The French Connection
How IP attorney Brett A. August was knighted for enhancing relations between Paris and Chicago
Published in 2016 Illinois Super Lawyers magazine
on January 4, 2016
Updated on February 6, 2016
At home, Brett August is known simply as “dad,” in the courtroom he’s “counselor,” and around the office he’s called “partner.” But as of last May, when he was dubbed a Knight of the Legion of Honor, he’s now known by another title: “Chevalier”—the highest and most coveted distinction the French government can bestow upon a French citizen or foreigner.
But you can still call him “Brett.”
“It’s still a little hard to believe because it happens to so few Americans,” he says of the title that’s often given to distinguished members of the French military. Now August’s name can be spoken alongside MacArthur, Eisenhower, Powell, Greenspan, Lindbergh and Graham Bell. “Honestly, when I first got the letter, I thought: This can’t be happening to me.”
August, an intellectual property lawyer with Pattishall, McAuliffe, Newbury, Hilliard & Geraldson in Chicago, was given the option of where to have the ceremony. He briefly considered Paris and Washington, D.C., where dignitaries may have been in attendance, but ultimately chose to be surrounded by friends and family in Chicago. He also chose to schedule the ceremony on the same date as the French-American Chamber of Commerce’s annual gala on May 1, 2015.
While August still is amazed he was nominated, Consul General of France in Chicago Vincent Floreani’s speech at the ceremony made the reason why fairly clear. The main stipulation of the award, created in 1802 by Napoleon Bonaparte (and promptly bestowed upon himself, of course), is that the recipient spend at least 20 years in service for the benefit of France.
And August has certainly put in the time.
In 2006, then-Mayor Richard M. Daley asked him to chair the Chicago-Paris Sister Cities Committee for a period of two years. August is still in the role today. “You know how these mayoral appointments go. [Laughs] And he also didn’t tell me how much work it would be. Yesterday I spent probably four hours working on it,” August says, adding that it included correspondence with Paris’ mayor about the committee’s 20th anniversary celebration approaching in October.
Among his biggest accomplishments with the committee was the establishment of an academic exchange program between Chicago Public Schools and l’Academie de Paris, which is now the biggest such program from the U.S. to France. He also helps facilitate music and arts exchanges, health care technology company expansions, and even exchanges for athletes to take part in the Chicago Marathon and La Traversée de Paris.
August also helped found the French-American Chamber of Commerce, which Floreani says has helped bring 122 French companies and nearly 25,000 employees to Chicago since its inception in 1978.
Then there’s his love of French culture and cuisine. “Our wine cellar is about 800 bottles,” August says, “and I would say 90 percent of it is French.”
In his IP practice, August represents clients such as EMC Corp., Zebra Technologies, VMware, Pivotal Software, RSA Security, Navistar and Princess Cruises. His relationship with France has led to a few business opportunities, he says, “but I can truly say the time I’ve spent on things with and for France has not been a significant source of income to me. It has been more a labor of love.”
That isn’t to say it hasn’t come up at the office, though. “One of my colleagues bought me a French knight statue that’s probably from some role-playing game and it has a sticker on it that says ‘Chevalier Brett,’ and my daughter had whimsical notepads made that say ‘From the Desk of Chevalier Brett,’” he says.
But he’s not about to put “Le Monsieur Chevalier Brett” on his business cards.
“There comes a point where, even though we think it’s funny and tongue-in-cheek, it can look pretentious when it’s overused,” he says. “For instance, I [have rarely] worn the medal since the day it was bestowed on me—and it’s beautiful, it’s really pretty fabulous—but on a day-to-day basis what knights are supposed to wear is a little red ribbon on the lapel of your jacket. It’s very subtle and most people don’t even notice it, but I now have it on all of my jackets.”