Paul Choi is the global co-leader of the firm’s M&A practice and a member of the firm’s Executive Committee. Paul was recognized by Crain’s Chicago Business in its annual “40 Under 40” list of leading Chicago area business executives and professionals and was named “Lawyer of the Year” in the 2021 edition of The Best lawyers in America for this work in corporate governance law in Chicago.
“We have the privilege of working in a profession where we are constantly learning about new industries and ventures and meeting and working with really talented clients and colleagues.”
What attracted you to the practice of law, and what aspect of your practice do you enjoy the most?
Fundamentally, I view what we do as problem solving and helping clients with what often are challenging situations. That’s what’s most interesting to me — working closely with people I like and respect to help address a difficult question or accomplish a deal that furthers a business. We have the privilege of working in a profession where we are constantly learning about new industries and ventures and meeting and working with really talented clients and colleagues.
What is the most memorable deal you’ve worked on or led, and what made it so memorable?
As a brand-new Sidley associate in 1990, I was fortunate enough to be assigned to the team representing our client AT&T in its year-long hostile takeover of NCR. It was a front-page Wall Street Journal transaction and, really, one of the first times a blue-chip company employed such aggressive tactics in acquiring another public company. Even though the transaction was enormous, I was the only junior associate working on the deal. I spent most of my first year at the firm in our New York office. (I still know many of our New York colleagues because of that deal.) Our Chicago-based team would fly out to New York every Sunday night and come back home every Friday night. The transaction started me on a career trajectory of working with public companies on their M&A, governance, and securities matters. More importantly, I was dating my now wife Lisa at the time, and she was living in New Haven, Connecticut. On weekends, rather than flying back to Chicago, I would take a train from New York to see her. We got engaged during the middle of the AT&T/NCR deal. We’ve been loyal AT&T customers ever since!
Years later, in 2002, I led the corporate team in representing Andersen Worldwide, the Swiss-based international network body for the Andersen accounting and professional services firms. In the wake of the Arthur Andersen/Enron crisis in the U.S., we helped our client engage in an orderly wind down of the Andersen firms around the world. It was a fascinating professional experience but also a sad event for a well-known and well-regarded global organization. It taught me that professional services firms, and that includes law firms, depend most of all on our reputation, and that can be lost very quickly.
What takes up your time outside of Sidley?
I serve on the Board of Overseers of Harvard University, one of the two governing bodies of the university. We’re primarily responsible for the oversight over the academic quality of the university and each of its schools and departments. We meet every other month (by Zoom since the pandemic). I also serve on the executive committee of the Board, chair one of its governance committees, and serve on four visiting committees. The past year has been a time of great challenges for higher education, particularly with COVID-19 and the national focus on racial justice. It’s been quite time consuming but also a great way to contribute to a broader community.
On a personal note, what has been your go-to self-care activity in the remote work environment?
It’s been a rough year for everyone. My mom passed away last October after a long illness, and all of the difficulties of that experience were complicated by the pandemic. On the brighter side, our son left his apartment in Chicago and joined my wife and me at our home at the start of the lockdown. He is working at McKinsey and can work remotely pretty easily. We’ve been living together in our pandemic bubble, and it’s been a joy to have this unusual length of time together as a family. Every night, my wife and I walk for about 45 minutes around our neighborhood. It’s my daily exercise, and getting some fresh air is a helpful way to recharge. At the beginning of the pandemic, I must have been one of the last three people on earth that didn’t have an Amazon account. Since then, I’ve become used to (perhaps to an unhealthy degree) deliveries of groceries, meals, and all manner of sundry items.