"Think about where you would like to be in 15 to 20 years and work backward from there.”- LaRue Robinson
LaRue Robinson is an associate at Jenner & Block, one of the 50 most profitable law firms in the United States. He started out at Cornell University, after which he attended Columbia Law School. He served in the Army as JAG Corps officer for four years, prior to starting his career as an Associate at Bryan Cave.
Why to Listen:
LaRue managed to find a role at one of the most profitable law firms in the United States. He talks about what it’s like to work at a law firm, the common career paths associated with this sort of roles, and advice about the interview and application process. LaRue served in the JAG Corps while in the military, so some of his advice is tailored to JAG Corps Officers. However, if you’re considering a career in law, he provides some exceptional advice.
- StoryBox - People trust each other more than advertising. StoryBox provides the tools and supports businesses need to take the best things customers say about them, and use them to drive more sales and referrals. StoryBox offers a 10% discount to companies employing veterans of the US Armed Forces.
- Audible is offering one FREE audio book to Beyond the Uniform listeners. You can claim this offer here, and see a list of books recommended by my guests at BeyondTheUniform.io/books
- Task & Purpose - LaRue recommends this as having good articles that are career related
- Chambers & Partners - Researching how law firms are different and what different practices are like, also covers reputation of different firms in different areas. YOu can look by city and state at every practice group, and it is client feedback on every firm and the quality of lawyers at every firm.
- Chambers Associate portion - they interview associates and ask them questions about the firms and do a write up about the culture and hours
- JAG Association - every year they have Jobs for JAGs. Anyone in the JAG Corps can go to this, and receive advice on how to navigate a career when they’re getting out of the military
- Veterans Legal Career Fair - this is a good resource as it brings a lot of employers into a conference room. Veterans can come to this and talk to corporations interested in hiring veterans
- NALP Directory - you can go here and it lists a lot of legal employers, and you can see very detailed numbers about how many veterans are at the law firm (as well as other information)
Transcript & Time Stamps:
Today is Episode #156 with LaRue Robinson. He found a role at one of the most profitable law firms in the United States. He talks about what it’s like to work at a law firm, different career paths in this industry, and advice for the interview process. LaRue served as a JAG during his time in the military so some of his advice is tailored to other transitioning JAG officers. However even if you’re not a JAG but are considering a career in law, this is a great episode to listen to.
If you are enjoying the show, I would greatly appreciate a positive review on iTunes. And now, let’s dive in to my conversation with LaRue.
Joining me today from Chicago, Illinois is LaRue Robinson. LaRue is an associate at Jenner & Block, one of the fifty most profitable law firms in the United States. He started off at Cornell University and then attended Columbia Law School. He served as a JAG in the Army for four years.
What was your transition like leaving the Army and going into the civilian sector?
When I first started in the JAG Corps, I knew I wanted to serve but I also didn’t envision myself making a career out of it. So as I was navigating through my career, I had that in mind in terms of different assignments that I took. When I did transition out, it was a fairly easy transition but there were certain challenges. The biggest challenge was the complete change in environment. When you work in corporate law, there’s the whole idea of billable hours and things like that. There’s also the challenge of adapting to larger firms and offices. In the JAG Corps, a big office might have 30 lawyers but in a law firm, there’s often a couple hundred lawyers.
I would say some of the good things about the transition was the ability to focus on one specific area of law. In the JAG Corps, they want broadly skilled lawyers so you don’t really get to focus on one specific area. But when I left, I knew I wanted to focus on commercial litigation so now I’ve been able to focus my career on that. I’ve also appreciated the ability to settle in one place and build connections in that area.
How would you explain what you do for a living and what your day-to-day looks like?
There’s two main pieces to my work. The first is litigation. In the military, there are Court Martials. Litigation is similar to that except that instead of representing the United States government, I’m representing a corporation. You start with a discovery period and develop facts about the case all the way up to the case going to trial. The other piece of what I do is investigation. In the military there are 15-6 investigations. What I do is similar to that except that instead of investigating a military unit, I’m investigating a corporation. They might have an issue that they want clarity on.
In terms of my day-to-day, it starts out with me working out at 6:15. I have two small children so my wife and I get them ready for the day. Once I get to the office, I usually draft up a to-do list. In terms of what I do, it depends on what phase my cases are in. It could include interviewing clients and gathering facts or placing requests to get information from the other side of the case. If a case is closer to the trial phase, my days could include preparing witnesses for trial or getting documents ready for trial. I usually get into the office around 9 and leave around 6. Most nights I go home and eat with my family. After my kids are asleep, I might log on and get a little more work done. I’m usually in bed by 11 and then back at it again the next morning.
What is it like when one of your cases goes to trial?
We had a trial in San Jose, California where our firm took a suite at a hotel and turned it into an office. We brought in desks, computers, and phones. We were out there for four weeks and we would wake up in the morning, work up until the day the trail started. It tends to be an all-encompassing experience. If you’re a pro football player, the playoffs are make or break time. That’s what going to trial is like. It’s very busy but also very exciting.
What is the process like to track billable hours?
It takes some getting used to. For me, I use a Microsoft Office function to track what I’m doing throughout the day and how long it’s taking me. It’s very important to track your hours so that you’re providing the client with accurate information. We put our hours in at minimum twice a month. It’s not the most glamorous process but it does keep you honest because if there’s things you know you need to be working on, it’s a good process to keep you on target.
When you left the Army, how did you decide what type of law you wanted to practice?
I carried over some things I did as a JAG. During my last year in the military, I worked in criminal litigation. I developed a lot of trial and interview skills that I still use today. Earlier in my JAG career, I did labor employment and investigations work. I’ve continued doing some of those things as well. When I was in the Army, I tried to take jobs I was interested in. This made it easy when I got out because I wanted to continue doing similar work.
What is a typical career path for someone at a law firm?
One career path is staying at a law firm and working your way up to partner. Another path is deciding to work in house for clients they’ve previously worked for. A couple other career paths could be doing government work. For a lot of veterans, you have a leg up in getting a government job. I have friends in the JAG Corps that have worked for the Department of Labor or the Department of Justice. Other people go into nonprofit work. Jenner & Block leads the country for the number of pro bono hours that its’ lawyers complete. A lot of attorneys here have left the firm and gone into public interest work. Other attorneys run for office and become politicians. So there’s a lot of different options.
As far as staying at a firm and making your way to partner, it varies from person to person. If you’re coming from the military, it might take a little bit longer because the firm wants to give you time to get accustomed to the firm and how things are run. The path to partner takes about 8-10 years.
What is the progression for an associate at Jenner & Block?
You start off as a junior associate and then become a mid-level associate. Then you become a senior associate where you are taking more ownership over your cases. From senior associate, you would become a partner. Many firms have either a single or two-tiered partnerships. Usually you start off as a non-equity partner and then eventually become an equity partner.
What advice do you have for a transitioning JAG that wanted to become hired by a law firm?
The first thing to do is civilian-ize your resume. In the military, there’s so many code words and jargon that people in the civilian world won’t understand. You want to think of explaining your experience in a way that is relevant to the civilian sector. For example a “Court Martial” becomes a trial and a “panel” becomes “jurors”. Firms want to know that experience you’ve had is relevant to them.
What are some common questions you get from transitioning military members?
People are usually really curious about what types of jobs they’re competitive for. It really comes down to what you’ve done while in the JAG Corps. Being a prosecutor or being a trial counsel is something that’s very marketable. Government contract work is common as well. So first I talk to people about what they’ve done and then go from there to figure out how to sell what they’ve done. One of the other things is that when you’re in the military and you’ve traveled all around, a lot of people aren’t all that clear about where they want to settle. So I talk to people about what opportunities are available in certain areas. You don’t want a situation in which you’re applying to jobs in many different cities. People will be skeptical of you because they’ll think that you don’t want to commit to their firm and their location.
How has being a veteran helped you in your career?
In my last assignment as a JAG, I was about 4 years out of law school and I was the primary legal advisor to a Brigade Commander. So having that experience advising very senior people very early in my career has been a real advantage to me. Usually people in the civilian sector would not get that access to senior personnel so early in their career.
On the flip side, in the JAG Corps, you are the master of your cases and there aren’t large teams. In the private sector, you might have an investigation with forty or fifty people at the firm working on that case. One of the jarring things for me during my transition was getting used to working on much larger teams. I had to learn about how to think more globally about where I fit in and how I was going to manage that.
Do you have any resources you would recommend?
I would recommend the website Task & Purpose. There are some good career related articles there. In terms of the legal world, I would recommend Chambers and Partners for learning about different practice areas and what reputations different firms have. On that website, you can filter by city and state and clients have given ratings on each of the firms. I found that to be a very helpful resources.
The Judge Advocate Association hosts a “Jobs for JAGs” event every year and different firms are there to give advice for the transition. There’s also a veterans’ legal career fair sponsored by the law firm Orrick. It’s a great recourse because it basically brings a bunch of firms together in one room. There’s also a resource called NALP which is a website that lists a lot of different legal employers. There’s also information about how many veterans are at each firm.
The most underrated resource of all is one’s own network. You know people that have transitioned before you so talk to people in your own network and get advice and tips from them.
Is there anything else you’d like to share with our listeners?
Two things - I would stress that people think ahead. Think about where you want to be in 15-20 years and work backwards from there. I also want to harp on the point that you should be cognizant of your assignments. If you don’t want to be a career JAG, seek the kind of work inside the military that will make you marketable outside the military. There are certain areas in the JAG Corps that are incredibly important but might not be as conducive to transitioning.
For those that aren’t in the JAG Corps, if you’re thinking about going to law school, talk to the JAGs that are nearby and see if going to law school and being a lawyer is something you’re really interested in. There’s also various grad school programs that will help you pay for law school and then you do a payback tour. So there’s many options available.
This is great. This is field I know very little about so it’s been great for me to learn more about the field of law and I know our listeners will appreciate it too. Thanks so much for your time, LaRue.