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Former Vice Chancellor Slights joins Wilson Sonsini

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Joseph R. Slights III | PHOTO COURTESY OF WILSON SONSINI

WILMINGTON – A few months after leaving the bench of the influential Court of Chancery, former Vice Chancellor Joseph Slights III has joined the Wilmington office of national corporate law firm Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati as a partner.

His decision to step down from the Chancery Court after serving half of his 12-year term was not an easy one, Slights told Delaware Business Times on Monday.

“It came after a lot of soul searching in the depths of the pandemic, when I gather a lot of folks were doing the same sort of thing,” he said. “I think the timing of it felt right. I always expected I was going to end up closing my professional career back in a law firm.”

First appointed to the Superior Court in 2000 by then-Gov. Tom Carper, Slights served for 12 years and presided over the court’s Complex Commercial Litigation Division. He then moved to Morris James in its Corporate and Commercial Litigation Group for four years before being tapped by then-Gov. Jack Markell to replace retiring Vice Chancellor John Noble in 2016.

After stepping down from the bench May 31, Slights said he quickly began to receive unsolicited opportunities at firms around the city.

“Following his accomplished 18 years of service as a judge and several years of private practice in Delaware, former Vice Chancellor Slights’ insights and unquestionably thorough understanding of critically important legal issues will be of substantial value to clients,” Doug Clark, managing partner at Wilson Sonsini, said in a statement announcing the move Monday. “Former Vice Chancellor Slights is widely praised for not only his many career achievements, but also for managing judicial matters with professionalism and fairness. We’re very proud to add yet another esteemed former member of the judiciary to our firm and pleased that he is joining an already formidable corporate governance team.”

In joining the Palo Alto, Calif.-headquartered firm well-known for its work with Silicon Valley companies, Slights will also be pairing back up with former longtime Chancellor William “Bill” Chandler III, who was a mentor and now leads the local firm office. Slights said he was excited by the opportunity to work alongside Chandler as well as the 30 talented attorneys in the Wilmington office on the cases of interesting clients.

“Seeing the kinds of clients that the firm has historically and continues to represent – innovative companies, tech companies, companies that are really looking forward in terms of adding value and trying to be creative – that was very appealing to me to be able to counsel and guide those companies,” he said.

One such firm client is Twitter, which Wilson Sonsini is representing in its high-profile clash with billionaire Elon Musk over their scuttled acquisition deal. Slights famously oversaw Musk’s last Chancery Court case, in which the enigmatic Tesla CEO won in a shareholder case concerning a billion-dollar acquisition of a solar firm.

During his tenure, Slights heard cases involving some of the nation’s largest public companies, like Facebook, FedEx, Goldman Sachs and McDonald’s, but hearing Musk’s case was perhaps the biggest spotlight of his Chancery career – he hasn’t heard whether he might be asked to contribute to Musk’s latest case and hasn’t discussed it with his former colleague, Chancellor Kathaleen McCormick, who is hearing the case. His time hearing scores of high-value cases over nearly two decades as a judge has convinced him of the importance of Delaware’s judiciary, not just to state residents but the country and world at large.

“I’ve just come to appreciate the importance of the corporate franchise to Delaware and how vital it is to our state’s success and prosperity. It really is as important as any other industry in the state,” he said, adding it was an honor to help create the jurisprudence that retains that reputation.

Slights said that he expects to begin quickly pitching in on Wilson Sonsini’s corporate governance counseling work, its transactional and litigation special committees, and in mediations and arbitrations as well. He hopes to expand his workload over the coming year to “remain useful” to the firm and isn’t treating the new role as a send-off toward retirement, he added.

As he does, he leaves a Chancery Court that has turned over considerably, with three new vice chancellors appointed in the last three years – a third of the nine-seat court. The State Senate recently confirmed former Block & Leviton partner Nathan Cook to fill Slights’ seat on the all-important, business-focused court.

Slights said he isn’t concerned about Chancery’s future though.

“I think the court right now is as strong as it’s ever been. And I’m not just saying that,” he said. “There are some really talented judges who I think view their role appropriately, which is to decide cases that are in front of them. They don’t have to project that they’re the smartest people in the room. They listen, they learn and they do their best to provide prompt decisions and work as hard as any public servant can.”

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