LEADERSHIP IN LAW 2016: Philip Zimmerly

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There’s a good chance that when you read a brief written by Philip Zimmerly, you’ll catch a pop culture reference to “Star Wars” or Dr. Suess. One judge said his witty writing is a welcome trait in a profession that can sometimes be too serious. The labor and employment and litigation attorney is credited as being instrumental in an Indiana Court of Appeals case in which the court decided that an employer does not need to wait until an employee has engaged in actionable sexual harassment before taking action to stop the conduct. He serves as a volunteer intake attorney for Neighborhood Christian Legal Clinic and as a mentor through the Starfish Initiative.

zimmerly-philip-15col.jpg (IL photo/Eric Learned)

Why include cultural references in your briefs? Which are you proudest of?

It keeps things fresh for me as a writer and (I hope) the reader. I like a line I used once where I referenced “Don Corleone’s irrefusable offer,” because it seemed to capture the take-it-or-lose-everything offer from my client’s opponent.

Why do you regularly participate in the naturalization ceremonies?

It’s kind of like cheering people on at the finish line of a marathon. I’m honored and inspired to greet people at the completion of their journey to attaining citizenship.

What was it like to provide counsel to a U.S. senator on executive and judicial nominations, including Sonia Sotomayor to the Supreme Court and Elena Kagan as solicitor general?

Exciting. It was surreal to be watching history in person. Some highlights included staffing the nomination hearing of Attorney General Eric Holder (which happened to coincide with the Miracle on the Hudson), going to New York City to pore through files on Justice Sotomayor, and making cameo appearances in the background of C-SPAN (“Hi Mom!”).

What’s something about you not many people know?

I can’t swim.

What was the most memorable job you had prior to becoming an attorney?

Radio DJ at Sunny 106.5 FM in DuBois, Pennsylvania — “The station that picks you up and makes you feel good.” I went by the moniker “Phil Richards,” voiced the evening shift, mixed commercials and reported on weather.

What do you like the most about being an attorney? What do you like least?

Best: When justice prevails. Worst: When it’s delayed or denied.

What is the most important lesson you learned from your mentor?

To let my faith inform my decisions.

Why practice in the area of law you do?

I enjoy employment law because the focus is on people. The businesses that I work with are making the lives of the people who work for them better. It’s great to be a member of their team, learning the nuts and bolts of their business, and advising them on compliance with the law. In my litigation practice, it’s fulfilling to work together with clients to reach resolution where things may have fallen apart. My goal is always to help each client build their business, even when others are trying to tear it down.

Where do you see yourself in 20 years?

I never let myself get that far ahead. Chris Rice sings a line “Teach me to count the days, teach me to make the days count.” I try to live each day to the fullest.

What will the legal profession look like in 15 years? 

Not too different, I hope. I love the attorneys and staff I work with and the work that we do. I hope we’re all still storming the castle 15 years from now.

If you couldn’t be a lawyer, what would you do for a living?

Teach high school English. My three high school English teachers — Mrs. Korthaus, Mrs. Kunkle, and Mr. Murphy — were critical to my development as a thinker, leader and person. It’d be nice to encourage future students in the same way.

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