Legal Blog

A Video Conversation with Paul Winterhalter, Bankruptcy Attorney With Offit Kurman in Philadelphia- On Arguing At The Supreme Court

Paul J. Winterhalter is a principal-level attorney in Offit Kurman’s Philadelphia office. Since 1983, Paul has represented businesses and individuals in bankruptcy matters, commercial litigation proceedings, and a variety of other engagements involving sophisticated legal representations. It is his mission to provide every client, regardless of size or stature, with the most exacting and attentive legal representation possible. With an emphasis on providing excellence in legal representation on a cost-effective basis, Paul never loses sight of financial implications for his clients on any action he recommends, and understands that clients’ interests and goals are the priority.


Paul recently spoke with us about his background, his legal perspective, and the ways in which he has served his clients at Offit Kurman.


OFFIT KURMAN: Do you have any interesting case stories you can share with us?


PAUL WINTERHALTER: Perhaps my most interesting case was the time I argued before the United States Supreme Court. It was an extremely exciting experience, but let me just tell you: despite how many years you have in practice, it’s still very nerve-racking. You prepare and you prepare and you prepare, and then you go down to Washington for the argument. There’s three arguments a day. I was fortunate—or unfortunate—to have the third argument of the day. I got down there the night before, and my wife was with me, and of course you have a party coming down to observe you at the Superior Court.


I get there and in the first case of the day, there’s only three Justices of the nine sitting on the bench. It dealt with a death penalty case out of the State of Minnesota, and it was rather uneventful. After that argument, each argument is an hour in time. Each side gets a half hour. After that argument was done, the people in the second row moved to the first row. The people in the first row moved to the podium, and so I was in the second row because I was the third argument, so I moved up.


The second argument of the day was a military argument, and I don’t remember exactly what it was but there was all these generals in the front line, and again now this time there might have been five Justices there. They do the argument, and again, perhaps I was more focused on what was going to happen to me, than what was going on there, but that argument went through. Sure enough, the first argument is at 10:00, the second argument is at 11:00, and then at 12:00, there’s an hour for lunch.


As soon as the second argument is over, all of a sudden there’s these security guards directly around me. I’m thinking: What in the heck is this about? Well they’re going to escort me to lunch, okay, and I think to myself: Lunch an hour before the United States Supreme Court argument—this should be interesting. They literally walk me down to the Supreme Court cafeteria. I order a ham and cheese sandwich. I look at it for about 15 minutes, maybe take a nibble, and say, “Okay, I’m ready to go.” As soon as I say, “Okay, I’m ready to go,” the guards are in front of me again and we walk back up to the court. Now, this time, I’m at the podium.


My senior partner at that time was second chair, and then the client was actually third chair because he was a lawyer, so they’re saying, “There’s going to be no problem—going to be no problem.” Sure enough 1:00 comes, the Justices come from behind the curtain and all nine of them are sitting there, and I say, “Whoa.” Now I’m the appellant, so I’m going first. At the Supreme Court when you argue, there are three lights. There’s the green light, which means you are free to talk. There’s the yellow light, which means that your time is running short. And there is the red light. In preparation, the clerk says when that red light comes on, you must sit down. There were very few questions, maybe three or four in the first two arguments. My speech is all prepared. I’m ready for this argument—I’m really well prepared. I open my mouth and Chief Justice Rehnquist says, “Before you get going, let me ask you a question.” For the next 30 minutes every single Supreme Court Justice asked me question after question after question. So, the yellow light goes on. I’m looking at the yellow light and I’m trying to answer the question. Now, I wanted to reserve five minutes for rebuttal, but couldn’t happen. Then the red light comes on, and I know what that chief clerk said—”you have to sit down”—and another Justice asked me a question, and Justice Scalia asked me a question, and then Rehnquist stands up and says, “Ignore that light! Ignore that light!” And trust me I didn’t know what was going on at this point. I answered the Chief Justice’s question, there was a brief pause, and I quickly sat down. That was my Supreme Court experience. It was tremendous.





Offit Kurman is one of the fastest-growing, full-service law firms in the Mid-Atlantic region. With over 135 attorneys offering a comprehensive range of services in virtually every legal category, the firm is well positioned to meet the needs of dynamic businesses and the people who own and operate them. Our eleven offices serve individual and corporate clients in the Virginia, Washington, DC, Maryland, Delaware, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and New York City. At Offit Kurman, we are our clients’ most trusted legal advisors, professionals who help maximize and protect business value and personal wealth. In every interaction, we consistently maintain our clients’ confidence by remaining focused on furthering their objectives and achieving their goals in an efficient manner. Trust, knowledge, confidence—in a partner, that’s perfect.

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