BY TIMOTHY HARPER
PHOTOGRAPHY BY MICHAEL PARAS
How Kathleen M. Sullivan went from
academia to the only female name partner
among the 100 largest firms in the country
KATHLEEN M. SULLIVAN
· PARTNER, QUINN EMANUEL
URQUHART & SULLIVAN
· NORTHERN CALIFORNIA SUPER
LA WYERS: 2007; TOP 50 WOMEN: 2007
· NEW YORK METRO SUPER LAWYERS:
2009–2014; TOP 50 WOMEN: 2010–2014
WHEN KATHLEEN M. SULLIVAN MAKES AN ARGUMENT BEFORE THE U.S. SUPREME
Court—and she’s argued before it nine times—this is her routine.
A few days in advance, she and several colleagues from her firm, Quinn Emanuel
Urquhart & Sullivan, take the Acela or a shuttle flight from New York to D.C. They check
in at the Hotel Sofitel, near the White House, which she calls “our lucky charm.” Then
they spend nearly every waking moment talking about the case. They eat together,
anticipating questions. They take long walks on the National Mall, practicing answers.
“We keep refining what we think the hard questions are, and how we think we should
answer them,” Sullivan says. “That process, I have to tell you, is about as good as it gets—
the process of being steeped in a case.”
That single-minded concentration has helped Sullivan win scores of cases in federal
and state appeals courts, and prompted speculation that she could become the first
openly gay justice on the U.S. Supreme Court. It’s also helped her become the only
female name partner among the largest 100 firms in the nation.
On the day of the argument, Sullivan rises early and goes to the gym for the
stationary bike and weights. She has the same breakfast: two bananas and coffee.
Lots of coffee. At the courthouse, she and her colleagues are ushered into the lawyers
lounge. Each attorney who appears—whether making an argument or sitting in silent
support as second chair—is given a quill pen as a souvenir of the occasion. Sullivan
is so focused she sometimes has to be reminded to take her pen, but so far she has
collected approximately 30 of them: nine from cases she argued personally and the
rest from sitting second chair.
At this point, Sullivan, 59, is like a well-conditioned boxer before a match, and her
colleagues are like trainers hovering in her corner. When Chief Justice John Roberts
recognizes her from the bench, and Sullivan stands up, takes a deep breath and begins,
“Mr. Chief Justice, and may it please the Court … ” she is all alone in the ring. But she
doesn’t feel alone. She is standing on the shoulders of all of those who have supported
her over the years.