Sidley Austin will make an appearance in the Tokyo Summer Olympic and Paralympic Games through the daughter of a firm partner, as well as a first-year associate, who will both be among the thousands of athletes competing for gold.
After a one-year postponement due to the coronavirus pandemic, the Olympics are set to kick off Friday, with the Paralympics beginning in late August.
Matthew Simpson, a first-year Sidley associate, will be competing for Team USA in the team sport of goalball in the Paralympics. Longtime Sidley partner Lorrie Marcil will be cheering on her daughter, a two-time Olympian fencer.
These appearances in the Games are the rare overlap between the staid and sedentary world of Big Law and the fast-paced environment of international sports.
Marcil has one foot in both, balancing her work as an energy partner in Sidley’s Washington office with a position as the at-large director for the board of USA Fencing, the national governing body for the sport.
Though she said she herself has never fenced, she became involved though her daughter, Katherine Holmes, who is making her second appearance on the U.S. Olympic fencing team. Holmes was a part of the U.S. Women’s Épée team that won the World Championships in 2018.
“She just really loved it from the start,” Marcil said of her daughter, who began fencing at nine years old through a local community center.
Over the years, Marcil said she became a part of the fencing world, including the USA Fencing board , through Katherine. “I thought, I can contribute, and I can give back to this great organization, this great sport, and try to help make it better,” she said.
The board works to expand membership and interest in fencing, as well as obtain funding for it, which Marcil said has been trickier lately.
“During Covid times, it was very challenging because a lot of revenue went away,” Marcil said, as tournaments, a main revenue stream, were canceled. But, she said, all of that is coming back, and the start of the Olympic Games presents a great opportunity to expand fencing’s visibility.
Marcil won’t be able to see her daughter compete in person due to Covid-19 protocols that prevent family members from attending, but she said the excitement for Tokyo is still alive.
“I think especially once the competition starts and we’re able to watch the sports and feel that Olympic thrill, hopefully some of that focus will be on the athletes and their accomplishments, instead of all the struggles to get here,” she said.
Competing in the Paralympics, which begin Aug. 24, is another Sidley lawyer, Matthew Simpson, a first-year associate in Washington.
Simpson was born with a degenerative retinal condition that caused him to lose his vision as a child. However, at the age of 10, he discovered goalball, a court sport specifically designed for athletes with a vision impairment.
“I had this goal, this desire and dream to be a Paralympic athlete in goalball,” Simpson said. “I loved the dream of being able to represent the USA on the highest stage and be one of the best athletes in the world who also just happens to be blind.”
Following a silver medal in the Rio de Janeiro Olympic Games in 2016, Simpson enrolled at the University of Virginia School of Law, graduating in 2020. He had originally planned to study for the bar and then head to Tokyo to compete, but he feared the worst with last year’s delay.
“After that, I thought well there’s no way I’ll be able work at Sidley and go to Tokyo, and very fortunately for me, Sidley’s been very, very supportive,” said Simpson, who joined in January as a part of its white collar government litigation and investigations practice.
“Matt brings the same world class drive and focus to his legal career as he does to his Paralympic sport, goalball,” said Kristin Graham Koehler, a Sidley partner in Washington and a member of the firm’s executive committee. “His dedication to both should be applauded, and we are proud to support Matt in reaching his goals in Tokyo.”
Simpson will be getting ready to compete during his time at the Games, but like any Big Law first-year associate, he said he intends to keep aware of what’s going on with work.
“The [Olympic] Village is going to be pretty locked down, we’re not going to have a lot to do, so I imagine I’ll have some projects I can pick up and put down,” he said.