William Sidley joined the law firm of Williams, Holt and Wheeler in 1889 as an unpaid clerk, assisting with office tasks and serving as a notary public. Feeling that he needed to further his education, Sidley entered Harvard Law School in 1891 and returned to the firm a year later.
In 1896, Sidley went to extraordinary lengths to uncover a fraud conspiracy against The Illinois Steel Company, a firm client. In what became known as the “Croatian Episode,” Sidley sailed across the Atlantic and through the Mediterranean to Trieste, Italy, where he caught a train to Croatia and completed the final 26 miles in a horse-drawn carriage up a winding mountain road. Six weeks later, he returned home with the needed information and was soon after promoted to partner.
By the start of the new century, William Sidley’s growing responsibilities were reflected in the firm’s name: Holt, Wheeler & Sidley.
Sidley remained with the firm for more than 65 years, serving as its guiding force through much of the 20th century. After Sidley’s death in 1958, Edwin Austin paid tribute to his colleague, praising him as a man “blessed with an extraordinary talent for forming and exercising that rare quality called ‘judgment’ that led clients to want his views in any crisis.”