May 26, 2021 Member Spotlight

Member Spotlight: Aaron Schildhaus

Aaron Schildhaus

Tell us a little bit about your career.

My career as an international lawyer really began as a concept while I was in law school. I spent the summer before my final year of law school traveling to Europe and the Middle East. This experience convinced me that I should become an international lawyer. Achieving that goal meant that in addition to the skills offered by the law school I would have to perfect my language and cross-cultural skills in addition to my legal abilities. After passing the bar in DC, I joined the legal department of PepsiCo Inc. for several years, before moving to Paris. There, I worked for a Franco-German law firm doing global mergers and acquisitions, working in French, German, and English. For the better part of eleven years, I had my own practice in Paris. While living in Paris, I was able to travel frequently throughout Europe, and being in Western Europe facilitated my travels to Russia and Eastern Europe, as well as Africa. Although I returned to the US in the mid-1980s, I continued my global traveling and did work on behalf of the World Bank and various international institutions, corporations, and government agencies dealing with international issues. As time passed, I realized how many disconnects exist country-to-country and culture-to-culture, and I dedicated myself to bridging those gaps and trying to unite lawyers working in different languages, countries, cultures, and legal systems. I continued working between North America and Europe, much of Africa, Russia, China, Hong Kong, the rest of Asia, and various countries in Latin America, continually expanding my horizons and seizing opportunities to explore other countries and bring lawyers together from around the world. I became more active in the ABA and continued my international transactional practice in Washington. For about four years, I was Of Counsel to the Washington, DC, office of Carlsmith Ball. I returned to my own practice in the late 1990s, served as Chair of the ABA International Law Section in 2008-2009, moved to Buenos Aires in 2010 while maintaining an office in Washington, and moved to Chicago in December of 2014. I was admitted to the Illinois Bar in 2018 and in 2019 officially merged my practice with that of my wife, Beatriz Martorello, former President of the Inter-American Bar Association, also a member of the Illinois Bar as well as the bars of Argentina and Peru. Our firm is Martorello Schildhaus LLC.

Is it what you had planned when you started law school?

In one way, it is what I had planned; in another, not at all! When I started law school, I wanted to practice international commercial law, but my trajectory was totally unplanned.

What has been the highlight of your career?

My career has many highlights, but the most important ones are the people I have met, and the experiences and friendships we have shared throughout the world. My involvement with the ABA’s International Law Section and other organizations of international lawyers, like the UIA, AIJA, and the IABA broadened my professional network of contacts but also gave me added opportunities to make new friends, many of whom are leaders of the bars in their own countries. The single most important highlight occurred at a meeting of the UIA in Salvador da Bahia, Brazil, in 2006, when I met Beatriz, my wife and partner.

If you could go back to the beginning of your legal career, would you have done anything differently?

Of course. I have accomplished a lot personally and professionally, and I have made wonderful life-long friends around the world, but in retrospect, there are many things I would have done differently, and most of all, with more haste.

What advice would you give to someone considering law school today?

Choose well, dedicate yourself, work hard, and seek mentors.

What were the biggest changes you saw in the legal profession over the course of your career?

Use of the computer, law firm growth and mergers, national and international expansion, automation, the internet, the depersonalization of the profession in general, and the increased recognition and role of women and minorities - although much more is still needed.

When did you first become a member of the ABA and why did you decide to join?

I joined while in law school. It seemed a good idea at the time and it still is.

What has been the highlight of your work with the ABA?

Being active in the ABA enabled me to substantially increase my outreach to colleagues around the world. Although I was also active in the UIA, which was essentially French-speaking, rising in the leadership of the ABA helped me gain credibility with my non-American friends and contacts, and surprisingly with a number of ABA Presidents, many of whom have also become good friends, thanks to our shared experiences while meeting outside the US. The friends I made, the experience I gained in leadership positions of the International Law Section, my attendance at Council meetings for the past 30 years, and most recently, my position as Co-Chair of the SLD’s International Lawyers Committee, are all important to me, and it is the ABA which in so many ways has facilitated that.

Are there any benefits that SLD or ABA that that helped you decide to become a member of the ABA/SLD?

As an ABA member having reached the magic age, my SLD membership was automatic and of no additional charge. I consider that to be a great benefit.

If you had not become a lawyer, what do you think you would have done?

I started out in pre-med and ended up far afield. If not law, however, I probably would have been in business or politics.

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Aaron Schildhaus

Martorello Schildhaus LLC

Aaron Schildhaus is a member of the District of Columbia and Illinois bars. A partner in the minority, woman-owned law firm, Martorello Schildhaus LLC, he is an international business lawyer with decades of experience representing US and non-US businesses and NGO’s in the US and worldwide.  Mr. Schildhaus is a recipient of numerous professional awards and recognitions, including the American Bar Association (ABA) Mayre Rasmussen Award “in recognition of his contributions to the advancement of women in international law.” Mr. Schildhaus is a Nigerian Chief (Oloye Baamofin Gbogbogbo of Owoland). His international professional experience includes ten years in Paris, France, and four years in Buenos Aires, Argentina. He speaks fluent French and is conversant in Spanish and German. He was Chair of the ABA International Law Section in 2008-2009, and has been a member of its Council since 2000. He is a Life Fellow of the ABA.