Photo by Eli Meir Kaplan.
Arnold & Porter made the right move in 2009 when it hired Lisa Blatt to chair the firm’s appellate and Supreme Court practice. Blatt had recently concluded a l3-year stint as Assistant to the Solicitor General, where she had worked with a half-dozen different solicitors general and briefed more than 250 cases. Blatt worked at Williams & Connolly and then the Department of Energy before joining the Solicitor General’s office.
Since joining Arnold & Porter, Blatt has led one of the nation’s busiest appellate practices while adding to her own stellar record; she has prevailed in 32 of the 33 cases she has argued before the Supreme Court, making her mark in several different areas of law.
Lawdragon: Can you share the names of others you consider to be the most accomplished Supreme Court advocates and what lessons have you drawn from them?
Lisa Blatt: Paul Clement. He taught me to be direct and to answer questions with common sense. He’s the best.
LD: The 2012-2013 term was incredibly successful for you, with victories impacting child welfare, Native American law, water rights, civil rights and antitrust. How does a high-court advocate prepare for such an array?
LB: When I have a Supreme Court case, I am never not in preparation mode for oral argument. I am constantly thinking about why we should win.
LD: And what is the least number of days you’ve had in between arguments?
LB: Six days, last term.
LD: How did you feel when you argued your first case before the Supreme Court?
LB: Ill, and I continue to feel quite ill before every argument, no matter what court because someone else’s rights are on the line as well as my credibility.
LB: Comparisons are often made between jury trials and theater – do advocates ever get stage fright?
LD: Appellate oral arguments have an element ofr – theater-the advocate’s job is to tell a compelling story.
LD: Do you have any argument superstitions or habits you observe?
LB: Actually, no.
LD: You spent many years at the Solicitor General’s office. Do you consider a stint there de riguer to being a standout high court advocate?
LB: Essentially yes only because it is otherwise difficult to get enough practice and experience before the Supreme Court. But several advocates have wildly succeeded despite not being in the Office, including Kathleen Sullivan and Tommy Goldstein.
LD: I see you teach at Georgetown University Law Center where you hold a professorship. What advice can you give to students hoping to emulate your success?
LB: The naked truth is the best form of advocacy.
LD: You’re a long way from Texas, where you attended law school. Are you a Longhorn fan? And what is the most valuable lesson you learned in law school?
LB: How could I not be? Get up earlier and work harder than everybody else. I’ve mellowed since then.
LD: Williams & Connolly is obviously a highly regarded firm. Can you explain why you left to start a career in government service? Were you set on trying to get to the SG’s office or was a career at the Department of Energy something you were interested in?
LB: I was not good at trial work; I did not like to travel; and I had been living with my future husband who was and still is at Williams & Connolly so I wanted us in separate jobs. As to your last question, I didn’t really hit my stride and know what I wanted out of a career until my late 30s/early 40s. This is where I want to be.
LD: Can you describe a few things that kept you at the Solicitor General’s office for 13 years? Is there something about your personality that you think enabled you to transition and work well with six different SGs over the different administrations?
LB: Two pregnancies and a husband at Williams & Connolly who traveled a lot. I needed to be in a job with no travel and a predictable schedule. The longer I stayed in the SG’s office, the more my brief writing and oral arguments improved. So the time there was all productive from my standpoint. I think, or at least hope, all of the SGs liked my outgoing personality.
LD: You must have had some options about where to go after. Why did you choose Arnold & Porter? Were you interested in chairing an appellate practice as opposed to “just” being a standout practitioner at a top firm?
LB: I wasn’t thinking about either of these things. Bob Litt, a former partner at Williams & Connolly and then just leaving Arnold & Porter for government, recruited me and convinced me that Arnold & Porter had the right mix of talented lawyers, a great client base, collegiality, and, extremely important for me, flexibility. The firm is a great, warm, and happy place for former government lawyers. Lawyers can write their own ticket here.