“Things turn out best for the people who make the best of the way things turn out.”
This quote from famous American basketball coach John Wooden captures the essence of one man who has reached the pinnacle of success in his legal career. Jonathan C. Bunge – Managing Partner of Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan’s Chicago office – has enjoyed a stellar career both in private practice and in the public sector. His fascinating journey has seen him work on local and state public corruption cases, head the General Crime division at the U.S. Attorney’s Office, and represent corporate mammoths such as McDonald’s and IBM.
Born into a family that had already made important contributions to the law, Jonathan (also known as Jon) might seem to have been destined to be a litigator. With over 50 jury and bench trials under his belt in addition to a vast array of domestic and international arbitrations, Jon has a wide range of expertise, including non-compete and trade secret disputes, commercial disputes, white-collar criminal cases, product liability cases, environmental issues, and securities and financial disputes. He is an esteemed Fellow of the American College of Trial Lawyers and has received multiple accolades from publications such as The American Lawyer as one of Chicago’s and the country’s top trial lawyers.
Over time he has successfully handled a significant number of appeals. Throughout his career, he presented oral arguments in over 20 cases across various federal and state appellate courts, including four civil matters before the California appellate courts. He has a proven track record of success, having achieved favorable outcomes in the majority of his appeals.
Beyond his role as a litigator, Jon has also contributed to the legal fraternity through teaching and mentorship. He lectures at the University of Chicago Law School, where he has taught courses on Franchise & Distribution Law, Corporate Crimes & investigations, Evidence, and Federal Criminal Law. He is also the Co-Chair of his firm’s National Trial Practice Group, through which young lawyers benefit from the mentorship of experienced trial lawyers. “I work with a lot of very talented younger lawyers, so I rely on them a lot in connection with my cases,” he said.
Jon graduated cum laude from Princeton University in 1984 and went on to finish his J.D. with honors in 1988 from the University of Chicago. Soon after, he applied for a coveted position as a judicial clerk with Hon. James Buckley at the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, following which he clerked for Justice Byron White on the U.S. Supreme Court. He often recalls his early career days and how he was blessed with mentors who helped him develop the values that would bring him the success he was to enjoy. “I think I am fairly humble and am willing to listen to ideas from anyone. I think that I evaluate people based on merit and that nothing else matters that much to me,” he said.
Jon’s commitment to litigation was soon put to work after he joined the Justice Department in 1988 through the honors program in the Solicitor General’s Office. He excelled in this position and soon joined the U.S. Attorney’s Office as an assistant U.S. Attorney, where he served from 1990-1999. While there he also served as the deputy chief of the General Crimes Section. The U.S Attorney’s Office marked the start of a fascinating period in Jon’s career and involved him in the role of a lead prosecutor in a series of high-profile cases such as:
- The prosecution of the Ford Heights, Illinois Chief of Police and six other officers on charges of corruption and racketeering.
- Various cases arising from the Silver Shovel investigation into political corruption in City and State government.
- A terrorism case involving the efforts of a Puerto Rican independence group to bomb a military recruiting center.
- The prosecution of a large Chicago street gang that attempted to purchase military weapons to attack a Chicago police station.
- A series of fraud prosecutions involving securities and other types of businesses.
These cases shaped Jon’s expertise and experience in handling complex and high-stakes legal matters.
While government practice brought Jon widespread praise and recognition, including the Department of Justice’s Director’s Award for Superior Performance as an Assistant United States Attorney and four Department of Justice Special Achievement Awards – his mettle remained unproven in private practice. In 2000, Jon went to work for Kirkland and Ellis, LLP, a multi-national law firm headquartered in Chicago, eventually becoming one of its litigation partners. After over a decade of representing clients in matters ranging from commercial disputes to white-collar criminal matters, he was then sought out by Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan, LLP to head their Chicago office. While in private practice, Jon preserved his dedication to matters of public importance, serving as a Special Assistant Attorney General, through which he assisted the Illinois Attorney General’s office in organizing a Public Integrity Unit.
In an interview with Ideamensch Jon pondered over the aspect of failure – something a lawyer must befriend if he is to succeed. “I’ve had many. One thing that is difficult about being a trial lawyer is that there is a very real risk of losing—especially in the cases for which we get hired. I have had some hard losses. I’ve tried to overcome these by learning whatever lessons I could from the experience and moving on.”
With all done and said, Jon continues to inspire a generation of young lawyers and in very simple words he sets out his advice for those who want to excel in their legal careers. “I tried to become good at the craft of lawyering—learning how to cross-examine witnesses, write and argue persuasively, etc.”
When not working, Jon like to spend time at home with his three children, aged 21,19, and 17, his wife and their two dogs. A history buff, he also spends much of his time reading up on the American Civil War. “I have been unsuccessfully trying to get my children to read ‘Hymns of the Republic: The Story of the Final Year of the American Civil War’ by S.C. Gwynne,” he said. “I want my children to read this book because I think there is no turning back once one becomes interested in this topic. It seems to me that it is hard to know much about America without knowing something about the Civil War.”