to the well-connected Washington law firm Cooper, Carvin & Rosenthal.

Cruz, though a recent hire at Cooper Carvin, already showed "a great deal of insight into appellate law" from his clerkships, according to Soroko. "He was great to work with, had uncommonly good instincts and insights about the appellate process, knew the law very well, had a great sense of humor, and was a great team member." Alas, Starr beat them, leaving Cruz's and Duane Morris' clients to settle for an undisclosed sum.

It's a small world at this level of the law: Former Cooper partner Michael Carvin later argued Bush v. Gore before the Florida Supreme Court, and now heads the appellate practice at Jones Day. Carvin also argued challenges to the Affordable Care Act, which Cruz has promised to overthrow. (Since Chief Justice John Roberts joined Supreme Court liberals to keep Obamacare's Medicaid expansion in place, Cruz has switched from praising Roberts as a principled conservative to saying he wouldn't have appointed him.)

Cruz's critics have said he lacks business experience. Building a high-stakes appellate team - getting top lawyers to believe in your firm, convincing clients to pay them top dollar, waging cases at the highest level of the profession - might show that he can handle aspects of the nation's highest office.

But Cruz's campaign focuses not on his high-powered rational arguments, but his crude public program: his promises to "carpet bomb" terrorism away; "build a wall" against immigrants; impose a flat income tax; "abolish the IRS"; cut millions of people from Medicaid; add "a Bible-believing Christian" to the Christian-majority Supreme Court; "not make deals with Democrats"; and open a U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem.

Cruz has also said he hopes to face GOP front-runner Donald Trump, not just before voters, but on Cruz's own turf: a courtroom. "I may take the deposition myself."