Biglaw, Carter Phillips, Litigators, Partner Issues, SCOTUS, Supreme Court

Carter Phillips To Take the Reins at Sidley Austin

Carter Phillips

On Sunday, Sidley Austin announced a regime change at the firm. Over the next year, veteran Supreme Court litigator Carter Phillips will become co-chair and eventually chair of the firm’s executive committee. In 2013 he will replace the current chair, Thomas Cole.

Currently, Phillips is managing partner of Sidley’s Washington D.C. office. He recently argued his 76th case in front of the Supreme Court. I had the opportunity to ask him about the Obamacare arguments last month.

Keep reading to learn more about the transition and to find out what it takes for an accomplished practicing attorney to take on a crucial business role…

The Blog of the Legal Times has the skinny:

Phillips, who has been managing partner in the firm’s 275-lawyer Washington office for 17 years, will succeed Thomas Cole, who turns 65 next year. Cole and Phillips will serve as co-chairs of the firm for a one-year transitional period. The executive committee exercises general authority over the policies and business of the firm, which has approximately 1,700 lawyers nationwide. Sidley is based in Chicago.

In a firm statement issued Sunday, Phillips said he intended to remain in D.C. and “continue to maintain an acitve practice.” Phillips said he was honored to be appointed to the new role, and credited Cole and management committee chair Chuck Douglas for transforming Sidley into “a law firm with a powerful global footprint while retaining a collaborative and supportive culture that is the envy of most professional organizations.”

Phillips, who is 59, argued his 76th case in front of the Supreme Court earlier this month. He has argued more cases in front of SCOTUS than any other lawyer in private practice.

He explained the difficulties — or more accurately, the lack thereof — of running the Chicago-based firm from Washington, D.C.:

In an interview this morning, Phillips, 59, said it is not that unusual for a law firm to be headed by a partner who is not based in its hometown. “‘Headquarters’ means less than it used to,” said Phillips, adding that “it’s much easier with technology” to lead a firm from elsewhere. A few steps away from his office on K Street N.W., camera technology is available that enables him to videoconference with Sidley offices around the world. “For better or worse, the sun never sets on Sidley,” Phillips said. Phillips also owns a condo in Chicago and travels there not only for firm business but to teach at Northwestern University Law School’s Supreme Court clinic.

I’m a big fan of Phillips. He and his daughter — Jessica Phillips, an associate at Latham & Watkins (and former SCOTUS clerk, like her father) — are my fellow Northwestern Wildcats. And Carter Phillips is friendly on the phone and generous with his valuable time.

And his time is about to become even more valuable, as he continues balancing his Supreme Court practice with running the firm:

Today, Phillips said he expects to continue his current pace of Supreme Court arguments, which usually works out to four or more cases per term. Phillips’s new duties might mean fewer arguments at the appeals court level, he said, but he does not anticipate major changes in his practice, in part because he has already been on the management committee for years. “I guess I’ve figured out how to juggle.”

Phillips emailed us with a bit more detail about his juggling strategies. And he kind of made me want to apply for a job at Sidley…

I probably do not get as much sleep as I should, which is only partly humorous. The more serious reasons are: 1) there is no practice in the firm or country that is stronger or deeper than Sidley’s appellate practice. So there is a lot of support that makes my practicing life much easier. 2) on the management side, the firm has tremendous administrative support both in DC and firmwide that simplifies all issues and makes the decision-making process much more efficient. 3) partners at this firm (and indeed everyone in the firm) are extremely collegial and collaborative and a lot of the management problems that make life miserable in other firms do not arise at Sidley. Finally: my personality lends itself to trying to make the best decision I can or present the best argument I can and then move on and not stew about it. That saves brain cells and time.

It sounds like the future of Sidley Austin is in good hands. All of us here at ATL give our congratulations to Mr. Phillips and wish him the best of luck with the new job.

Carter Phillips to Lead Sidley Austin [Blog of the Legal Times]
Carter G. Phillips Selected as Co-Chair of Sidley’s Executive Committee [Sidley Austin]

Earlier: ATL Interview: Carter Phillips Talks About the Obamacare Arguments

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