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Why You Need to Know Yvette Ostolaza

The managing partner of the Dallas office of Sidley Austin LLP is someone you might want on your side in court.
By Karen Nielsen |

Why You Need to Know Her:

Because she’s a successful and powerful litigator who, alongside a group of senior partners, has expanded the Dallas office of Sidley Austin LLP from 15 to 60 lawyers in the last 18 months. And, she’s rumored to have the highest per-hour billing rate in town.

About two years ago, Ostolaza made headlines when she and eight partners joined Sidley after leaving Weil, Gotshal & Manges in Dallas, where Ostolaza had worked for 21 years. That number grew to more than 55 staff members exiting Weil’s Dallas and New York offices to join Sidley. As managing partner, Ostolaza has expanded the firm beyond its intellectual property practice to include litigation, finance, investigations, mergers and acquisitions, and private equity work. 

“Sidley is all about growing in Texas, and that growth was to become a full-service office, which we have now,” Ostolaza says, noting plans to add another 10 attorneys by the end of 2015. 

Her strong practice, dynamic personality, and proven leadership skills made her the “perfect person” to lead the Dallas office, says Larry Barden, chair of Sidley’s management committee. “She has a results-oriented approach, and the excellent performance of this office in the short time she’s been at the helm shows we made the right choice.” 

Ostolaza says one of the reasons she joined Sidley is because of its “positive view of what needs to happen in terms of diversity.” Of 10 leaders who recently got voted on to the firm’s executive committe, five were women, she points out. 

“I can be scary in the courtroom… making you look unprepared.” 

As the only daughter of Cuban immigrants who grew up in Miami, diversity—not just in terms of gender, but also concerning region, socioeconomic status, and ethnicity—is important to her. Her parents were both Operation Peter Pan children who escaped Fidel Castro’s communist regime in Cuba in the 1960s, and she grew up in active pursuit of her own American Dream. She says her ability to speak Spanish has helped attract clients to her legal practice. As a litigator and arbitrator she’s a skilled observer and problem solver who’s represented clients including Halliburton, Southwest Airlines, NPR, Zale Corp., Michaels, and Tuesday Morning, and has honed her expertise in whistleblower and investigation matters.

“When I get retained, I treat my client’s issues like my own,” Ostolaza says. “I stay up thinking about it, and what a ‘win’ is for them. Sometimes a ‘win’ is going through trial, and sometimes a ‘win’ is another resolution. I always say it’s like Goldilocks: What you’re paying me for is to get it just right—not too hot, not too cold.” 

About half of her practice involves advising boards and companies on internal investigations and defending them in shareholder lawsuits.

“You can be a healer or you can be a divider,” she says. “The boards, especially when they’re in high-priced litigation or investigations, can be faced with very sensitive issues that may be divisive. I think I can consensus-build and come up with winning solutions and a strategy.”

In the courtroom, Ostolaza has been called a “force of nature” by clients—and “scary” by opposing counsel.

“I would say if you’re not prepared on the other side and you’re going against my client, you should be scared, because we are going to be prepared,” she says of the strategy she brings to the courtroom. “I can be scary in the courtroom in terms of making you look unprepared.”

Beyond the bench, Ostolaza counts many clients as friends, and friends as clients. She takes an old-fashioned approach to the attorney-client relationship, viewing herself as a counselor in every sense of the word. It’s what she calls “triple Scrabble points.” 

“If your clients are your friends and you’re enjoying what you do and you get to know their families, that’s the way people expect lawyers to be—not just somebody who’s billing you by the hour, but somebody who cares about your business, thinks about what’s going on with you, and doesn’t charge for every call you make.”

The mother of three has been married for 24 years to attorney Peter Dewar, whom she met on a first-year law school summer internship in El Paso. Her parents also live close by.

“I love Texas,” says Ostolaza, who keeps a list of things she appreciates about the Lone Star State. “I’m a total Texan. It’s a great place for women; we’ve had women governors and mayors, and you can’t say that for a lot of states.”

Sidley Austin is subleasing space at 2001 Ross until its swanky new penthouse office in Uptown’s McKinney & Olive building is ready for occupancy in August 2016. In the new 75,000-square-foot space, there will be room to accommodate even more new hires and support the ongoing growth of the firm’s Dallas practice. 

Now, back to that highest-paid hourly rate rumor: “I don’t know that that’s true, but it’s fair to say we are a premier practice, we hire the top people that graduate from school, and I’ve never been slow in 22 years,” Ostolaza says. “When the market tells me that I’m not busy, then I’ll know. I hope my clients think I’m worth it.”