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Following stints as a law clerk to U.S. Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy and as an assistant U.S. attorney in the Southern District of New York, Alex Willscher joined Sullivan & Cromwell in August 2010 as a special counsel. He was elected partner in the Firm’s Litigation Group in January 2014. The New Hampshire native shared some details of his career with us.
Why did you eventually choose litigation as your field of law?
Partially for the adrenaline rush. Arguing in front of the Court of Appeals or delivering a jury address are among the most exciting things I’ve done in my life. I also like the intellectual challenges of litigating cases. You regularly find yourself learning about new businesses, new products and new people. I enjoy the strategic aspects of litigation and adjusting to unexpected bumps in the road. And it’s always very satisfying to write an excellent legal brief.
You had two clerkships, including one for Justice Kennedy on the U.S. Supreme Court. How would you describe those experiences?
Both of the judges for whom I clerked were excellent writers. I have relied throughout my career on the writing skills that I learned early on from them. It was a thrill to be around the Court on a daily basis. My term was the one that followed Bush v. Gore, so it was quiet by comparison, but we had our share of interesting issues, including the constitutionality of school vouchers. A huge benefit of the experience was the opportunity to attend oral arguments and to learn from the lawyers who appeared before the court. I’d love to have the chance to argue a case before the Supreme Court someday.
You spent five years as a federal prosecutor, working as an assistant U.S. attorney in the Southern District of New York. What did you take away from that experience?
I was lucky to have been able to try nine cases and argue a number of appeals before the Second Circuit. It was an excellent opportunity to gain experience before judges and juries. The job also taught me to think creatively as a lawyer because the issues I encountered often presented novel legal questions. For example, I worked on a case involving bribery at the United Nations that raised a number of previously unanswered questions about the U.N.’s sovereign immunity and the applicability of various U.S. laws to U.N. officials. I also learned to work quickly, sometimes under a great deal of pressure, and I developed confidence in my judgment, which I think is a very important part of being a good lawyer.
Your experience as a prosecutor must be enormously helpful to your practice now.
Definitely, especially in terms of having confidence in your ability to be an advocate before the court. It is also helpful in dealing with the government, as you have an appreciation of the kinds of things the government lawyers are thinking about.
How does working in private practice differ from public service?
I’ve found that the most pronounced difference is in working with clients. Especially with respect to clients who are facing government investigations, a significant part of my job now is helping clients deal with the uncertainty of facing such scrutiny. You quickly realize, in a way that wasn’t totally apparent in my prior public service work, that virtually every action the government takes can have a significant emotional and psychological impact on a client.
Workout of choice: CrossFit
Favorite way to relax: Rock climbing at Brooklyn Boulders
Reason for joining S&C: The people I know and have met at S&C are uniformly impressive, professional and friendly. They also demonstrate a clear commitment to their colleagues and to the Firm as an institution. That made me want to be a part of the team.

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