In the News Chicago Lawyer

Q&A: Emily Nicklin

Emily Nicklin

Age: 54

Family: Three children.

Education: A 1977 graduate of the University of Chicago Law School

Professional: A litigation partner at Kirkland & Ellis, who handles litigation involving such areas as commercial law, professional liability, and securities and shareholder matters.

She has been trial counsel for such clients as PricewaterhouseCoopers, Ernst & Young, Navistar International Corporation, and Morgan Stanley.

1. What advice do you have for new lawyers or those wanting to become lawyers?

I think the hardest thing about becoming a lawyer, when you are young, is sufficiently challenging yourself to do the things that you are afraid to do.

Being a professional with responsibility in advising people about matters that are of significance in their lives -- whether that's handling lawsuits for them or handling transactions for them or representing them in any capacity -- is daunting. And I think that when one is young and starting out professionally the great likelihood is that you sort of hear the voice inside that says, "Oh, I've never done this before. I don't know how to do this. Maybe I won't do this right. I'm not sure I should try this."

That is not, in my judgment, good for you or often times good for the client. You have to extend yourself and take the risk of undertaking activities that the little voice inside you will say, "I'm not ready." You just have to overcome that ... Generally speaking if you engage and reach out it is astonishing how often your efforts will be rewarded with success.

2. What do you do in your free time? Any hobbies?

I spend a lot of time fussing over and worrying about my kids. My colleagues would say I spend an incredible amount of time at the gym. I swim like two miles a day. I lift weights. The other thing I do is I am very active on the board of the University of Chicago. But those latter two things lag behind fussing over the kids, although the kids wish there was a little less of that and a little more involvement in other activities.

3. If you didn't become a lawyer ,what career would you have chosen?

I think had I not gone to law school I probably would have continued studying what I was studying, which was English literature and I probably would have tried to pursue a career teaching that.

4. What do you like the most and the least about being a lawyer?

As a tactical and day-to-day matter, what I enjoy the most is, by far, cross-examining people. Cross-examination is the engine of truth, and engaging in it is both a privilege and a pleasure. That's why trials are so much fun. Johnnie Cochran was right when he said that a trial is not a battle between two lawyers, it's a battle between two stories. And it's very, very engaging to take part in the fight. And the best part of the fight, I think, is the cross-examination.

I think I can pretty safely say the thing I like least about being a lawyer, is the modern phenomena in litigation, known as discovery. I think that modern discovery is one of the things that is responsible for the death or the sickly condition of the American jury and even bench trial systems. The oceans of effort and money that are spent in the exploration of fact outside the presence of a fact finder seems to me to be, not only a huge waste of economic resources, but also a big waste of everybody's energies in the dispute resolution.

We would all be so much better off if we just had a short document swap at the front and then met in front of a fact finder. If that were done, disputes would resolve faster, more finally, and I don't believe with any substantive difference in the quality of the resolution.

5. What is your favorite book or movie about lawyers, and why?

My favorite book about lawyers is "Bleak House" by Charles Dickens. I love most of Dickens. "Bleak House" happens to be his book about lawyers, but its portrait of the justice system as unrelenting in its domination of and interaction with people is, I think, as true today in the 21st century as it was in the 19th century.

6. If you could have lunch with anyone, living or dead, who would it be and why?

Oscar Wilde.

I think Wilde had a complete and witty appreciation of life, and of the human condition, and Wilde had a devastating interaction with the justice system.

Oscar Wilde was an Irishman who had great success as a very young man as a playwright in London. He was married and had kids, but he was also undoubtedly homosexual. At that time and up until most recently, homosexuality was a felony in Britain.

He became involved with a young man, Lord Alfred "Bosie" Douglas, a son of the Marquis of Queensberry. And [Queensberry] got upset over the relationship and sent a card to Wilde, where Wilde was living in a hotel in London, which was addressed "To Oscar Wilde, posing as a sodomite." And Wilde sued him for libel.

The first time Wilde lost the trial, and then Queensberry persuaded the crowd to bring an action for perjury against Wilde for bringing the action against him ...

[Wilde] was sentenced to Reading Gaol. He wrote some great work while he was in there. And then when he was discharged, he went to Paris, and died shortly thereafter. His interaction with the justice system [and] the injustice of the law; on the other hand the quality of his hubris and pride in bringing the libel action, and the unrelenting vengefulness of his lover's father; then his miserable time in Reading Gaol, and the great literature he wrote while he was in it -- I'm not sure if lunch would be enough.