It is with great regret that we inform you of the death of Howard J. Trienens, our partner, colleague, and friend. Howard passed away last evening of natural causes. He was 97 years old.
Howard was chair of the firm’s Executive Committee from 1977 to 1993, and remained a partner until his passing. During this time, he led Sidley into becoming a national force in the legal profession. Howard helped guide the firm through critical periods of expansion and growth, including opening offices in Los Angeles and New York, making the first forays into the Asia Pacific market, and developing the D.C. office’s strong regulatory and litigation practices. He was an advocate for careful, strategic growth, always mindful of how best to serve clients.
In recent years, he enjoyed coming into the office to check in with colleagues and to keep up on firm news. His memory was extraordinary, and he had a near-perfect recall of facts, details, names, and dates. Howard enjoyed a reputation as one of his generation’s most accomplished lawyers. He was frequently offered high-profile positions from some of the United States’ largest companies. He always declined, preferring to stay with Sidley. When asked why, he would simply say, “I don’t want to leave the firm. I love Sidley.”
Howard first joined the firm as an associate in 1949. From 1950 to 1952, he served as law clerk to Chief Justice Fred M. Vinson of the Supreme Court of the United States. After returning to Sidley, he became a partner in 1956 and was increasingly involved in the management of the firm. He was instrumental in the 1972 merger, unusual at the time, of Sidley with Leibman, Williams, Bennett, Baird & Minow, a smaller firm known for its corporate, banking, real estate, litigation, media, and advertising practices. This consolidation also brought Newt Minow into the Sidley fold. Howard and Newt were in the inaugural class of The American Lawyer Lifetime Achievement honorees.
From 1980 to 1986, Howard served as senior vice president and general counsel of AT&T, while maintaining his position at Sidley. At AT&T, he played a key role in resolving the antitrust litigation brought by the United States. The consent decree introduced competition into the telecommunications industry, and Howard was deeply involved in the restructuring of the Bell System and AT&T following the settlement of the Department of Justice suit.
He also served as a director of RR Donnelley & Sons Co. and G. D. Searle & Co. among others.
Among his numerous civic responsibilities, perhaps the one closest to his heart was the enduring relationship with his alma mater, Northwestern University. He received his bachelor’s degree from Northwestern University in 1945, after returning from service in the army during World War II. He graduated from Northwestern’s Pritzker School of Law in 1949, and taught at the law school after graduation.
Howard and his family supported many parts of the Northwestern community, including athletics, the law school and the library. In memory of his wife Paula, he created the Howard & Paula Trienens Fund to support the continued growth of the Robert H. Lurie Comprehensive Cancer Center of Northwestern University.
Howard became a member of the Northwestern University Board of Trustees in 1967 and chaired the board from 1986 to 1995. He became a Life Trustee in 2000.
In 1989, his partners at Sidley established two programs at Northwestern University in his honor, the Howard J. Trienens Professorship of Law and the Howard J. Trienens Visiting Judicial Scholar Program.
He was awarded the Alumni Medal, Northwestern’s highest alumni honor, in 1996, and was the first recipient of the law school’s Distinguished Alumni Award in 2013. In recognition of his continuing generosity to Northwestern, he was inducted into its Athletic Hall of Fame, and the state-of-the-art practice facility that accompanied the renovation of Welsh-Ryan Arena is named the Trienens Performance Center.
Howard was preceded in death by his wife Paula and his oldest son John. He is survived by a son Kip and a daughter Nan Kaehler; nine grandchildren; and 14 great-grandchildren; and his longtime friend and companion Janet (Sally) Dumas.
The firm wishes to thank Howard’s legal secretary Gail Copley for her support and dedication in assisting him over many years.