The Indomitable Lisa Blatt ’89

portrait of Lisa Blatt

With fifty career arguments at the U.S. Supreme Court, this advocate is an unstoppable force in law.

Written by Liz Anderson Hilton
Portrait by Stephen Voss

Fierce. Capable. Funny. Direct. These are just a few words that describe Lisa Blatt ’89. With her April 23, 2024 argument on behalf of Starbucks, we can add history-making, as Blatt joins an elite group of lawyers — the first woman among them — with fifty career arguments before the highest court. Blatt is the most active female member, and among the all-time winningest advocates, of the SCOTUS bar in United States history. 

Over her career, the Williams & Connolly Chair of the firm’s Supreme Court and Appellate practice has argued forty-six cases and won forty-one, an eighty-nine percent win rate.

While it’s easy enough to rattle off her accomplishments, Blatt defies pat description and standard categories. She’s not afraid to say what she thinks and she’s thriving professionally. This fact alone makes her a stand-out in any profession, much less one as traditional as Big Law or as refined and exclusive as the SCOTUS bar.

She is a self-described liberal feminist who publicly supported Justice Brett Kavanaugh when he was named to the high court. She’s a legal genius who bonded over fashion with Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg during her clerkship with the judge. Blatt prepares for oral advocacy as all-out war and with a sense that someone is going to die. “I don’t want it to be me,” she says. And behind her fierce determination she embraces her identify as a “Lady Lawyer.” A working mother of two now-grown children, Blatt has been able to control her calendar choosing roles and part-time schedules without the typical kiss-of-death consequences to her career.

“She’s a force in court, a completely no-nonsense kind of lawyer who will be direct and sometimes even blunt in her arguments,” says Kellogg Hansen’s David Frederick ’89, a fellow SCOTUS bar superstar who also happens to be Blatt’s 1L section-mate and friend. In an Original Jurisdiction podcast with host David Lat, she quipped, “My style, if it’s unique, it’s that I have this very strong view that truth is the best form of advocacy.” Add to this stark candor verbal jousting that at times draws delighted laughter from the high court, and you’ll realize the tightrope that Blatt walks.

“My style, if it’s unique, it’s that I have this very strong view that truth is the best form of advocacy.”

But describe her style as inimitable, and she balks. She’s not curating a style. Blatt is simply being who she is. Forthright to the point of blunt. Direct to the point of being funny. It’s these very aspects of her unique style that make her an unusual trailblazer. For Blatt, even in the win-lose world of SCOTUS arguments, a good bit of success is knowing who you are, apart from what others think, and just going for it. It’s this aspect of her style — truth, authenticity, and indomitability — that she very much hopes to pass on to younger lawyers.

Having benefited from formidable mentors like RBG and her former boss at the Solicitor General’s office, Paul Clement, Blatt leans into her own mentorship of others. “I spend literally the majority of my time trying to get argument opportunities for people younger than me,” she explains. “That means bringing in pro bono clients with advocacy opportunities, communicating why high-profile oral arguments should be shared, and encouraging the younger attorneys.”

Like many of the young people she mentors, Blatt did not always enjoy the self-assurance that might naturally foretell of a legal legend. Despite her strong academic career at UT and having earned a coveted clerkship with RBG, the young Jewish woman from San Angelo felt less accomplished and less capable than her fellow clerks from Ivy League schools.

Courtroom sketch
Lisa Blatt argues for Halkbank on Jan. 17, 2023. Image courtesy of William J. Hennessy Jr.

By her own account, she did not thrive in her first stint as a trial lawyer. She left Williams & Connolly after just three years. At the Solicitor General’s office, she found a home for her strengths along with a sense that she could be more herself.

For Blatt, who prefers burnt orange and cowboy boots to staid suits and heels, her Texas roots are still near the surface. In a deft move on rebuttal in Romag Fasteners, Inc. vs. Fossil, Inc. (2020), Blatt tossed in a comment that while she “did not go to a fancy law school,” she knew the cases she cited were, in fact, on her side. The offhand remark prompted Justice Ginsberg to attest that “Texas is a fine school,” which in turn garnered lighthearted laughter among the justices. 

Did she just burn her opposing cousel? Was it a glimpse of that latent insecurity? Was it a mistake to toss her credentials up against her opponent’s Ivy League pedigree? The court ruled 9-0 in favor of Blatt’s client.

“She is an incredible advocate who works tirelessly to find the winning angle,” says Clement. “That was obvious in the Solicitor General’s office where, across administrations and substantive issues, she just kept winning.” And now, she’s making history, too. 

Category: Opening Statements