The following is an excerpt from Practice Perspectives: Vault's Guide to Legal Practice Areas.
Sarah Newman—Associate, Litigation
Sarah Newman’s practice focuses on appellate and trial litigation in both white collar and complex civil matters. Before joining MoloLamken, Ms. Newman served as a law clerk to Judge Stephen Higginson of the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, and to Judge Edmond Chang of the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois. Ms. Newman received her B.A. from Oberlin College and her J.D. from Northwestern Pritzker School of Law. Before law school, Ms. Newman was a teaching fellow at Syiah Kuala University in Banda Aceh, Indonesia, and also a paralegal at Legal Assistance of Western New York in Ithaca.
Please provide an overview of what, substantively, your practice area entails.
MoloLamken is a law firm focused exclusively on representing clients in complex litigation. We handle civil, criminal, and regulatory matters, as well as appeals, across the United States. We also conduct internal investigations and have recently started developing an international arbitration practice.
What types of clients do you represent?
MoloLamken handles cases throughout the United States and represents both domestic and international clients. Our clients include several foreign sovereigns, as well as individuals and companies in a broad range of industries. My own practice has focused equally on representing plaintiffs and defendants. For example, in one of my first cases, I represented a defendant foreign central bank in merits briefing in the United States Supreme Court in a case involving separation-of-powers principles. On the other side of the “v,” I have represented plaintiff trustees from a global financial institution that has pursued several “putback” suits related to residential mortgage-backed securities offerings.
What types of cases/deals do you work on?
My practice has covered a wide variety of substantive areas, including constitutional law, intellectual property, securities fraud, criminal law, enforcement of arbitral awards, and business litigation. Recently, I have been focused on two appeals. In the first appeal, we represent one of the largest pharmaceutical companies in the United States in a patent case pending in the Federal Circuit. The case involves the unclean hands doctrine and invalidity issues. The second appeal is a direct criminal appeal in the Seventh Circuit that I have been handling pro bono. At the same time, I have been working on an arbitration enforcement case on behalf of a Turkish construction company. We are in the middle of asset discovery and are trying to locate assets that might be attached to satisfy the arbitration award in favor of our client.
How did you decide to practice in your area?
As a law clerk, I enjoyed working on the diverse range of cases that come through the federal courts. So as a young lawyer, I knew that I did not want to be pressured to focus on a particular substantive area. That is what drew me to MoloLamken. The firm encourages associates to focus on developing and strengthening their litigation skills, rather than becoming specialists in a particular area of the law. I was also drawn to MoloLamken because I wanted the flexibility to work on a mix of trial and appellate work. Having that variety ensures that no day is ever the same, and it keeps me engaged every day.
What is a typical day or week like in your practice area?
I am a morning person, so I get to the office early. I always start work with the hardest task I have on my list for that day—usually, that is a brief that I am drafting. If I can spend a solid two hours writing in the morning before emails and calls start coming in, I can spend the rest of the day multi-tasking without stressing about my drafting deadlines. Beyond the morning, there is substantial variety in my day-to-day schedule. Recently, I have been immersed in drafting answers to potential oral argument questions for a partner’s Federal Circuit argument and attending related moot courts. But I could also be preparing a deposition outline, working with experts, or drafting a letter to opposing counsel about a discovery dispute. MoloLamken has a very open and collaborative environment, so I am often talking with other attorneys across all three of our offices to brainstorm strategy and stay coordinated in our larger cases. Finally, I also help supervise the legal assistants at our firm, so I spend some time each week making sure that they are getting the support and training they need to support our work.
What is the best thing about your practice area?
At MoloLamken, we believe that complex litigation is most effectively handled by smaller teams comprised of smart, highly experienced lawyers. Because of this philosophy, I get to work closely with an amazingly talented group of people every day. Trying to keep up with my scary-smart colleagues can be intimidating, but it has also helped me to grow exponentially faster than I would have had I started my career somewhere else. There is no better place to work than a law firm that values collegiality and teamwork, and that expects that I will be an integral part of every case I work on.
What is the most challenging aspect of your practice area?
At the core of every lawsuit is a story. I love the challenge of trying to figure out the most compelling way to tell that story from our client’s perspective. Our clients come to MoloLamken with complex, cutting-edge legal issues. So telling their stories often requires finding ways to simplify complex arguments so that they are easy for judges and law clerks to digest. At MoloLamken, we take great pride in the quality of our written work. To get the most polished work product, we have to turn out first drafts as early as possible so that we have time for multiple rounds of revisions. Sticking to tight internal deadlines naturally requires long work days. But the results we get for our clients make it all worth it.
What training, classes, experience, or skills development would you recommend to someone who wishes to enter your practice area?
Aspiring litigators should get as much practical experience as possible. Participating in legal clinics at law schools is one of the best ways to do that. When I was in my final year at Northwestern, for example, I briefed and argued a Title VII appeal in the Seventh Circuit through the school’s Federal Appellate Clinic. And even if private practice is the ultimate goal, law students should not shy away from doing semester-long externships with public interest organizations. Many organizations need volunteers to help fulfill their missions and to meet their clients’ needs. Law students will often be given substantial responsibilities doing concrete legal work that has an enormous impact on clients’ lives. On top of the skill development, these opportunities are a great way to give back to the community and to begin building a network with other lawyers in the area.
What misconceptions exist about your practice area? What do you wish you had known before joining your practice area?
A common misconception about litigators is that they have to specialize in a particular substantive area to gain recognition and to be successful. At MoloLamken, we are general litigators first, and substantive area specialists second (if at all). I am a good example of that philosophy. I was a humanities double-major (religion and French) in undergrad and took the bare minimum number of science courses. But some of my favorite cases at MoloLamken have been patent appeals. Educating myself about a complicated feature of a pharmaceutical patent, for example, helps me figure out what I need to teach the judges and their law clerks in order for them to fully understand our client’s position. If I had a chemistry background, I might overestimate the baseline knowledge that the judges and clerks bring to the case. In the end, every case is unique, and we have to teach ourselves to be experts in each individual case.
What is unique about your practice area at your firm, and how has it evolved since you have been at the firm?
MoloLamken expects that you will take on as much responsibility as you are capable of handling. So compared to our peers in Big Law, associates at MoloLamken have substantially more responsibility in all areas of practice. When I’m working on an appellate brief, for example, I not only do the initial research to identify the strongest issues for appeal, but I also draft the outline for the brief and then complete the first draft of the brief—and not just a portion of the brief, but the entire brief. Once the brief goes to the partner, my involvement does not end. I continue to work one-on-one with the partner to revise the brief, which involves an iterative process that we often describe as “editing the editor.” In trial matters, associates regularly take and defend depositions. We also regularly appear in trial courts, and partners look for opportunities for associates to make an argument or examine a witness. And even though we are already given substantial responsibility in our cases for paying clients, the firm has increasingly supported associates doing pro bono work. These cases help us to further develop our skills and to take on even more responsibility. In my pro bono case, for example, I got to present arguments on my client’s behalf at his sentencing hearing in the district court, and I will argue his appeal in the Seventh Circuit later this year.
What activities do you enjoy when you are not in the office, and how do you make time for them?
I cook at home most evenings. I make a point of leaving the office at a reasonable time and working from home later in the evening if I need to. My wife and I also enjoy hiking and traveling. In 2017, we visited Iceland, took a bike trip through Tuscany, and celebrated New Year’s in New Orleans (where I used to clerk). Associates work long hours when we’re at the office, but the firm respects the time we set aside for vacation and family.