We spoke with Anne Rea, managing partner of Sidley’s Chicago office, member of the Management Committee and Executive Committee and a leader of the firm’s ERISA litigation practice. She discussed the firm’s reputation in the Windy City, the importance of mentoring and looking to the future following Sidley’s 150th anniversary celebration.
Can you share a bit about your background?
I’m fortunate to have spent my entire legal career at Sidley. I was a summer associate in 1983. After graduating from law school, I joined our litigation group as an associate. I became a partner in 1992, and I was elected to the firm’s Executive Committee in 2005 and Management Committee in 2008. Basically, the Chicago office has been my professional home throughout my career. Many of my closest friends and colleagues are people I’ve known or worked with from the beginning of my career.
In your three decades at the firm, how has the culture in Chicago evolved?
Some of the biggest changes have come from advances in technology. For most of the 1980s, we worked differently. We didn’t have email, voicemail or personal computers. That’s all changed now, but fundamentally, the culture of our firm and the Chicago office has not changed. The bedrock principles our firm held then—to be a leading firm serving clients with talented lawyers who work collaboratively and foster an inclusive culture—are the same principles we have now. The leaders of our firm when I started had a legacy of giving back and empowering others to help move the firm forward. That’s very much the goal of all of us who are leading the firm now. We want to build and leave the firm better and stronger for the next generation.
What makes our Chicago office stand out?
It’s easy to take for granted how strong Sidley’s brand is in Chicago when you’re here. Our name recognition is extraordinary, and over the past several decades, we’ve steadily outpaced other Chicago firms we once regarded as peers. The Chicago office also has always viewed civic and pro bono activity and involvement as part of its core commitment. Our partners are on the boards of leading civic and charitable institutions, as well as leading local universities. And we have developed lasting relationships with key leaders of the business community, who we count on to support us in these endeavors.
Our Chicago office also differs from other Sidley offices in that many of our core firmwide administrative functions are based here. This is cost-effective, because occupancy and other expenses are less in Chicago than in most other locations where we have offices, and yet we have access to a large, highly skilled workforce. When you think about what makes Sidley great, you cannot put aside the importance of our administrative team. It is a huge asset and a critical component of the future of our firm.
Are there any challenges?
The competitive pressures on law firms and lawyers keep increasing, but we’re well-positioned here in Chicago. This city has an active and cohesive business community and is a popular destination for young, hard-working professionals. Sidley is at the very top of the law firm landscape. We recruit from the best law schools across the nation and look for students who will complement our collegial and collaborative culture. Of course, with the growing pace of technology, the location of our offices will not be as important as the talent of the team in each office. What’s critical is that we continue to attract talented lawyers who work well across the firm’s global platform and who are dedicated to teamwork, collaboration and superior client service. That’s our objective, and I believe we’re accomplishing it.
Is there an achievement you are particularly proud of?
I’ve had many opportunities to contribute to the firm and to our clients, following the core principle that we all give back to our firm with the goal of making it stronger for the future. In the early ‘90s, I received some advice from Chuck Douglas, a partner and Chairman Emeritus of the firm’s Management Committee, who recommended that I focus on a new area of law where I could differentiate myself instead of staying a general litigator. At the time, there were changes going on in the litigation world where class actions were being applied to ERISA and employee benefits issues. A team of us saw this as a unique opportunity, and we worked together to develop and market a leading ERISA litigation practice. It’s been a rewarding experience, and it shows you that opportunities are there for all of us. The advice that I’ve received from peers and senior colleagues has been very important to my professional development.
Mentoring had a huge role in shaping your career. Do you have any advice for women lawyers who are about to enter the legal profession?
I believe that all of us at Sidley should be committed to helping lawyers of all backgrounds reach their highest potential. I was lucky to have an accomplished woman partner for an early mentor, especially at a time when there weren’t many women partners in any law firm. It’s now my privilege to help our next generation of women lawyers succeed. My advice is to be as thoughtful about your own career as you are about your client work. Reach out for guidance and mentoring. Take charge of your career, believe in yourself and recognize that challenges also come with opportunities. Also, believe in the good qualities of others, try to keep a sense of humor and focus on finding commonality. I believe that these connections ultimately will help us work better together.
In 2016, the Chicago office celebrated a significant milestone with its 150th anniversary. What’s next?
Our firm is made up of thousands of lawyers, staff and families, who depend on the firm for productive careers and financial security. It’s a responsibility that we take very seriously. With tremendous appreciation to the lawyers before us who built the firm we have today, our plan is to continue their work in recruiting and developing outstanding lawyers, attracting and maintaining the best clients worldwide, and building upon our legacy for the next 150 years and beyond.