When people leave the Chicago office of Sidley Austin, they do it in style. Remember the humorous departure memo of partner David B. Johnson, who left the firm to pursue a career as a novelist? Or the epic farewell message of associate Tyler Coulson, who left to hike across the country with his dog?

(And write a book about the experience, with a great title: By Men or By the Earth: A Corporate Lawyer Walks Out on Law, Love, and Life, and Walks Across America With His Adopted Dog (affiliate link).)

Today we have news of another lawyer leaving the Chicago office of Sidley. But this departure reads more like a mystery novel than a memoir. Let’s find out who’s leaving, even if we don’t yet know why….

Lee Smolen

Meet Lee Smolen (not to be confused with Lee Smolin, the theoretical physicist). Until recently — yesterday, we believe — Smolen was a partner in Sidley’s Chicago office, where he headed the real estate practice and served on the firm’s executive committee. (We’ve pasted his complete bio on the next page, for those of you who’d like to see it.)

This afternoon, we started to receive reports like this one: “Lee Smolen resigned late last night, effective immediately. Removed from website. Not for health reasons. No details yet on why.”

Smolen is no longer on the Sidley website; if you visit http://www.sidley.com/lee-m-smolen/, you’ll encounter a dead link. We reached out to the firm for confirmation and comment, but we have not yet heard back from them.

We also reached out to Smolen himself, via his Sidley email address. We received this auto-reply, confirming he’s no longer there:

Lee Smolen is no longer with the firm. If you are emailing about a matter being handled by the firm, please contact Anthony Aiello or any other partner involved in the matter.

If this is a personal matter, Lee can be reached at [redacted] or [redacted].

We reached out to Lee Smolen at the personal email address provided in the auto-response. We have not yet heard back from him.

Smolen did not explain his departure internally, according to one of our sources:

No farewell email that I am aware or that has been forwarded to my attention…. [people at Sidley] are freaking out. Much fretting…. They apparently herded the real estate group into a conference room in Chicago this morning and made the announcement.

It seems we have a partner mystery departure on our hands. Mysterious partner departures are always intriguing. Sometimes the mysteries are solved — e.g., Michael Michetti leaving Cahill Gordon, Ted Freedman leaving Kirkland & Ellis, John O’Brien and Carlos Spinelli-Noseda leaving Sullivan & Cromwell. And sometimes the mysteries are not — e.g., Patrick Bradford leaving Davis Polk.

UPDATE (7:30 p.m.): A commenter claims that “the mystery of Patrick Bradford is no mystery at all. He left Davis Polk to become a court attorney with the NYC Civil Court. See here and here.” But I think there’s still a mystery here, namely, why Bradford would leave the DPW partnership to become a state court attorney — as opposed to a state court judge, or even a federal judge.

We’ll continue to follow the Lee Smolen story, and we’ll update this post if and when we hear back from either Sidley or Smolen. If you have information you’d like to share, feel free to email us, subject line “Lee Smolen,” or text us, at 646-820-8477 (texts only; not a voice line). Thanks.

(To check out Lee Smolen’s full bio, including information about his practice areas, awards and recognition, and where he went to law school, flip to the next page.)

UPDATE (3/26/2013, 3:10 p.m.): Lee Smolen has found a new professional home.


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