Biglaw, Conrad Black, George Ryan

Jim Thompson’s Winston & Strawn Departure: What’s Going on Here?

James Thompson Illinois governor Above the Law blog.JPG
Former Illinois Governor Jim Thompson just resigned as chairman of Chicago legal powerhouse Winston & Strawn, after 13 years at the helm. Here’s what he had to say about his departure:

Thompson, 70, described the move as a natural transfer of power to younger lawyers. He noted that the firm had amended its rules twice so he could remain chairman beyond the mandatory retirement age of 65.

“I was supposed to step down as chairman five years ago,” Thompson said. “It’s time for the next generation — which is exactly what I said when I stepped down as governor.”

But perhaps there’s more to this than meets the eye. Thompson was brought in as a rainmaker — and rewarded with a salary in excess of $1 million. But then things went south:

In recent years Thompson’s patina as a rainmaker lost a bit of shine. As a board member of Hollinger International, Conrad Black’s former publishing empire, Thompson faced lawsuits and a Wells Notice from the SEC. He left the board earlier this year, but an unnamed source reportedly said to the Sun-Times: “He became an issue.”

He also came under some criticism — from both inside and outside his firm — for Winston & Strawn’s pro-bono defense of former Illinois governor George Ryan, who was indicted on corruption charges. The firm reportedly spent an estimated $20 million on Ryan’s defense.

The case didn’t end well: Ryan was convicted, and The American Lawyer refused to count the thousands of hours spent on the case as “pro bono” work. Wow — that’s one expensive lapse of judgment.
If you have any inside dirt you’d like to share about L’Affaire Thompson, email us.
Thompson resigns as law firm chief [Chicago Sun-Times via WSJ Law Blog]

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