In the News The American Lawyer

Ex-Litigator Returns to Kirkland After Stint as Chicago's Top Lawyer

Stephen Patton, a former senior litigation partner at Kirkland & Ellis, is returning to the firm as of counsel after spending the past six years as Chicago’s top lawyer.

“I loved my time with the city and I learned a lot, but I’m also delighted to be back at my old home with a lot of good friends and colleagues,” Patton said Wednesday.

Patton spent 33 years as a litigator in Kirkland’s Windy City headquarters. He made partner at the firm in 1984 and eventually went on to lead the firm’s litigation management committee before being tapped by Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel in 2011 to serve as the city’s corporation counsel and Emanuel’s senior legal adviser.

In January, Patton announced plans to step down from his $174,000-per-year role, and a month later he officially resigned to make way for his replacement as corporate counsel. Edward Siskel, a former Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale and Dorr partner in Washington, D.C., who served as deputy White House counsel in the Obama administration, has taken over for Patton. (Siskel is a nephew of the late film critic Gene Siskel.)

“I made it clear to everyone who asked me that if I decided to return to the private sector, I would go back to Kirkland,” Patton said. “[The] opportunity to build my own practice and the success that I was able to achieve was a direct function of both the platform and the support that the firm provided me.”

At Kirkland, Patton focused on complex commercial litigation for clients like R.J Reynolds Tobacco Co., United Airlines Inc. and Verizon Wireless Inc. Patton took the lead on several high-profile matters for the cigarette industry, including serving as lead counsel for Brown & Williamson on its $206 billion settlement involving fellow tobacco giants and state attorneys general. In 2003, Patton successfully defended former Chicago Mayor Richard Daley—now of counsel at Katten Muchin Rosenman—in suits brought by the state and federal authorities over Daley’s decision to close the single-strip airport Meigs Field.

“[Patton] is an accomplished trial lawyer with significant experience handling large-scale, complex litigation matters, often spanning jurisdictions and involving many parties and interests,” said a statement by Jeffery Hammes, chair of Kirkland’s global management executive committee. “He is also a skilled crisis manager, and a great leader and mentor for young lawyers. We are delighted to welcome him back to Kirkland.”

Shortly after Emanuel took office, Patton stepped into the city’s top legal spot promising to keep more of Chicago’s legal work in-house and reduce outside legal costs, a feat that he said successfully saved money for Chicago taxpayers. Patton also worked to achieve substantial compliance with decades old Shakman decrees barring politically motivated hiring, renegotiated the city’s controversial parking meter’s concessions agreement and negotiated a landmark reparations agreement involving 30-year old claims of police torture.

“The reason that I stayed through to mid-February was to quarterback the city’s cooperation with and various reforms in response to the U.S. Department of Justice’s civil rights investigation of the police department,” Patton said.

Following the release of a dashboard camera video of the shooting death of teenager Laquan McDonald by Chicago police in 2015, the Justice Department launched an investigation into the practices of the Chicago Police Department. The Justice Department’s report, released in January, found that Chicago police routinely used force in violation of the Fourth Amendment.

For its defense, Chicago hired a team of lawyers led by partner Jamie Gorelick, co-chair of the firm’s strategic response group and chair of its regulatory and government affairs department, and the Windy City office of Ohio-based Taft Stettinius & Hollister. Through November, the two firms have billed Chicago for roughly $3.8 million in attorney fees. (Winston & Strawn also signed on to advise Chicago’s in-house law department.)

“I had experiences that would be hard to ever replicate in private practice,” Patton said of his work during that tumultuous time. “I’ve never been a client before and sitting on the other side of that relationship will make me a better outside counsel to clients. Because I’ve sat in the other seat and seen what’s helpful and what’s not, what’s good and what’s not.”

Patton rejoins Kirkland at a busy time for the firm, which trailed only Latham & Watkins in The American Lawyer’s annual Am Law 100 rankings of the nation’s largest firms by gross revenue.

Last week Kirkland opened an office in Boston after relocating three private equity partners from Chicago and New York. On Tuesday, the firm announced its hire of two former federal government lawyers—Marian Fowler and Erica Williams—as partners for its investment funds and government, regulatory and internal investigations practices, respectively.