They’ve Got Next: The 40 Under 40 – Michelle Ramirez of Sidley Austin


Please describe two of your most substantial, recent wins in practice.
In partnership with Pfizer, we represented an 80-year-old man sentenced to 20 years in prison for a non-violent drug crime. In April 2022, the court granted our compassionate release motion, finding that our client’s age, decline in health, and risk of experiencing COVID-19 complications were “extraordinary and compelling” reasons warranting release. This is a life changing victory for our client, and it is a true honor to achieve this type of success with the Pfizer team!

I am also very proud of the successes we have had for Bayer in the Essure litigation. One win that stands out is a successful motion to dismiss in Chicago—my home. In 2020, the Court granted our motion to dismiss in full. It is always fun to get a win in your hometown!

What is the most important lesson you learned as a first-year attorney and how does it inform your practice today?
Before I was an attorney, I was an 8th grade English teacher. The most important lesson that I learned is the same lesson I internalize in my legal practice: Be prepared! The old saying ‘An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure’ is true. Whether it is preparing for a deposition, a strategy meeting, or oral argument, the time you spend preparing will pay dividends.

How do you define success in your practice?
I am the first person in my family to attend law school. There is no doubt that I am where I am because of the many mentors that took a chance and supported and mentored me along the way. But true success is mentoring and seeing others succeed. I am finding other attorneys looking to me to lead and for support—and that is indeed a humbling moment.

What are you most proud of as a lawyer?
I am fortunate to have had a lot of successes for my clients. But I think my proudest moment was leading a team along with the National Immigrant Justice Center in a series of three pro bono victories on behalf of individuals detained at a correctional facility at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic.

We filed three federal habeas lawsuits in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of Illinois on behalf of detainees in the custody of US Immigration and Customs Enforcement seeking their release because they faced severe risks from a COVID infection due to underlying conditions. In addition, we brought due process claims for unconstitutionally prolonged detention. We successfully obtained continued release of all three clients. Incredibly proud to be able to protect these individuals’ lives in the midst of this global event.

One of our clients shared his story with the US House of Representatives Committee on the Judiciary Subcommittee on Immigration and Citizenship. This client has become a voice for all immigrants in detention.

Who is your greatest mentor in the law and what have they taught you?
I have been so fortunate to have many mentors—going back to my days in the classroom! I realized early on that one of the keys to success is to seek out mentors. You truly cannot do this career alone. I have been so fortunate to be surrounded by these incredible female litigation partners at [currently or formerly at] Sidley—Heidi Levine, Maja Eaton, Sara Gourley, Debra Pole, Elizabeth Curtin, Jana Wozniak, Kara McCall, Alycia Degen. These women are extraordinary lawyers and people. But one thing that makes my practice unique is that I have the opportunity to work with a number of other law firms, and have found mentors in some extraordinary co-counsel as well. It speaks volumes about this profession to be able to say you have mentors at other firms.

Just for fun, tell us your two favorite songs on your summer music playlist.
I always go classic! Anything by the [Rolling] Stones—“Gimme Shelter” is always a favorite. Chrissie Hynde’s “Brass in Pocket” always makes an appearance on my summer playlist as well.

Michelle Ramirez is a member of Sidley’s Summer Committee in Chicago, which oversees and mentors the firm’s summer associate program. She is also an active member of her firm’s Committee on Retention and Promotion of Women and its Diversity and Inclusion Committee. Prior to her legal career, she taught eighth grade English.


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