Law360 asked attorneys who have served in the military to share their experiences ahead of Veterans Day on Nov. 11. We received about 170 emailed submissions from lawyers, ranging from associates to managing partners and counsel who work at shops of all sizes, from boutiques to BigLaw.
In their responses, attorneys told anecdotes from their service in different branches of the military that shared common lessons of discipline, attention to detail, perseverance, empathy and perspective.
Overall, their responses indicated that their legal careers have benefitted from the rigor of their military service because they learned how to thrive under pressure.
"When you've had to crawl under live fire or attempted to don a gas mask when your skin is burning from tear gas, you see things from a very different perspective," Kathlene Burke, who served in the U.S. Army from 1997 to 2001, said in her response.
Now as an associate at Skadden Arps Slate Meagher & Flom LLP, she acknowledged that her responsibilities as a restructuring lawyer can be "intense." But she tries to keep that feeling in perspective.
"I have often thought back and reminded myself that at least no one is shooting at me," she said.
Similarly, DLA Piper's Richard Hans, managing partner for the New York office, said being inside a submarine at 1,000 feet below the ocean's surface continues to remind him to pay attention to detail and realize the significance of each person's role.
"That experience was and continues to be invaluable … especially sitting in a management position during a pandemic, working to maintain the cohesion of our teams and office and providing the motivation needed to press forward," said Hans, who served in the U.S. Navy for five years beginning in 1983.
Associate, Skadden Arps Slate Meagher & Flom LLP
Branch: U.S. Army
Years of Service: 1997 to 2001
"The Army taught me not just how to survive but also how to thrive under pressure. When you've had to crawl under live fire or attempted to don a gas mask when your skin is burning from teargas, you see things from a very different perspective. I love being a restructuring lawyer, but sometimes the work has been intense. During those times, I have often thought back and reminded myself that at least no one is shooting at me."
Associate, Littler Mendelson PC
Branch: U.S. Army
Years of Service: 2011 to 2016
"As a judge advocate, I rotated legal assignments, which allowed me to see cases involving sexual harassment from every angle. I not only had the opportunity to represent victims and those accused, I also served as a magistrate judge for a brief period and as an administrative law attorney in charge of reviewing internal investigations. My early work with gender-based matters is the reason my practice is focused on sexual harassment in the workplace."
Managing Partner, New York Office, DLA Piper LLP
Branch: U.S. Navy
Years of Service: 1983 to 1988
"Being in a submarine 600 or 1,000 feet below the surface provides constant reminders that attention to detail is critical and every person serves a critical role. That experience was and continues to be invaluable. I draw on the experiences and the lessons I learned during my service each and every day, especially sitting in a management position during a pandemic, working to maintain the cohesion of our teams and office and providing the motivation needed to press forward."
Managing Partner, Portland Office, Troutman Pepper Hamilton Sanders LLP
Branch: U.S. Air Force
Years of Service: 1992 to 1997
"As a squadron section commander, I made decisions that impacted peoples' lives and careers. When faced with that type of authority and responsibility at a young age (22), it causes one to mature early given the consequences of the decisions made. I never took my role for granted and endeavored to make the best decisions possible without ever losing sight that my decisions directly impacted peoples' lives."
Associate, Davis Wright Tremaine LLP
Branch: U.S. Marine Corps
Years of Service: 2004 to 2014
"Deploying multiple times as a special operations Marine, I was fortunate to see the rights afforded individuals in dozens of countries across the globe. Even compared to our western allies, it was obvious that America valued its citizens' liberty and freedom — even when it failed in practical terms. Ultimately, I realized that the guarantees of the First Amendment — protecting one's right to speak, worship, associate and petition the government freely — made all the difference."
Associate, Snell & Wilmer
Branch: U.S. Army
Years of Service: 2011 to 2019
"Most jobs held by judge advocates require long hours, availability to commanders 24/7 and the ability to make quick decisions on your feet in high-stress situations. This is particularly true of judge advocates who have deployed to a combat zone or those assigned to war-fighting units. As a result of my experience in this regard, the ability to efficiently work long hours when required and navigate stressful situations was second nature for me."
Shareholder, Carlton Fields
Branch: U.S. Army
Years of Service: 1969 to 1973
"Upon law school graduation, I worked as a trial attorney at the Justice Department in Washington, D.C., but was drafted. Previously, I had no experience with the military. I was married with a baby and left for Vietnam on my daughter's first birthday. Although the family separation was very difficult, I got a great deal of jury and non-jury trial experience that helped me enormously when I returned to civilian life. I also lived and worked with a diverse group of people I otherwise would not have met."
Associate, Tucker Ellis LLP
Branch: Ohio Army National Guard
Years of Service: 2008 to 2020
"Practicing law isn't the most stress-free career, and my experience really prepared me for that in terms of knowing how to identify and cope with stressors and mental triggers and getting work done even if I am overwhelmed. More importantly, my time in the military allowed me to accept help when it comes to focusing on mental health."
Director, Sterne Kessler Goldstein & Fox
Branch: U.S. Navy
Years of Service: 1991 to 1999 (Active); 1999 to 2003 (Reserve)
"My submarine had a crew of 110 ordinary people from literally every walk of life. We lived in, trained in and safely operated a nuclear-powered submarine. We once spent two straight months submerged. That is an extraordinary thing! You learn very quickly the value of teamwork, 'attention to detail' and integrity where a single misplaced valve or skipped measurement can literally be catastrophic."
Veterans are natural leaders and incredible teammates — a winning combination for lawyers, said Matt Taylor, chairman and CEO of Duane Morris.
"They are always some of the hardest working lawyers we have, some of our biggest rainmakers," he told Law360. "Certainly in this day and age during COVID, you want some grit and some toughness and some fight in your lawyers, and our veterans step up every day."
In her submission, one veteran said her time as a public relations specialist in the Louisiana Army National Guard taught her how to work through tense situations.
"My work often puts me in mental situations in which success seems unlikely," said Destiny Washington, counsel at FordHarrison LLP who served in the Army from 1997 until 2005. "Although I may not always win, I always learn."
Even veterans' experiences during training presented them with invaluable lessons for their legal roles. Rumberger Kirk & Caldwell PA attorney Albert Li compared his U.S. Naval Special Warfare Command team training to law school and his work as an attorney.
"Everyone tells each other — the only easy day was yesterday — because the training leads you through endless days of being wet, sandy and cold, and you need to be prepared for the challenges the next day will bring you," said Li, who deployed to Southeast Asia and East Africa between 2002 and 2006.
He added, "Lawyers need mental toughness and humility because we all know that as great as the court wins and success days are, the road there is full of unexpected pitfalls and stumbling blocks."
Meanwhile, Gabrielle Morlock said the core values of the U.S. Air Force — "integrity first, service before self and excellence in all we do" — describe her goals.
"To always do the right thing, even when no one is around to see it," she said, adding that as an attorney at Snell & Wilmer LLP, "I strive to always do what is right, to put others before myself and to always do my best and exude excellence in everything I do."
Some veterans credited their military experience with inspiring their decision to pursue a specific area of the law.
Littler Mendelson PC attorney Emily Haigh said her time advising commanders and trying cases as a federal prosecutor for gender-based crimes while she served as an Army Judge Advocate between 2011 and 2016 influenced her choice to focus on sexual harassment.
"I not only had the opportunity to represent victims and those accused, I also served as a magistrate judge for a brief period, and as an administrative law attorney in charge of reviewing internal investigations," she said in her submission.
And other veterans shared how they've never let go of their notion of service. Albert Dandridge III said his time in the U.S. Marine Corps pushed him as Philadelphia Bar Association chancellor in 2015 to sponsor shelters for displaced veterans and help veterans obtain their federal benefits.
It also shaped him to act more directly and openly as chief diversity officer and chair of the securities practice at Schnader Harrison Segal & Lewis LLP.
"In combat I learned that bad information or lack of information gets people killed," said Dandridge, who spent two tours of combat duty in Vietnam between 1963 and 1970. "Thus, my style in practicing law is to tell everyone what is going on so they have as much information as possible."
Taylor at Duane Morris pointed out the ongoing service element that he witnesses in some of his firm's veterans.
"Veterans can't do enough for the cause of your firm. They understand the cause of the firm, they want to contribute to the cause," he said. "Their nature is just to serve, and not only to paying clients but clients in need on a pro bono basis."
One of the largest segments of Duane Morris' pro bono program focuses on supporting veterans, Taylor said. He specifically credited Christopher Tyson, a firm partner who served in the Navy from 1999 until 2007, for his pro bono work.
Separately, Tyson in his submission to Law360 highlighted his passion for helping underserved people in his community.
"From my experience, I know that when someone in the military puts their life on the line for us, then when they come home, it is critically important that we be on the front lines for them," he said.
He added that the novel coronavirus pandemic caused Duane Morris to temporarily shut down a weekly legal clinic at a veterans medical center in Washington, D.C., but that the attorneys have successfully transitioned to a virtual platform to serve veterans in the country's capital, as well as in Maryland and Virginia.
Meanwhile at Dykema Gossett PLLC, senior counsel Phylis Speedlin has continued to care for others during her law career, following her service in the Army Nurse Corp. for three years starting in 1970. She told Law360 that she co-founded the first pro bono clinic under the San Antonio Bar Association's Community Justice Program in May 2010.
One day that month, volunteer attorneys traveled to a veterans hospital in San Antonio to give legal advice to more than 45 veterans on topics ranging from wills to property law. More than 20 qualified veterans who sought legal services that day were scheduled for a future clinic, Speedlin said.
Ultimately, the perspective they gained during their service stands out the most for other veterans. Despite the long hours, stress and burnout that can accompany life at a law firm, K. Lee Blalack II — a partner at O'Melveny & Myers LLP who trained in South Carolina and served with the Marine Corps during the Persian Gulf War — put that reality into perspective for his peers.
"Compared to boot camp at Parris Island," he said, "life as a lawyer is a piece of cake."
-- By Michele Gorman. Editing by Rebecca Flanagan.
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