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Litigator Phil Sechler joins Law School faculty


As a partner at Williams & Connolly in Washington, D.C., Phil Sechler has been a major player in many high-profile cases.

Take, for example, a legal battle between two major newspaper competitors: the St. Paul Pioneer Press and the Minneapolis Star Tribune. When the publisher of the Pioneer Press left for the Star Tribune, he took valuable information with him from one competitor to the other. The Pioneer Press sued, and Sechler was part of the legal team that kicked the publisher out of his job. The case about the news made it in the news—national news. He has a memento of the newspaper headlines in his Katz Building office (room 231).

He also has Nittany Lion bookends. Sechler graduated from Penn State in 1985 and went on to get his J.D. from Georgetown Law. He then worked for over 20 years as an attorney at Williams & Connolly, which Sechler describes a “traditional, litigation-oriented” law firm. Williams & Connolly is also the rare law firm without any particular specialty—during his time there, Sechler worked on cases of real estate, contract, trade secret, false arrest, shareholder, finance and more. And St. Paul Pioneer Press vs. Minneapolis Star Tribune was far from the only one that made headlines.

Although Sechler talks excitedly about landmark cases he worked on, including litigation surrounding the attacks on September 11, 2001, he’s developed a passion for something else: teaching.

Sechler began work as an adjunct professor ten years ago. He has taught at both Georgetown and George Mason Law, and he joins Penn State Law this fall to teach advocacy full time as the Distinguished Visitor from Practice.

“As an adjunct professor, I usually taught two hours a week, and they were my favorite two hours of the week,” he said with a wide smile.

Sechler relates his practical experience to law students by encouraging them to find real-world applications to their readings.

“I inject both real-life and hypothetical problems into classroom discussion and have students work towards a resolution,” he said.

As someone who’s been at the hiring table, Sechler will offer practical job-search advice to his students as well.

“Make sure that you spend your summers productively,” he advises. The summer after his second year of law school, Sechler worked at Wilmer Hale, also in Washington, which he says helped him land his spot at Williams & Connolly later.

And although his litigation experience may be his biggest asset to the classroom, he brings something else for his students to enjoy: his sense of humor.

“We’re terrible,” he said about his punk-rock band, Dangerous Communications Device. They play once a year at Washington’s battle of law firm bands. The event usually raises 60 percent of the annual budget for Gifts for the Homeless in one night. He says his time at Williams & Connolly instilled in him the firm’s sense of moral advocacy—something he hopes he can instill in his students as well.

“Williams & Connolly is steeped in a culture of advocacy and putting the client first in all matters,” he said. “I look forward to teaching both Advocacy and Professional Responsibility.”

 

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