Moritz College of Law The Ohio State University
This Month @ Moritz

Brian Burns '97 to Be Honored by OSU's Alumni Association for Uncommon Early Career Achievement and by Moritz for Outstanding Service

Brian Burns

The next morning, September 11, Brian exited one of the last PATH trains from New Jersey into One World Trade Center shortly after the first plane hit. He worked his way up from the sub-basement of the building only to witness the unspeakable horror of the second plane strike, which showered eyewitnesses like Brian with building debris.

When asked to describe his emotions about those decisive life-altering minutes, Brian says: "I was filled with so many mixed thoughts: sadness, horror, anger, but mostly, fear. I was thinking about the people trapped in the Towers, but my own immediate fear was that I would leave my newlywed wife, Kelli, a widow, and our children orphans. Kelli, our daughter Shannika, and I had just learned that Kelli was pregnant.  What we did not know until after 9/11 is that we were having twins. Our fraternal twin girls Chelsea and Lexie were born the following April."

Brian is no stranger to facing challenges. As a law student at Ohio State, Brian's peers elected him to one of the most challenging posts a student can hold at the Moritz College of Law, Editor-in-Chief of the student-run Ohio State Law Journal. He managed the student staff of 60 writers, published five issues, and won the Dennis B. Eastman Award for contributing most to the esprit de corps of the Journal. He also won the Donald S. Becker student leader/scholar award, and graduated in the top 10 percent of his class, earning Order of the Coif honors.

Upon graduation, Brian accepted a prestigious federal appellate clerkship for the Honorable R. Guy Cole, then newly appointed to the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals. Assisting Judge Cole with complex and challenging cases prepared Brian for the rigors of his next job with Cleary, Gottlieb, Steen & Hamilton in the highly competitive New York legal market.

As a corporate associate, Brian worked on a series of progressively more sophisticated mergers and acquisitions for U.S. and foreign corporations and investment banks. During the late 1990s economic boom, junior and mid-level associates at Wall Street law firms were often pushed to handle greater responsibility on the flood of incoming corporate transactions, especially given the high levels of voluntary attrition among senior and mid-level corporate associates seeking their fortunes at dot.coms and investment banks. Brian thrived in Cleary Gottlieb's complex international practice and even temporarily relocated to its offices in Hong Kong and Frankfurt to represent the interests of Baring Private Equity Fund (Asia) Partners and Deutsche Bank, respectively.

During his tenure at Cleary Gottlieb, Brian convinced the firm to begin recruiting on campus at Ohio State. Brian not only conducted the on-campus interviews, he became an informal mentor for Buckeyes who completed summer clerkships and ultimately joined the firm. He also encouraged fellow Ohio State alumni in other New York firms to add the Moritz College of Law to their recruiting schedules. Anne English French '03, who will join Cleary Gottlieb at the conclusion of her clerkship with Judge Batchelder of the U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals, says of her mentor, "All Brian has ever asked in return for his kindness and help is that I do for future OSU law students what he did for me."

Brian with twins
Brian with twin daughters Chelsea and Lexie

Beginning in March 2001, Brian began returning to the College each year to teach an annual one-week intensive course entitled "Mergers and Acquisitions of Publicly Traded Corporations." He has taught the course three times. Professor Morgan Shipman calls Brian "an accomplished, superb teacher." Former student Nicholas M. Smith '03 adds that Brian is "exciting, challenging, and genuine" in the classroom.

Brian's growing reputation led to an offer to join Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia, Inc. in February 2002. As Vice President and Deputy General Counsel he played an integral role in managing federal and state civil suits brought against the corporation, its directors, certain executive officers, and its chairman and CEO in connection with recent well-publicized federal and Congressional investigations into private actions allegedly taken by Martha Stewart.

When asked about working at the epicenter of this crisis, Brian says: "Putting aside the merits of the Justice Department's decision to bring a case against Martha under these facts, which has been heavily criticized by many, including conservatives like Bill Safire and Steve Forbes, it is tragic that her company's 600 employees and officers have had to bear the burden of this prosecution along with Martha. Martha was very understanding when I made the decision to leave, and she expressed her gratitude for my work and sacrifices during that difficult period for her and the company."

During this period of intense crisis management, Brian found the time to create an internship for a Moritz law student with the corporation. He also helped the Moritz College of Law identify and recruit nationally prominent speakers for its alumni conference on corporate governance, including a Cleary Gottlieb partner who was the immediate past General Counsel of the Securities and Exchange Commission. Brian was instrumental in the creation of the new Morgan Shipman endowed merit scholarship as well.

In March 2003, Brian departed Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia, Inc. and returned to the private practice of law with the international firm of Sullivan & Cromwell. He has already spent a month working in their Melbourne, Australia office where he will relocate full-time in late November for one year before transferring to Sullivan & Cromwell's Sydney office for at least two more years. "Working for Sullivan & Cromwell in Australia allows me to have the best of both worlds: a challenging and cutting-edge international practice with a leading U.S. law firm coupled with an opportunity for my wife and three young daughters to connect with their family and cultural roots in Australia," adds Brian.

Brian with girls
Brian with daughter Shannika,
age 8, and the twins

In six short years, Brian has brought distinction to himself and his University through early and uncommon career achievement. His commitment to the Moritz College of Law has created both a scholarship and new career opportunities for younger alumni who, learning from Brian's example, will mentor those who follow them. Ohio State's Alumni Association will honor Brian with the Thompson Award for early career achievement on Friday, November 7 at the Hyatt Regency Hotel in Columbus. He will be presented with the Moritz Outstanding Recent Alumnus Award at the College's Michigan State tailgate on Saturday, November 8 to which all alumni are invited. Alumni and classmates wishing to send a note to Brian can reach him at burnsbr@sullcrom.com.

Brian and his wife Kelli have three daughters: Shannika, age 8, and twins Lexie Riley and Chelsea Jessica, 19 months.