Robert N. Sayler

Robert N. Sayler, who died at the age of 82 on September 7, 2022, practiced at the firm continuously after graduating from Harvard Law School in 1965; he became a partner in 1973 and became senior counsel in 2007 after he began devoting more time to his role as a professor at the University of Virginia Law School.

In a statement released on September 8, the firm stated: “Bob's 57-year tenure at Covington is itself remarkable, but does not begin to capture his contributions to the firm. He recruited and befriended generations of firm lawyers. As a colleague and member of the firm's management committee, he was unfailingly thoughtful, fair, and focused on the firm's best interests. As a mentor, he was extraordinarily generous in launching or boosting the careers of others, invariably deflecting credit away from himself."

During his career at Covington, Bob led the firm’s litigation practice and served as trial counsel in cases in the fields of antitrust, administrative law, insurance coverage and intellectual property. Early in his career, he represented ITT in merger-related litigation brought by the federal antitrust authorities and handled a wide variety of litigation matters. Throughout the 1980s, 1990s, and beyond, Bob became known as the nation’s leading litigator in the emerging field of representing corporate policyholders in pursuing their insurance rights. His reputation was cemented by landmark trial victories for Armstrong in the California Coordinated Asbestos Insurance Cases after a 2-year bench trial, for Boeing in a high-profile environmental insurance coverage case tried to a jury in Washington state, and for Dow Corning over coverage for breast implant claims after a jury trial in Detroit. He represented many other clients in this area, including Exxon in its successful pursuit of coverage for losses arising from the grounding of the Valdez. While maintaining his leading role as an insurance coverage litigator, Bob began trying cases in the intellectual property and patent areas, successfully representing Monsanto in a series of jury trials in the late 1990s and early 2000s.

Bob was active in the American Bar Association, having served as chair of the Litigation Section and as a member of the Coalition for Justice and the Ad Hoc Committee on State Justice Initiatives. He was an ABA Presidential Emissary, and he served a three-year term on the ABA's Standing Committee on the Federal Judiciary. He was a member of the CPR D.C. Panel of Distinguished Arbitration Neutrals and also a member of the CPR Commission on the Future of Arbitration. Bob was a fellow of the American College of Trial Lawyers and of the American Bar Foundation.

In 2005, the Chambers USA Guide to America's Leading Business Lawyers observed of Bob’s role in the field of corporate insurance coverage litigation that he “was there when it all started. He has had a fantastic career litigating billion-dollar coverage disputes for policyholders and is an absolutely top-flight trial lawyer and a wonderful oral advocate." Also recognized for his practice range as a trial advocate, Chambers noted that "he has carved a practice of exemplary diversity that takes in IP and antitrust litigation in strong measure." Clients speak of him as "a mast you can lash yourself to in the most stormy of seas," praising his "serenity and worldly wisdom." In 1997 and 2000 triennial surveys, Bob was named by the National Law Journal as one of the nation's 100 most influential lawyers and the country's preeminent insurance coverage lawyer. In 2005, Lawdragon named Bob one of the "500 Leading Lawyers in America" and called him the "godfather of insurance coverage." 

In addition to his leadership roles in the ABA, Bob was a past president of the board of directors of the Legal Aid Society in Washington. Actively involved in championing the cause of legal services for underserved communities, Bob argued before the Supreme Court in Richardson v. Wright in 1972, advocating for the rights of individuals facing termination of disability benefit payments. In 1995, Bob taught at the University of Virginia Law School as the John A. Ewald, Jr. Distinguished Visiting Professor of Law. Beginning in the early 2000s, he began the transition from practice to full-time teaching as a professor at the Law School and continued to teach there until 2021, developing most of the school's coursework in oral advocacy and public speaking. Professor Kenneth S. Abraham commented: "His courses were incredibly popular, intellectually challenging and very practical, all at the same time. He took the material and his teaching seriously, but never took himself too seriously, although he was one of the great lawyers of his time."  

Bob authored dozens of articles and book chapters on insurance coverage issues, ADR, civility in the legal profession, trial strategy, and oral advocacy skills. In 2011, Tongue Tied America: Reviving the Art of Verbal Persuasion, which Bob co-authored, was published.

Bob was a graduate of Stanford University (A.B., 1962), where he was President of the Student Body, and Harvard Law School (LL.B., 1965).