Hamilton Herald Masthead


Front Page - Friday, February 23, 2024

Sanko finds career he envisioned at Baker Donelson

Clinton Sanko is the new managing partner at Baker Donelson. He assumes the role from Rusty Gray, who served in the position for 12 years. - Photograph provided

When attorney Clinton Sanko selected Baker Donelson as his professional home after moving from Pittsburgh to Chattanooga in 2004, he based his decision on his belief in the firm’s ability to nurture the kind of practice he wanted to develop, he says.

Sanko had arrived in Scenic City with a few years of litigation experience at a Pittsburg firm, where he’d done work for “a famous aluminum manufacturer and a famous London-based reinsurer,” he explains. However, he was looking to develop his own national practice, so he put his faith in Baker, which housed Joe Connor’s established national condemnation team, Rusty Gray’s budding national employment law practice and more.

“I felt like I could have a really cool national practice at Baker,” Sanko says, his back to a wall of windows that overlooks downtown Chattanooga from the 19th floor of the Republic Centre. “Looking ahead at what I wanted to do, which has always been larger litigation, it felt like it would be a vibrant place to practice law.”

As Sanko assumes the mantle of managing partner of Baker’s Chattanooga office, which houses more than 70 employees – including nearly 40 attorneys – he’s once again putting his faith in the people who make up the firm.

“We have a diverse set of talented, trusted adviser teams that become deeply embedded in their clients’ business needs as they provide the services they require,” he says. “This office is a gem.”

In addition to Connor’s condemnation practice and Gray’s team of labor and employment lawyers, Baker’s Chattanooga office is home to a group dedicated to the needs of investors in skilled nursing and senior housing, a practice that represents lenders and borrowers in HUD-insured commercial loans for health care and multifamily housing facilities, a litigation team that represents telecommunications providers and Class I railroad carriers, an immigration group that provides counsel on business, employment and family immigration matters, tax and economic development lawyers, a trusts and estates practice, and a bankruptcy and creditor’s rights team. Many of these have achieved national recognition, according to a Baker news release announcing Sanko’s new role.

Sanko has achieved an equally broad reach. During the years that followed his arrival at the firm, he developed a trial practice that focuses on bet-the-company cases and emphasizes eDiscovery (electronic discovery). He grew his niche in tandem with Baker’s efforts to crack the code for sifting through the mountains of data that are commonly involved in significant bet-the-company matters.

“In the mid-2000s, we worked on several large, data intensive matters that required a massive amount of discovery. At that point, no one had figured out how to sort through that much data. So, I became involved in the firm’s efforts to both determine what to do with large data dumps and how to isolate what’s relevant to the lawsuit.”

Sanko now leads an eDiscovery team consisting of himself and five individuals based in Nashville. Together, they support all of the teams and offices throughout Baker’s footprint.

Although eDiscovery on this scale is a monumental task, Sanko says, it boils down to the ability to tell a coherent story.

“Everyone pictures us having these smoking gun moments, but the vast majority of eDiscovery is about the compliance aspects of litigation and ensuring we’ve found and correctly categorized the proper things. We have to make sure the ability to tell the story is there,” Sanko explains.

“You might have those smoking guns in a divorce case or the employment realm, but that’s usually not the case in larger commercial litigation. It’s usually about taking millions of pieces of data, identifying the thousand or so that actually matter, and then rolling them into a cohesive story the fact finder can analyze. It’s less dramatic and more workmanlike.”

Sanko will maintain his litigation practice – eDiscovery duties and all – as he fulfills the obligations of managing partner, which includes daily ensuring the individual attorneys and teams of lawyers in Baker’s Chattanooga office have everything they need to perform at a high level, he says.

“My job as managing partner will also involve facilitating collaboration within the firm to get the Baker Donaldson name and brand into the marketplace and making sure people are aware of the talent we have in the Chattanooga office.”

Sanko says he accepted these new responsibilities for the same reason he came to Baker in the first place: his respect for the firm’s partners and other lawyers.

“My desire to become managing partner came from a deep admiration of our attorney force here and being the servant leader who provides them with what they need.”

Sanko says he’s well aware of the big shoes he has to fill as Gray steps down after his “phenomenal tenure” as managing partner.

“Anyone who’s worked in this office during the last 12 years will sing Rusty’s praises. He’s infectiously positive, energetic, cares about this office and all of its lawyers, and has been an excellent steward and mentor. He’s done a remarkable job of positioning this office as a powerhouse in the marketplace.

“What’s really cool is he’s going to be here for a long time. He’s our partner; he’s going to devote the time he’s been spending on management on his practice, and we’re all going to benefit from that.”

Long before Sanko considered a career in the legal field, his parents noted his proclivity for debate and told him he’d be a good attorney.

“A lot of things captured my interest. I loved history, for example,” Sanko recalls. “But my mom planted those seeds, which grew into an interest in the law. Thankfully, I really enjoyed law school and then I really enjoyed litigation.”

Many years have passed since Sanko learned the Socratic method and discovered he had a knack for appellate writing at Penn State Dickinson Law. However, he rarely looks back on those formative days, as he’s currently focused on what lies ahead as Baker presses forward with its aggressive five-year growth plan, dubbed Baker Vision 2028.

A big part of this effort will be attracting new talent and teams that can serve as trusted advisers to the firm’s clients. As managing partner of Baker’s Chattanooga office, Sanko is eager to do his part.

“It’s going to be exciting,” he says. “I’m looking forward to working closely with our teams to achieve new heights.”