Sidley Austin LLP, formerly known as Sidley Austin Brown & Wood LLP, is the sixth-largest U.S.-based corporate law firm with 1900 lawyers and annual revenues of more than one billion dollars. The firm is one of the highest paying companies in the U.S., and it has offices in 20 cities worldwide, with the most recent addition of Munich in 2016. It is a full-service law firm, with broad experience in transaction and litigation matters. Its original predecessor firm was founded in 1866 and had former first lady Mary Todd Lincoln, then the widow of President Abraham Lincoln, among its earliest clients. The firm was formed as the result of the merger of two firms: the Chicago-based Sidley & Austin, founded in 1866, and the New York-based Brown & Wood, founded in 1914. The merger was completed in May 2001. The firm's headquarters is at One South Dearborn in Chicago's Loop.
In each year since the survey's inception, Sidley has received more First-Tier National Rankings than any other U.S. law firm in the Best Law Firms Survey by U.S. News & World Report. The 2015 US News Survey also named Sidley as the "Law Firm of the Year" in International Trade and Finance Law as well as Litigation – Securities. As of 2014, it was the 13th largest law firm in the world (and 8th in the US) by revenue.
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. One of the nascent firm's first clients was the Pullman Company, the manufacturer of specialty sleeping railway cars. 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.
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.
Sidley & Austin expanded tremendously in the 1970s and 1980s. In 1972, the firm merged with the 50 lawyers of Chicago firm Leibman, Williams, Bennett, Baird & Minow. Offices were established in London, Los Angeles, Singapore and New York in short order.
In 2001, the firm merged with Brown & Wood, a New York-based law firm established in 1914 with 400 attorneys 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.
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.
On March 19, 2015 the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit ruled that a client of Sidley Austin, AT&T Inc., filed its appeal too late in a patent infringement case, which cost AT&T its right to appeal a $40 million adverse judgment. The Federal Circuit held that a team of lawyers from the firm failed to file a notice of appeal within the requisite thirty days after a federal district court denied several post-trial motions. The court affirmed the district court's ruling that it was "troublesome" that none of the eighteen lawyers and assistants who received the electronic notices "bothered to read the orders issued by the court."
The firm frequently appears at the top of various industry rankings. In 2015, the BTI Consulting Group named Sidley to its BTI Client Service A-Team—one of only two law firms to rank in BTI's Client Service Top 10 for fourteen consecutive years. The firm also showed up in 14 categories on The American Lawyer's Corporate Scorecard, landing in the No. 1 spot for its roles as issuer's counsel in equities offered by U.S. corporations, issuers' and underwriters' counsel for investment grade debt, and underwriters' counsel for REIT debt. Other honors include the 2005 Catalyst Award, conferred in recognition of the firm's impressive initiatives to retain and promote women attorneys, and its second consecutive year as No. 1 in the rankings by Thomson Financial for top issuer counsel and manager counsel for U.S. debt and equity-related activity.
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 the 2006 Global WTO Law Firm of the Year and ranks first, before Wilmer Hale and Steptoe & Johnson, in the European Legal 500 ranking. 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 2008 Sidley Austin was awarded Deal of the Year - Debt Market Deal of the Year at the 2008 ALB Hong Kong Law Awards. In 2015 Sidley Austin was named Finance Team of the Year at the Lawyer Awards in London.
The terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 personally affected the employees of Sidley Austin. Prior to the merger creating Sidley Austin Brown & Wood, which took place just four months before the September 11, 2001 terror attacks, the head office of Brown & Wood was in the World Trade Center, while Sidley & Austin was located in offices on Third Avenue. Out of 600 employees who worked in the World Trade Center at the time of the attacks, one perished, a switchboard operator, Rosemary Smith.
Sidley Austin reopened its New York office on Monday, September 17, 2001 in the old Sidley & Austin office on Third Avenue which it had planned on closing on September 16. Instead, it leased four additional floors in that location, in a deal completed less than three hours after the collapse of the World Trade Center. Sidley Austin later opened its permanent new office in the Equitable Center building on Seventh Avenue in July 2002.
In the 1920s, the firm was named Cutting, Moore & Sidley. Following a number of changes, it was known as Sidley & Austin for many years until it merged with the New York capital markets firm Brown & Wood in the 1990s. Its name was changed to Sidley Austin LLP on January 1, 2006.
According to the Center for Responsive Politics, Sidley Austin was one of the top law firms contributing to federal candidates during the 2012 election cycle, donating $1.45 million, 66% to Democrats. By comparison, during that same period Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld donated $2.56 million, 66% to Democrats, while oil conglomerate ExxonMobil donated $2.66 million, 88% to Republicans. Since 1990, Sidley Austin has contributed $6.88 million to federal campaigns.James L. Connaughton, chairman of the Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) under President George W. Bush, was a partner in Sidley Austin's Environmental Practice Group, covering a wide range of environmental policy issues.
Christopher DeMuth, former president of the American Enterprise Institute, worked at the firm in the 1970s.
Bernardine Dohrn, the former Weatherman leader
Alan Gura, litigator, represented Dick Heller in the United States Supreme Court in District of Columbia v. Heller.
Faith Jenkins, legal commentator for MSNBC and formerly Fox News Channel
Joseph D. Kearney, Dean of Marquette University Law School
Mike Lee, son of Rex E. Lee and current US Senator from Utah
Rex E. Lee, former Solicitor General of the United States.
Chris Lu, Cabinet Secretary and assistant to the President of the United States
Newton Minow, the chairman of the Federal Communications Commission under former US President John F. Kennedy, was a partner in the Chicago office (1965–91) and continues to serve as senior counsel to the firm.
President Barack Obama was a summer associate in the Chicago office, but never joined the firm as a full-time associate. He met his future wife, Michelle Obama (who was an associate at Sidley Austin at the time), during his time at the firm.
David Otunga, graduate of Harvard Law School and presently a professional wrestler working with World Wrestling Entertainment.
David S. Tatel, a judge on the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, began his legal career at Sidley Austin.
John D. Zeglis, the former Chief Executive Officer of AT&T Wireless, was an associate (1973–1978) and partner (1978–1984) in the Chicago office, where he spent a significant amount of time helping AT&T navigate through the Federal Communications Commission's orders to break up the company, before leaving to join AT&T as a corporate vice president.