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  • Writer's pictureAnastasia Boden

SCOTUS Gentleman Q&A: Kannon Shanmugam

For our inaugural interview with a SCOTUS gentleman, we thought there was no one better to interview than the advocate who, according to one study, had the highest rate of successful petitions over a five year period of any Supreme Court practitioner.

Chair of Paul Weiss's Supreme Court and Appellate Litigation Practice, Kannon Shanmugam has argued nearly 40 cases before SCOTUS and over 100 appeals in lower courts, including arguments in every federal court of appeals. He's a former clerk to Justice Antonin Scalia, fan of double spaces after periods (but how does he feel about the oxford comma?), a jayhawks fan (umm, how does he find time for sports?), and a defender of the separation of powers. Without further ado: Kannon Shanmugam.

SCOTUS Ladies: What drew you to a career in law?

Kannon Shanmugam: If I’m being honest, it was probably LA Law.  Growing up, I wanted to be Harry Hamlin and had a crush on Susan Dey.  But in college, I was torn between law and journalism; I was editor of my college paper and worked summers for my hometown paper, the Kansas City Star.  In a rare moment of foresight, I realized journalism was going to be a tough way to make a living, and chose law instead.

SCOTUS Ladies: We see you majored in Classics. How has your Classics background helped in your legal career?

Kannon Shanmugam: A classical education is great training for a career in the lawyou learn how to analyze text closely and how to think about language and history.  I’m also quite sure that Justice Scalia hired me as a law clerk simply because he liked the idea of having a classics major in chambers.

SCOTUS Ladies: If you were a character in a Greek myth, who would you be? 

Kannon Shanmugam: Achilles, but without the heel.

SCOTUS Ladies: The subject matter of the cases you’ve argued run the gamut. Are there specific legal doctrines that you are particularly passionate about or find especially interesting?

Kannon Shanmugam: This is a bit of a copout, but one of the things I love most about being an appellate litigator is the sheer breadth of the subject matter of the cases I handle.  In the next few months alone, I’ll be arguing cases on arbitration, Indian law, antitrust, copyright, and the tax treatment of the proceeds of life-insurance policies held by closely held corporations on their owners (I’m particularly excited about that last one).  I have particularly strong views about the rule of the last antecedent, but I don’t want to scare your readers.

SCOTUS Ladies: How do you prepare for an argument? Any rituals, superstitions?

Kannon Shanmugam: I think my preparation is pretty much the same as for other advocatesI typically do two moot courts for most arguments, and I spend a lot of time thinking about the questions I’m most likely to get (and the best answers).  I wish I had some sort of cool superstition, but I really don’t.  Before my Supreme Court arguments, I do get my shoes shined at the shoeshine stand at Union Stationa ritual that goes back to my days as an intern working for Senator Dole.

SCOTUS Ladies: What’s something you’ve learned that you wish you knew earlier in your career?

Kannon Shanmugam: Treat everyone you encounter the same waywith kindness and respect.

SCOTUS Ladies: What’s your happiest memory of clerking for Justice Scalia?

Kannon Shanmugam: Probably the time I persuaded him that “fraudster” was an actual word (and convinced him to use it in an opinion, for the first time in the history of the Supreme Court).

SCOTUS Ladies: So much has been written about the justice. What’s something about him that would surprise people?

Kannon Shanmugam: Given how brilliant Justice Scalia was, one might think it all came effortlessly to him.  But he worked so hard on his writing, and he was so meticulous about it.  My abiding memory of the Justice is seeing him in his office, hunched over his keyboard, cigarette in hand, working on a draft opinion.

SCOTUS Ladies: You’ve argued over 100 cases, including dozens at the Supreme Court. What’s your proudest moment as an advocate?

Kannon Shanmugam: I’ve been fortunate to argue some big cases over the yearsSeila Law v. CFPB and Maryland v. King come immediately to mind.  But my proudest moment was probably arguing three very complex cases in a single week in the Second Circuit a couple of years ago.  That was more challenging than any single Supreme Court argument.

SCOTUS Ladies: You've accomplished things many lawyers only dream of. What career milestones do you next want to achieve?

Kannon Shanmugam: I’ve never really thought about career milestonesI don’t even keep track of how many Supreme Court cases I’ve argued (I leave that to our marketing team).  My only goal is for my next argument to be the best argument I’ve ever done.

SCOTUS Ladies: You are an excellent advocate. Defend your most absurd belief in three sentences.

Kannon Shanmugam: The typographers are right that writers should usually put only one space between sentences.  But I think legal writing is better with two, because otherwise it can be hard to read with in-text citations.  (And putting all the citations in footnotes is beyond the pale, particularly in the age of reading on screens.)

SCOTUS Ladies: Tell us about your new podcast (and how do you find the time?!).

Kannon Shanmugam: The podcast is called Court Briefs; as the name suggests, our goal is to provide brief, timely analysis of Supreme Court decisions of particular interest to the business community.  We were originally going to make this available only to our clients, but we decided to open it up to everyone, so please subscribe!  And the biggest key to success in this profession is being a bit ruthless when it comes to time management.

(Check out the podcast here!)


Which legal luminary should we interview next? Send us your suggestions! 


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