Woman climbing a building to symbolize achievement.

Donielle McCutcheon, 38, Sidley Austin

Office: Chicago.

Practice area: Health care.

Law school and year of graduation: University of Chicago Law School, 2009.

How long have you been at the firm: 9.5 years.

How long were you an associate at the firm: About nine years.

Were you an associate at another firm before joining your present firm? No, I have been at Sidley since I was a summer associate in 2008.

What year did you make partner at your current firm? 2018, effective January 1, 2019.

A photo of Donielle McCutcheon of Sidley Austin. Donielle McCutcheon of Sidley Austin.

What’s the biggest surprise you experienced in becoming partner? The firm is fairly transparent about partner expectations, so there have not been any real surprises. As is our culture, it has been really wonderful to be welcomed to the partnership so quickly and experience the overwhelming support of my partners through opportunities to collaborate on client projects and pitches, efforts to elevate my profile, and, of course, ongoing mentoring, which all of us still need.

What do you think was the deciding point for the firm in making you partner? I am confident that such decision was not made based upon one client, matter, or relationship. In my experience, associates and counsel who are promoted to partner not only have a track record of excellent technical skills (writing, analysis, advocacy, etc.), but also the business acumen to understand their clients’ businesses and industries and provide practical solutions to their clients’ problems. As for a personality trait, good judgement is always at the top of the list.

Describe how you feel now about your career now that you’ve made partner. I was thrilled when I made partner. I do not intend for my elevation to the partnership to be the pinnacle of my career. Rather, I view it as the next phase of my professional development and an opportunity to use the Sidley platform to expand on and build our healthcare practice. Therefore, this is not the time to rest on my laurels.

What’s the key to successful business development in your opinion? Business development is all about authenticity and cultivating relationships. There is no one way to do it. Successful business development is more about how you engage with others and whether you do it intentionally and with generosity than the number of networking events you attend or articles you publish.

What’s been the biggest change, day-to-day, in your routine since becoming partner? For me, the transition from associate to partner has been in progress for several years. As a senior associate, I saw my role evolve as I took on more responsibility (both inside and outside the firm), expanded my ongoing relationships with clients, and managed a larger number of junior and midlevel associates. That’s all to say the change did not occur overnight. However, in recent years, I have increased my focus on building my practice, elevating my profile internally and externally, and laying the groundwork for the cutting edge healthcare regulatory practice I want to have five years from now. That means, on a day-to-day basis, I am devoting even more time to meeting with clients in person and understanding their needs and staying ahead of industry developments.

Who had the greatest influence in your career that helped propel you to partner? From as early as my time as a summer associate at Sidley, Meena Datta, global co-leader of Sidley’s health care practice, has had a formative influence on the trajectory of my career. She has, and continues to be, a critical mentor, sponsor, and advocate for me. In the early days, this took the form of training, advising on projects, and recommending me to key partners in our practice group. As I have progressed, she has provided significant opportunities, promoted my skills and expertise within the firm, and introduced me to key clients. She continues to serve as a critical professional resource for me.

What’s the best piece of advice you could give an associate who wants to make partner? Being a good firm citizen and participating in firm activities, whether it be through recruiting, attending firm-sponsored events, or other committee work pays off. Not only does it make the job more fulfilling, but the internal relationships you make through such engagement, particularly in a large law firm, will lead to cross-selling opportunities, leadership roles, and ultimately a more robust legal practice.