William R. Galeota Jr., 50, a partner in the Washington law firm of Shea and Gardner, died May 31 in a boating accident in Delaware Bay. A spokesman for the Delaware Division of Fish and Wildlife said he drowned after falling from his boat. He lived in McLean.

Mr. Galeota joined Shea and Gardner in the late 1970s. In the course of his career there, he worked on a variety of asbestos cases and other corporate matters, and he was known in his firm as a walking repository of knowledge on just about any question of law, fact, statute or precedent.

Away from his work, he was known in the numismatic community as a leading collector and expert on ancient coins, which he began acquiring as a schoolboy in Columbia, Mo.

He was born in Kingston, N.Y., and he graduated from Harvard College, where he was president of the Harvard Crimson student newspaper at the height of the war in Vietnam. After college, he worked for the Wall Street Journal in the early 1970s, covering the pulp and paper industry.

He later graduated from Harvard Law School, where he was an editor of the Law Review. After serving as a law clerk for Chief Judge Walter Mansfield on the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals in New York, he came to Washington and joined Shea and Gardner.

Mr. Galeota was a gifted and enthusiastic storyteller. One of his favorites involved his first meeting with his wife, Ceci, on a flight to St. Louis, during which she spilled a cup of coffee in his lap. They married not long afterward.

In addition to his wife, of McLean, survivors include a daughter, Julia Galeota of McLean; and two sisters.