The following is an excerpt from Practice Perspectives: Vault’s Guide to Legal Practice Areas.
Yvette Ostolaza, Global Practice Leader—Litigation
Yvette Ostolaza is a member of Sidley’s Management and Executive Committees, the managing partner of the Dallas office, and global co-leader of the firmwide litigation practice. She has developed a national reputation as a versatile lawyer who excels in all aspects of complex disputes and investigations. Yvette litigates matters in U.S. state and federal trial and appellate courts on behalf of sophisticated, global clients. She coordinates and tries proceedings in a variety of arbitration venues and serves on both the Roster of Neutral Arbitrators for the AAA for commercial litigation matters and on the CPR Panel of Distinguished Neutrals as an arbitrator for the International Institute of Conflict Prevention & Resolution. Yvette also serves as the vice chair of the Ethics and Investigations Subcommittee of the ABA Corporate Governance Committee. Yvette’s range, experience, and results have earned her extensive recognition, most recently as one of America’s Top 100 High Stakes Litigators for Northern Texas and in the inaugural Benchmark Labor & Employment guide in 2018. She also received the prestigious Dallas ADL Schoenbrun Jurisprudence Award for her outstanding leadership and exemplary contributions to the community.
Describe your practice area and what it entails.
I lead complex internal investigations on behalf of companies, board committees, and individual directors and defend companies/directors in shareholder and securities class actions. I often litigate matters in U.S. state and federal trial and appellate courts, as well as a variety of arbitration venues. The critical aspect of my practice is treating my client’s issues like my own and really thinking about what a “win” is for them, truly from their perspective. This entails a thorough understanding of my client’s position and what I can do as their lawyer to provide them the most support. Sometimes a “win” is going through trial, and sometimes a “win” is another resolution. I always say it is like Goldilocks: What you’re paying me for is to get it just right—not too hot, not too cold.
What types of clients do you represent?
I represent highly sophisticated global clients across a variety of different industries that require advice and counsel related to complex and often cross-border legal issues. Most often, my clients are facing issues directly related to litigation or dispute resolution or are trying to take preemptive measures to avoid a dispute. Within these clients, I work with legal departments, C-Suite leaders, and board members. Among my clients are MGM Resorts International; Chuck E. Cheese Entertainment; Tuesday Morning Corporation; EnLink Midstream; Neiman-Marcus; MHR Holdings; Alix Partners; Airbus Helicopters; Michaels; HMS Holdings; JPMorgan; McAfee, Inc.; Special Committee of Southwest Airlines; SM Energy, Inc.; and VBH.
What types of cases/deals do you work on?
I work on high-profile investigations and litigation matters for global companies. For example, I was recently retained by MGM Resorts, Inc. to represent the company in multi-jurisdiction litigation. I also represented Barclays Bank, Commerzbank, and Deutsche Bank in a multi-hundred million dollar fraud litigation brought by MGA Entertainment in California federal court with respect to MGA’s acquisition of a failed French toymaker, Smoby, SA; I obtained a motion to stay the proceedings on forum non conveniens grounds and in favor of pending proceedings in France. I also represented the Special Committee of the Board of Halliburton with respect to a shareholder demand and subsequent litigation in Texas state court relating to FCPA issues; I obtained a favorable, no-money settlement that was featured in The Wall Street Journal.
Additionally, a significant portion of my practice involves counseling boards, special committees, and directors on sensitive internal investigations, including with respect to whistleblower, accounting, and executive issues. For example, I advised a special committee of the Board of Restoration Hardware with respect to an internal investigation of a whistleblower’s allegations concerning the company’s former CEO. I also advised a special committee of the Board of Southwest Airlines Co. with respect to an independent investigation into various FAA issues.
I am also equally proud of my pro bono representation. I work with Disability Rights Texas, representing a putative class of intellectually disabled residents of nursing facilities in their quest to obtain access to community-based facilities and was awarded the 2013 Pro Bono Award by Disability Rights Texas.
How did you choose this practice area?
Before law school I read the book, Rage of Angels; it is the story of Jennifer Parker, a young prosecutor, that made me realize that women can be lawyers and litigators. After a criminal defense internship and experience as a summer associate handling commercial litigation, arbitrations, and employment law, I realized I had a passion for litigation and dispute resolution. For me, practicing litigation gives me the opportunity to provide assistance to my clients when they need it the most: when they have to make tough decisions to navigate a dispute or potential dispute. This aspect—assisting clients in their time of need—appealed to me early on and has been the cornerstone of my practice ever since.
What is a typical day like and/or what are some common tasks you perform?
There is no typical day for me. In the firm, I really have two equally important roles: one as a leader in the firm’s management and the other as a practitioner and legal adviser to my clients. As a member of the firm’s Management Committee and global practice leader of the firm’s Litigation Global Group, I often have to make decisions that set the course for the firm and the litigation group. This may mean working with a colleague on an internal process or decision, providing another lawyer career assistance, or deciding how to allocate firm resources. As a practitioner, I have to work with my clients to address their legal issues, which can develop and evolve very quickly and are always unique. I love the lack of predictability and the fact that I really don’t have a “typical day” anymore.
What training, classes, experience, or skills development would you recommend to someone who wishes to enter your practice area?
High-level legal knowledge has become the price of admission. The skill that most differentiates lawyers now is communication, understanding the client’s business, and client service. In high school, I worked in customer service at Sears, Roebuck. It was a tough job with long hours, but through those experiences, I learned the value of finding resolutions and seeing the issues from all sides. The ability to see an issue from the client’s perspective and make the client’s challenges my own is what has made me successful as a litigator and board advisor. I would recommend to any aspiring lawyer to be open to those types of experiences that bring you close to a client or customer and seek to learn how to gracefully find resolution, even in difficult circumstances.
What is the most challenging aspect of your practice area?
I feel that it is a priority to get more diversity in the law firms. I have found, in advising clients, that it is extremely important to have a diversity of thought in considering different solutions or approaches.
What do you like best about your practice area?
Getting to really know my clients and helping them succeed is what I love about my job. I like to think of my clients as friends and want them to think of me as not just somebody who’s billing by the hour, but somebody who really cares about them and their businesses and will fiercely advocate for them and their business interests. The most satisfaction I get is when a client tells me that I have exceeded their expectations. Often clients have a preconceived notion of what a lawyer can do—I enjoy redefining that expectation and creating loyal, lifelong clients.
What is unique about this practice area at your firm?
I am passionate about mentoring, and I strongly believe that Sidley’s environment and culture of mentoring and developing young litigation talent is unique. As a member of the firm’s Management Committee and a litigation global practice leader, I see and support the investment and commitment Sidley makes to developing junior lawyers. This investment includes formal and informal mentoring, training, offering continuous and constructive feedback, and—most of all—really caring about the careers of our young litigators and making business decisions that prioritize the support of young talent. When a lawyer comes to Sidley and wants to be a part of the litigation practice area, Sidley always seeks to put that lawyer in the best position to succeed at the firm and in their career.
How do you see this practice area evolving in the future?
Information management and being an efficient user of artificial intelligence tools will be important for the future, as well as being a flexible and likeable lawyer that can prioritize and adapt to clients’ increasingly complicated and diverse business issues.