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Sidley Names First Female Leader in Firm’s 155-Year History

April 26, 2021, 1:00 PM

Sidley Austin has elected Yvette Ostolaza as chair of its management committee, making her the first woman to lead the 155-year-old firm.

Ostolaza, managing partner of Sidley’s Dallas office and co-leader of its global litigation practice, will officially take over the role in April 2022. She succeeds longtime chair Larry Barden.

Ostolaza’s election follows a strong year for Sidley in which its gross revenue increased 5.4% to $2.46 billion and profits per equity partner jumped 9.8% to more than $3 million, according to recently published figures by the American Lawyer. The firm is keen to capitalize on its success and strengthen its position in key markets and practices, including private equity, bankruptcy, and litigation.

Barden has served as chair of the firm’s management committee since 2014. He is poised to step down from his positions on Sidley’s management and executive committees when he turns 65 next year, per firm policy policy, though he will remain a partner.

With her election, Ostolaza becomes one of just a handful of women to lead Big Law firms and the only woman of color to lead a top 10 AmLaw firm.

“To be a first woman or first in anything is an honor and humbling and exciting because it provides a role model for many people—women, men and others—that you don’t have to fit a certain mold to succeed,” Ostolaza said.

Big Law has rarely elected female firm leaders, though there are signs of possible change. Last month, Gibson Dunn & Crutcher announced that Barbara Becker, co-chair of its M&A practice group, will succeed Ken Doran as chair in May. Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer named Georgia Dawson as its senior partner in September.

Ostolaza joined Sidley in 2013 alongside eight partners from Weil Gotshal & Manges. She spent more than 21 years at Weil, leading its complex commercial litigation group and serving as a member of its management committee.

As a litigator and arbitrator, she has represented the likes of Halliburton, Deutsche Bank, Barclays Bank, Southwest Airlines, National Public Radio, and Best Buy Inc.

Ostolaza has also served as a member of Sidley’s management and executive committees.

“Yvette is a highly talented, exceptional person and leader,” said Barden, who was the first person to meet Ostolaza at Sidley and has since been a mentor. "[It] is exciting to just think what she can do in the role of chair of this management committee and so the future’s bright.”

Riding the ‘Wave’

Ostolaza will oversee the day-to-day operations as chair of the firm’s nine-person management committee, which is one of Sidley’s two governing bodies. She’ll work alongside Michael Schmidtberger, who will continue to serve as chair of its 34-person executive committee.

“When you run a $2.5 billion firm with 2,000 employees in 20 offices across the globe, it is about working together in every aspect,” said Ostolaza, who will continue to practice while serving as chair.

Ostolaza will work to put together her goals and vision for Chicago-founded firm over the next year, seeking input across its offices and partnership to ensure that “we’re setting goals that are achievable and get us to that next level,” she said.

The largest firms in the U.S. have gotten wealthier during the last year, which Ostolaza said has benefited Sidley. The firm is drawing lawyers enticed by its combination of litigation, corporate, and regulatory strengths.

“It is a surprising disruption that is happening in our industry and we intend to ride that wave,” Ostolaza said.

The firm has already brought on several high-profile hires in 2021. In January, Sidley added Asher Rubin, co-leader of Hogan Lovells global life sciences industry practice. The firm also picked up Cravath Swaine & Moore partner and co-chair of its business development group Johnny Skumpija as well as Ropes & Gray private equity partners Anthony Norris and Christopher Rile in New York.

The firm will continue its investment in building out its private equity practice, a key area of focus over the past decade, according to Ostolaza. Between 2011 and 2019, the firm’s revenue from private equity work grew from $50 million to $300 million, though Sidley last year lost five PE partners in London to Goodwin Procter.

Sidley is looking to add lawyers in its bankruptcy, capital markets, and litigation groups, Ostolaza said. The firm also wants to build in China and in energy and investments fund work that is currently in high demand, Ostolaza said.

“These are moments where you have an opportunity to not only expand your talent, but to reach new clients and position yourself for additional and sustained growth in the years to come,” Barden said.

To contact the reporter on this story: Meghan Tribe in New York at mtribe@bloomberglaw.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Rebekah Mintzer at rmintzer@bloomberglaw.com; Chris Opfer at copfer@bloomberglaw.com

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