|Headquarters||One South Dearborn|
Chicago, Illinois, United States
|No. of offices||20 Worldwide |
|No. of attorneys||2,000|
|Major practice areas||General practice|
|Revenue||2.46 billion USD (2020)|
John Leverett Thompson
|Company type||Limited liability partnership|
Sidley Austin LLP, is an international law firm, employing approximately 2,000 lawyers in 20 offices worldwide. The firm's headquarters is at One South Dearborn in Chicago's Loop. The firm specializes in a variety of areas in both litigation and corporate practices.
Origins in Chicago
The firm that was to become Sidley Austin was formed in Chicago in 1866 by Norman Williams and John Leverett Thompson as the partnership of Williams & Thompson. Among the firm's first clients were the Pullman Company, the manufacturer of specialty sleeping railway cars, and former first lady Mary Todd Lincoln, then the widow of President Abraham Lincoln. Other early clients included Western Union Telegraph Company, which moved its Midwest headquarters from Cleveland to Chicago in 1869. After the Great Chicago Fire of 1871, the firm represented numerous insurance companies including Equitable Life Assurance Society. In 1892, William Pratt Sidley joined the firm after having earned an LLB from Union College of Law and a M.A. from Harvard Law School. By 1913, the firm's name was changed to Holt, Cutting & Sidley, although Sidley would be the guiding personality for the Chicago firm through the 20th century. Three years later—the firm then fifty years old—had four partners, four clerks (associates), and ten staff employees with gross income of around $100,000 (roughly $1.9 million in 2008 dollars).
Buffeted by the Great Depression, the firm experienced a dramatic fall in revenues until the New Deal in the 1930s reinvigorated the capital markets. The firm represented Halsey, Stuart & Co., a Chicago-based underwriter in one of the first transactions under the Securities Act of 1933. In 1944, the name was changed to Sidley, Austin, Burgess & Harper and shortened to Sidley & Austin in 1967.
Towards a national firm
After the Second World War, Sidley & Austin began expanding beyond its Chicago roots as many of its clients entered new markets. In 1963, its Washington, D.C. branch was established which would soon become an important player in that city's legal market through its representation of the American Medical Association, American Bar Association and the International Minerals & Chemical Corporation. The firm developed strengths in antitrust and the representation of clients in front of the Federal Trade Commission.
Sidley & Austin was among several law firms caught up in the Savings & Loan Crisis and paid $7.5 million to settle legal malpractice claims stemming from its representation of the Lincoln Savings and Loan Association. Such legal work was profiled in the book by Ralph Nader and Wesley J. Smith, No Contest: Corporate Lawyers and the Perversion of Justice in America.
Expansion and consolidation
Sidley & Austin expanded significantly in the 1970s and 1980s. In 1972, the firm merged with the 50 lawyers of Chicago firm Leibman, Williams, Bennett, Baird & Minow. Additional offices were then established in London, Los Angeles, Singapore and New York.
In 2001, the firm merged with Brown & Wood, a New York-based law firm established in 1914 with 400 attorneys and additional domestic offices in Washington, D.C., San Francisco and Los Angeles and overseas branches in London, Beijing and Hong Kong (where it practiced English law in addition to U.S. law). Brown & Wood was known for its securities, structured finance and securitization practices. The firm's well-regarded publication, Accessing the U.S. Capital Markets: An Introduction to United States Securities Law, continues to be updated annually today. Brown & Wood had offices in the World Trade Center. The firm was known as Sidley Austin Brown & Wood until the name was rebranded as Sidley Austin in 2006.
Appellate Practice Group
In 1985, U.S. Solicitor General Rex E. Lee founded Sidley Austin's Appellate Practice Group to represent clients in all appellate courts, including the United States Supreme Court, the federal courts of appeals, and state appellate and supreme courts. Following Lee's death, the group was led by Carter Phillips, who has argued more cases before the Supreme Court than any lawyer in private practice and who now chairs the firm's executive committee. The current co-chairs of the practice group are former Acting Attorney General Peter Keisler and former Principal Deputy Associate Attorney General Joseph Guerra.
The Appellate Group has argued several landmark cases before the Supreme Court including U.S. Term Limits, Inc. v. Thornton (constitutionality of state-imposed term limits on members of Congress), Missouri v. Jenkins (proper role of federal courts in imposing desegregation remedies), and United States v. Lopez (Commerce Clause challenge to a federal statute prohibiting the possession of firearms within 1,000 feet of a school). Directly or indirectly, Sidley Austin plays a role in 40 percent of the cases the Supreme Court hears every term. Over the last 30 years, its lawyers have argued 115 high court cases.
Rankings and recognition
Sidley Austin is currently the eleventh-largest U.S.-based corporate law firm, with approximately 2,000 lawyers and annual revenues of more than two billion dollars. The firm is one of the highest-paying companies in the U.S. (with a base salary of $205,000 for first year associates and $365,000 for eighth year associates; equity partners saw a profit per partner of more than $3.0 million in 2020).  Sidley currently maintains offices in 20 cities worldwide, with the most recent addition being Munich in 2016.
Sidley has received the most First-Tier National Rankings a total of eight times since the inception of the U.S. News & World Report Best Law Firms Survey in 2010. The 2020 U.S. News Survey also named Sidley as the "Law Firm of the Year" in FDA Law and Securities Litigation. As of 2019, it was the eighth largest law firm in the world (and sixth in the US) by revenue.
The firm frequently appears at the top of various industry rankings. In 2020, the BTI Consulting Group named Sidley to its BTI Client Service A-Team—one of only three law firms to rank in BTI's Client Service Top 30 for 19 consecutive years. The firm earned the top spot in Asset-Backed Alert’s 2019 league tables for most active underwriter counsel in U.S. asset- and mortgage-backed securitization transactions. Other honors include the American Bar Association's 2019 Champions for Disability Inclusion in the Legal Profession Award, conferred in recognition of the firm's measurable progress in recruiting, retaining, and advancing to leadership lawyers with disabilities, and being named a 2019 “Litigation Department of the Year” finalist by The American Lawyer.
The firm is particularly known for its securities practice and its international trade practice, both of which have consistently ranked first in the respective specialty rankings of Chambers and Partners. The trade group currently represents the Airbus/European Communities side in the ongoing WTO dispute with Boeing/US. The group was named a 2019 International Trade Group of the Year by Law360 and has been honored as "Law Firm of the Year" in Trade & Customs by Who's Who Legal for 15 consecutive years. Its appellate and US Supreme Court practice is also particularly well known and has been featured in USA Today, BusinessWeek, the American Lawyer, the Legal Times, and the National Law Journal.
In 2020, Sidley was named “Firm of the Year” in Capital Markets (Overseas); Corporate Compliance; Healthcare, Pharma and Life Sciences; and Real Estate and REIT by China Business Law Journal. In 2018, Sidley was named Competition & Regulatory Team of the Year at The Lawyer Awards in London.
Notable people and alumni
- Joseph Chan, Chief Legal Officer of Yum China Holdings, Inc.
- James M. Cole, current partner at the firm; former Deputy Attorney General of the United States and author of the Cole Memorandum
- Joseph D. Kearney, Dean of Marquette University Law School
- Mike Lee, current United States Senator from Utah
- Rex E. Lee, former Solicitor General of the United States and the 10th President of Brigham Young University
- William R. Levi, current partner at the firm; former Chief of Staff and Senior Counselor at the United States Department of Justice
- Chris Lu, former United States Deputy Secretary of Labor and current nominee of President Joe Biden to serve as U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations for Management and Reform
- Victor Marrero, Senior United States District Judge of the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York
- Barack Obama, former President of the United States (summer associate in the firm's Chicago office)
- Michelle Obama, former First Lady of the United States
- Peter Roskam, current partner at the firm; former U.S. Representative for Illinois's 6th congressional district
- Andy Strenio, former member of the Federal Trade Commission
- David S. Tatel, United States Circuit Judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit
- John D. Zeglis, former Chief Executive Officer of AT&T Wireless
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