Former Governor Thompson Retires from Winston & Strawn
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Former Governor Thompson Retires from Winston & Strawn

Summary: After 25 years with Winston & Strawn, James R. Thompson will retire from his position as senior chairman.

According to Chicago Business, James R. Thompson, the former governor of Illinois, announced yesterday that he will be retiring from his position as senior chairman at Winston & Strawn on January 31, 2016.


The 78-year-old attorney has been with the law firm for 25 years. He was named chairman in 193 and has held that position for 13 years. As senior chairman, he has overseen the grown of offices in Chicago, Washington, and New York, as well as the opening of other offices in Europe. The firm grew in both revenue and number of attorneys more under Thompson’s leadership than any other time in the history of the firm, according to Chairman Dan Webb. The firm’s revenue has grown from $145 million to $570 million.

The firm’s e-discovery department has been especially successful.

Thompson was the governor of Illinois from 1977 to 1991, which is the longest amount of time anyone has held this position. While governor, Thompson built his reputation for managing labor relations and one of the biggest state budgets in the United States while also maintaining Illinois’ bond rating. Wikipedia adds that he also served as a member of the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States, or the 9/11 Commission.

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Webb said that when Thompson decided to work at Winston & Strawn, it “was a huge coup for the firm. The value he brought to us externally, with relationships and contacts and his reputation…was inestimable.”

Prior to serving as Illinois’ governor, Thompson worked as a U.S. Attorney in Chicago in the 1970s. He assisted in training many young attorneys, teasingly called the “Kiddie Corps,” and his trainees won many cases and continued their careers in higher offices and prestigious law firms. For example, Ty Fahner would become the attorney general of Illinois, and later the chairman of Mayer Brown.

In 2010, Thompson received a lifetime achievement award.

Thompson recruited young people to government work and inspired them to work hard at their jobs, according to Fahner. He added that during the closing arguments of his biggest trial at the time, the prosecution of Chicago Ald. Thomas Keane for mail fraud, Fahner made a mistake that could have caused a mistrial. However, that night, Thompson took Fahner to the law library of the firm and helped him find case law that saved his trial. Keane was convicted. Fahner recalled, “He didn’t bawl me out. He put his hand on my shoulder, and he said, ‘Come on, we’ve got some work to do.’”



Thompson will continue to work as a consultant to the firm for two years after he leaves. Webb commented, “People can see Jim and I huddled several times a week talking about a variety of issues, and my guess is that is going to continue regardless of his status of the firm.”

Legal recruiter Kay Hoppe, of the Chicago-based company Credentia, said that Thompson served as a sort of “spiritual leader” of the firm, and attracted talented attorneys. She said there should not be fallout “in terms of things that lawyers worry about like, ‘Where’s the business going to come from?’” She added, “They’ve got machinery in place for business development.”

Last year, an Illinois judge stepped down to open a family law practice.

Winston & Strawn was the fourth-largest law office in 2014, employing 315 attorneys. In fiscal year 2013, the firm reported $741 million in revenue. According to Wikipedia, the firm has over 850 attorneys in 18 offices worldwide.

Thompson’s time at Winston & Strawn has not always been easy, however. He decided to defend former Governor George Ryan on a pro bono basis, which cost the firm over $10 million. Some praised his decision; others criticized it.

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Thompson explained that the decision was a matter of honor, and that the move would increase Winston’s business in the future. “We don’t walk away from clients. Winston & Strawn doesn’t shy away from tough cases.”

Source: Chicago Business

Photo credit: Daily Herald, (Fahner)



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