When COVID Struck, the Sidley Austin Law Firm Shifted Toward Employment Law, Bankruptcy Work

Sidley Austin made an action plan that emphasized areas of legal work that it anticipated would ramp up during a downturn as the pandemic began to make its way to the U.S., says Dallas office managing partner Yvette Ostolaza.

When COVID-19 began to impact business in the United States, the attorneys at Sidley Austin made a pivotal decision: They formed a task force to build a strategy that would grow business for the firm, even as the virus ravaged the economy nationwide.

One key element, according to Dallas office Managing Partner Yvette Ostolaza, was to create an action plan that emphasized areas of legal work that they anticipated would ramp up during a downturn—including litigation, employment law, contract restructuring, insurance defense work, bankruptcies, and even patent enforcement work.

The resulting business plan allowed companies to consolidate all of their legal work into a single law firm: Sidley Austin.

“A number of the clients we pitched had legal departments that were stretched thin,” said Ostolaza, who sits on the global firm’s executive committee and is co-leader of its global litigation practice. “Consolidating legal work to one firm allowed them to better coordinate and track their legal work.”

She added that several of Sidley Austin’s new clients made the switch because they’d lost confidence in their existing law firms.

The strategy has paid off so far; bringing more business to the firm; growing in the firm’s aviation, litigation, bankruptcy, and energy practices; and requiring additional attorneys to handle the work.

“All 18 of our second-year summer associates were offered positions, and all of them accepted on the same day,” said Ostolaza.

In addition, the Dallas office recently added longtime attorney Bart Biggers as a partner and co-leader of Sidley’s aviation practice. Over the past 20 years, Biggers has advised major domestic and international air carriers on acquisitions and fleet management, even helping with American Airlines’ restructuring. Also joining Sidley’s Dallas office is chambers-ranked partner Eric Winwood, who will lead the firm’s Dallas tax, employee benefits, and executive compensation group.

To date, Sidley’s Dallas office has added four attorneys this year. The Dallas office employs a total of 74 lawyers; globally, the firm is comprised of 1934 lawyers.

Ostolaza said that the firm’s work for retailers has significantly picked up, helping them deal with COVID-19.

“We have been very busy from the perspective of complying with local regulations, and working with them to help them avoid litigation about worker safety,” she said.

When a confluence of COVID-19 and a drop in oil prices struck earlier this year, Sidley’s bankruptcy practice picked up as well; the firm is handling some of the largest bankruptcy filings in Texas this year, particularly energy company reorganizations.

The Dallas office, meanwhile, hasn’t expanded its footprint, despite its growth.

“Technology has improved and people are better able to operate from their homes,” Ostolaza said, adding that as with most office work environments during COVID-19, emphasis is increasingly shifting toward remote access.

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