THE US CHAMBER'S
LEGAL STRIKE FORCE
They filed as parties or amici in 106 cases, 30 before the Supreme Court, and were on the winning side of about half—yet they’re only three lawyers. But the Litigation Center of the US Chamber of Commerce, marking its 30th anniversary this year, is more active than ever in its mission to make the marketplace safe for business.
The idea for the Center came from late Supreme Court Justice Lewis Powell, who just prior to joining the bench wrote a neighbor (who was chair of a Chamber committee) about promoting free enterprise. One of his suggestions: The Chamber should become more active in the courts. It took him up on the idea and today delights in challenging statutes and regulations.
Center head Robin Conrad has herself been there since 1983, when she was hired as environmental counsel following a stint with Reagan's firebrand EPA chief Ann Gorsuch. Last week the National Law Journal named Robin one of the 50 most influential women lawyers in America.
To maintain its high level of activity, Robin focuses on case management rather than arguing cases herself. For the latter job, she retains some of the top law firms in the country to help draft briefs and make appearances—big name appellate practitioners like Sidley’s Carter Phillips, Mayer Brown’s Andy Frey, and Gibson Dunn’s Gene Scalia (who, for example, successfully represented them in challenging SEC regs that would have required independent chairmen on mutual fund boards). The Center has many dues-paying law firm members (entitling them to participate in case selection), but the great majority of its members are corporations who support its unabashed business advocacy.
With her staff attorney, Shane Brennan, above right, who handles labor and employment issues and Amar Sarwal who handles general litigation, Robin and her team cover the business waterfront. The Center has entered nearly 1,100 cases in its three decades and been particularly active trying to rein in what it sees as abusive class actions and excessive punitive damages.
The Center has another nexus to the Supreme Court—the same architect, Cass Gilbert. They even share the same floral ceiling tiles in their buildings, although in different colors. The Chamber building is itself historic, built in 1922 on the site of Daniel Webster's home. The legal eagles have a small suite of offices on the second floor overlooking Lafayette Park and the White House.
Born near Albany and raised outside New Haven, Robin is a grad of Mt Holyoke ('76) and Catholic Law School ('79). And she's got a sense of humor. An equestrienne and fox chaser who belongs to the Howard County-Iron Bridge Hounds Club and has a six acre horse "farmette" in Brookville, she has three thoroughbred horses named Stare Decisis, Frequent Flyer, and See You in Court.