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Obituary: Robert N. Sayler

Virginia Lawyers Weekly//September 26, 2022

Obituary: Robert N. Sayler

Virginia Lawyers Weekly//September 26, 2022//

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Charlottesville attorney and retired Uni- versity of Virginia professor Robert N. Sayler died Sept. 7. He was 82.

Born and raised in Kansas City, Mr. Sayler was a Kansas high school debate champion before graduating and attending Stanford University. While at Stanford, he continued his successful debating career and was pres- ident of the student body. Following his time at Stanford, Mr. Sayler attended Har- vard Law School, where he earned his law degree in 1965.

Mr. Sayler joined the Washington, D.C., firm Covington & Burling in 1965. In 1972, he argued pro bono before the U.S. Supreme Court in Richardson v. Wright, advocating for the rights of individuals facing termination of disability bene t payments. His career at Covington & Burling includ- ed time spent as lead counsel on multiple cases involving insurance companies and billion-dollar claims, including the Exxon Valdez disaster and Coordinated Asbestos Insurance Cases, which he described as the “mother of all trials.”

At Covington & Burling, Mr. Sayler never lost a case as lead counsel and was frequently honored as one of the most influential lawyers in America. He became head of the firm’s litigation department and served on the firm’s management committee.

In 2007, Mr. Sayler became a senior part- ner at Covington & Burling to devote more time to the University of Virginia Law School, where he rst began teaching in 1995 as a visiting professor. He relocated to Charlottesville in 2002 to join the faculty.

At UVa., Mr. Sayler helped launch much of the law school’s coursework in oral advocacy and public speaking, which he co-taught until his retirement in 2017. After his retirement, he continued to teach courses at UVa. occasionally through 2021.

Mr. Sayler authored dozens of articles and book chapters, as well as co-authored three editions of the book “Tongue Tied America: Reviving the Art of Verbal Persuasion.”

During his legal career, Mr. Sayler chaired the litigation section of the American Bar Association, served as president of the board of the Legal Aid Society in Washington, D.C., and was a fellow of the American College of Trial Lawyers.

Outside of work, Mr. Sayler was an avid golfer and fan of the University of Virginia and Washington, D.C.’s sports teams. He enjoyed summers in Boothbay Harbor, Maine.

Mr. Sayler is survived by his wife of 60 years, Marty; his children, Chris and Ben; his grandchildren, Zak, Matt, Jay and Will; and his brother, Bill.

A celebration of life will be held on Oct. 1 at 2 p.m. at St. Paul’s Memorial Church at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville.

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