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Sidley Austin LLP, formerly known as Sidley Austin Brown & Wood LLP, is one of the oldest law firms in the world. It is the sixth-largest U.S.-based corporate law firm with over 1,800 lawyers, annual revenues of more than one billion dollars, and offices in 16 cities worldwide, with the most recent addition of Sydney, Australia, in May 2007. 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 Mary Todd Lincoln, 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.

As of 2006, it was the 9th largest law firm in the world (and 5th in the US) by revenue.


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. 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 the late 1800s, Williams & Thompson counseled several utility and railroad companies expanding in the West, incluidley joined the firm after having earned an LLB from Union College of Law and a further M.A. from Harvard Law Schoolmarker. 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 50 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 on 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 1969, 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 many law firms stung by the Savings & Loan Crisis and was forced to pay $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 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. Brown & Wood had offices in the World Trade Centermarker. The firm was known as Sidley Austin Brown & Wood until the name was rebranded in 2006.

Rankings and recognition

The firm frequently appears at the top of various industry rankings. In 2005, the BTI Consulting Group named Sidley to its Client Service Hall of Fame—one of only two law firms to rank in BTI's Client Service Top 10 for five consecutive years—and Sidley was named No. 1 Power Elite Firm for 2005. 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 recent 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 recently named 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 Courtmarker 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.


Sidley Austin during 9/11/01

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 Centermarker, while Sidley & Austin had recently opened a small New York office on Third Avenue. Out of 600 employees who worked in the World Trade Center at the time of the attacks, one perished, a support staff worker named Rosemary Smith.

Sidley Austin reopened its New York office on Monday, September 17, 2001 in the old Sidley & Austin office on Third Avenue that 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 a permanent new office on Seventh Avenue in July 2002.

Name changes

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.

Notable alumni

  • U.S. President Barack Obama was a summer associate in the Chicago office, but never joined the firm as a full-time associate. He met his wife, Michelle Obama (who was an associate at Sidley Austin at the time), while he was a summer associate at the firm.
  • 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.
  • Newton Minow, the chairman of the Federal Communications Commission under former U.S. President John F. Kennedy, was a partner in the Chicagomarker office from 1965-1991 and continues to serve as senior counsel to the firm.
  • Daniel M. Price was appointed Deputy National Security Advisor for International Economic Affairs by former U.S. President George W. Bush. In this role, Mr. Price served as the principal advisor to the President on international economic issues and was responsible for coordinating U.S. Administration policy on international trade and investment, foreign assistance to developing countries, and the international aspects of energy security and climate change. In 2009, he returned as a senior partner for global issues to the firm's Washington, D.C. office.
  • 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 breakup the company, before leaving to join AT&T as a corporate vice president.
  • Bernardine Dohrn, the former Weatherman leader.


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