Judge Carol A. Doyle: Pre-Retirement Interview

(Reprinted with permission.  Bankruptcy Court Liaison Committee Newsletter – Spring 2023 (Northern District of Illinois))

During her tenure as a bankruptcy judge for nearly 24 years, Judge Carol A. Doyle has presided over countless chapter 7, 11, and 13 cases, leaving a lasting impact on the Chicago bankruptcy landscape.  She has been a dedicated and respected member of the bankruptcy bench, and has served as a role model to new lawyers. Judge Doyle’s passion and commitment to justice, objectively resolving disputes, and mentorship, have influenced countless lives, and she will undoubtedly continue to serve as a powerful voice going forward in her retirement.

After graduating from University of Iowa, Judge Doyle attended Loyola University of Chicago School of Law, where she graduated with distinction.  Immediately after graduating, Judge Doyle clerked for Judge John A. Nordberg at the Northern District of Illinois District Court for three years.  Reflecting on her experience, Judge Doyle described clerking as an incredible and challenging job, humbly explaining that she was grateful and lucky to have worked for Judge Nordberg. 

After drafting opinions and being exposed to a litany of types of litigation as a clerk, Judge Doyle found herself most marketable as a litigator.  Post-clerkship, she worked at Sidley Austin in the business and environmental litigation group. 

So what led Judge Doyle to the bankruptcy bench?  To put it simply – a mix of hard work, an interest in serving the public, a curiosity about bankruptcy, and perhaps most importantly, an exceptional mentor who tapped her on the shoulder and said “you would be great at this!”  The application sought an attorney with experience in complex federal litigation, an area in which Judge Doyle was already well-versed. 

After her appointment in 1999, Judge Doyle allowed herself a one-year grace period to dedicate to gaining a deep understanding of bankruptcy law and procedure.  She quickly realized it would be a lifelong career of learning.  After two decades on the bench, Judge Doyle notes that while the area is everchanging and complex, that is what makes bankruptcy fun and challenging.  What is different about bankruptcy, compared to other areas of law, is that there are a litany of issues that arise throughout the case that usually quickly need rulings.  

Whether written or oral, Judge Doyle’s procedure for issuing an opinion is the same.  In a concise manor, with no legalese, the process involves: (1) teeing up the issue, (2) providing the relevant standard and only important facts, (3) deciding the outcome, and (4) explaining why the winner wins and the looser loses, paying careful attention to address each party’s arguments.  Explaining why the losing party is incorrect is vital to ensuring parties feel heard and like they had their day in court. 

Aside from drafting opinions, the collegiality of the bench is one of Judge Doyle’s favorite parts of being on the bench.  When she first started, she would often turn to her mentor-judge or walk down the hallway to chat with other judges about tougher issues.  As a bankruptcy judge – i.e. a neutral decision maker with access only to party filings and presentations in court – Judge Doyle understood that she only saw the tip of the iceberg.  She often needed to look deeper to understand why parties were making certain arguments, or who held the “power” in the case, to make a learned decision.

One of Judge Doyle’s fondest memories is being the unofficial “social committee chair” of the Bankruptcy Court.  She often organized social events and lunches that were well-attended.  As someone who was always close with her chambers, once COVID hit, Judge Doyle turned to Zoom to hold weekly meetings with her clerks and staff, where they would discuss work and non-work related topics. 

What will Judge Doyle miss most about the bench?  First is her colleagues, who have become lifelong friends.  She has enjoyed the camaraderie and the togetherness that comes with working with a big group and having to make important decisions for the bankruptcy community at large.  Judge Doyle will also miss the challenge and the sense of contributing to the bankruptcy system, humanity, and justice.  Judge Doyle, who has been working since she was fourteen years old, has always had a “to do list” and a planned, structured week.  After she retires this spring, Judge Doyle is looking forward to having additional free time to work on her gardening skills, spending time with family, and traveling. 

What is clear from my conversation from Judge Doyle is how impactful mentors were to her career, and on the other side of the coin, how devoted Judge Doyle is to mentoring young lawyers.  Judge Doyle explained that the most important inflection point in her professional career was her mentor at Sidley suggesting she apply to the judgeship.  In the same vein, Judge Doyle has made it a point give back by mentoring young lawyers in the community.  While the purpose of our meeting was to discuss Judge Doyle’s career and retirement plans, Judge Doyle went out of her way to offer this (among many other golden nuggets) impactful advice:  mentor and be mentored, and take the time to establish meaningful, human relationships with others in the community.  Judge Doyle would like to express her gratitude to the Chicago bankruptcy community, for their trust and support throughout her career.

Dentons’ Restructuring Insolvency and Bankruptcy Practice

Samantha Ruben is a member of Dentons’ Restructuring Insolvency and Bankruptcy practice in the Chicago office.  Samantha’s practice includes bankruptcy and commercial litigation matters and financial restructuring in- and out-of-court in all industries.  She has experience representing debtors, creditors, creditors’ committees, investors, distressed asset purchasers, professionals, and other parties-in-interest in chapter 11 reorganizations.  Prior to joining Dentons, Samantha served as a judicial law clerk for two years for Judge Benjamin Kahn in the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the Middle District of North Carolina, where she assisted on chapter 7, 11 (including subchapter V), 12, and 13 cases.

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