April 30, 2012
Crain's Chicago Business
Washington lawyer takes leadership role at Chicago's Sidley Austin
By: Steven R. Strahler
For the first time, 146-year-old law firm Sidley Austin LLP will have a top leader who is not based in Chicago.
Carter Phillips, 59, managing partner of its Washington, D.C., office for the past 17 years, was named co-chairman of the executive committee, joining Thomas Cole, 63, a Chicago-based partner who has chaired the committee for 15 years.
After a year, Mr. Phillips, an appellate lawyer who plans to remain in Washington, will become chairman of the 48-member committee, the 1,750-lawyer firm's strategic directorate. Chicago-based partner Charles Douglas, 64, will continue to chair the nine-member management committee, which runs the firm day to day.
“Sidley is a national firm and it is natural that future leaders of the firm will come from outside Chicago from time to time,” said John Cashman, a legal recruiter in Chicago with Major Lindsay & Africa.
Over the last 18 months, Sidley opened offices in Palo Alto, Calif., and Houston; Mr. Phillips says he will stay the course after he takes over, anticipating changes that are more a matter of style than substance. Because he is a litigator and Mr. Cole a corporate attorney, “that invariably causes us to look at the world in some ways differently,” he said.
Mr. Phillips has argued 76 cases, including nine as a government lawyer, before the U.S. Supreme Court — more than any other active lawyer in private practice, according to Sidley. He plans to continue practicing law, he said.
Last year he represented Boeing Co. and General Dynamics Corp. when the court ruled in their favor. The issue was whether the government could maintain a claim when it invokes the state-secrets privilege to deny defendants a defense to the claim. Sidley's longstanding corporate clients in Chicago include Tribune Co., Northern Trust Corp. and CME Group Inc.
The Canton, Ohio, native has a master's degree in political science and a law degree, both from Northwestern University. In 1978-79, he clerked for Chief Justice Warren Burger.
Last year, Sidley was the eighth-largest U.S. law firm by revenue, according to American Lawyer magazine. The $1.42 billion top line was the fourth-biggest in Chicago, where Sidley was second only to Kirkland & Ellis LLP in the more closely watched categories of revenue per lawyer and profits per equity partner.
“Sidley has been very aggressive in recruiting top talent,” said Kent Zimmerman, a Chicago-based consultant for Zeughauser Group LLC in California.
In 2001, what was then Sidley & Austin merged with Wall Street firm Brown & Wood. The deal gave Sidley access to more financial clients but also exposed it to the financial meltdown and litigation involving tax shelters.
“The trajectory has been quite positive, putting aside the downturn in the economy,” Mr. Phillips said. “But we've rebounded exceptionally well.”
The merger was completed four months before Sept. 11, when Brown & Wood's World Trade Center offices were destroyed, and one employee (among some 600 on the premises) was killed.