The Big Interview: Terry Truax, Jenner & Block managing partner

Jenner's got a litigation practice with "a brand that's been earned over many decades" - but that's just part of the firm's plans. Jenner's managing partner discusses the firm's future, and his past.

Jerry truax - JennerCA: How would you describe the firm's current market position to our readers?

Terry Truax: We’re a firm that is focused on a couple of key strategic goals. First, we’re committed to delivering a level of unparalleled excellence in the way we provide service to our clients, and ultimately in a way that provides results for clients. We’re very focused on high-stakes, high-end work, both in the litigation and corporate transaction space. We’re a firm aiming to play at the top end of the market, in terms of delivering quality and service to clients, and that’s where we see ourselves sitting.

CA: Which practices have been performing especially well recently?

TT: Our firm has a variety of practices that continue to be recognized by peers and others, across the US and increasingly across the globe. Broadly, our litigation platforms are extremely well-known and the practice has a brand that’s been earned over many decades. We continue to garner terrific opportunities to represent clients in the high-end space within litigation in a wide range of areas. In addition to litigation, I would highlight our investigations practice, which has been recognized nationally and is obviously a significant part of our practice.

In the litigation space we have a variety of practice areas, such as the content media space, where we represent a number of entities in the broadcast media and entertainment arenas. That practice area is routinely recognized. We also have a practice in the communications space that is somewhat related, representing communications entities. That too is a very successful area for us. In the last few years we launched a formal energy practice. Its primary focus is in the electric utility space, but also in other energy-based areas, and that practice has done quite well and been recognized in the US. Ian Gershengorn, the former Acting US Solicitor General, leads our appellate practice and it continues to be well recognized across the United States, including for our regular appearances before the US Supreme Court. Craig Martin, now chair of our firm, has led a number of very significant litigations and investigations over many years. Those engagements continue to be a hallmark of the work we are doing.

"It’s taken hold, even in a time when Brexit has created a lot of uncertainty around what’s happening with firms in London."

In addition to our litigation practice, our corporate transactions practice handles high-end and middle-market engagements for both public company and private equity clients. Our deal list has been recognized by the market and is consistent with our unbending commitment to excellence.

CA: Associates said the firm is expanding its investigations, compliance and defense practice in London. Can you tell me a bit more about that?

TT: We opened our London office in the beginning of 2015, and we opened there because we felt it was imperative to push our front door out a bit. We had already been a global firm in many respects. We had been doing work all over the world, including in Asia—in Japan and China and elsewhere. We also regularly had lawyers in Europe and elsewhere around the world, so in 2015 we opened a new front door in London with a focus on our investigations and disputes practices. We don’t want to be everything to everybody. The goal is to build up top-flight disputes and top-flight investigations practices. In the investigations space, we’ve been very fortunate to recruit Christine Braamskamp and Paul Feldberg to complement a few people we already had on our team in London. We’re just delighted they’re here; they’re terrific colleagues off to a terrific start. In addition to Christine and Paul, the team includes Charlie Lightfoot and Jason Yardley, as well as Christian Tuddenham. They have litigation backgrounds – Charlie in international arbitration and the commercial arbitration space generally, and Jason and Christian are also top-flight litigators. We’re very excited about that practice because it’s taken hold, even in a time when Brexit has created a lot of uncertainty around what’s happening with firms in London. Given that we primarily focus on disputes and investigations, I think we’re well-positioned to serve clients facing issues with those disruptive events occurring right now.

CA: Are there any broader trends that are currently shaping the volume or type of work conducted in the US offices?

TT: When you think about what we’re doing in the US at a 30,000 foot level—what space we play in within the market—we go back to our core strategic focus. We want to be a firm that’s known by our peers and most importantly by our clients for delivering an unparalleled level of excellence. Not just in terms of client service, but also in the types of results we secure for clients. We’ve aspired to do that primarily in high-stakes, high-end disputes, investigations and corporate transactional work. We want to be doing that by building a diverse team of extraordinarily talented colleagues, and show that we understand the power of working collaboratively. Not just because collaboration sounds good, but because we know from the data that when people really figure out how to work collaboratively, you get that ‘secret sauce’ and you end up delivering a better, higher quality product for the client, which comes back to our core message of excellence.

"When people get more senior they tend to reflect in some nostalgic way about ‘the good old days’, as if somehow twenty years ago it was better. I don’t subscribe to that."

The firm has a longstanding commitment to pro bono and serving the communities in which we work. That’s an unbending commitment. I would expect that if you talk to associates across the firm, you’ll find people who share a common passion for being lawyers and who understand that our firm has a core commitment to delivering an extraordinary level of excellence at Jenner & Block, and to public service and pro bono work. Pro bono is key. It informs a lot of the culture of the firm, but the starting point is our commitment to delivering excellence full stop.

CA: How do you think the profession has changed since you started out practicing as a lawyer?

TT: Like everything, the role of an associate in 2019 is different than in 1988 when I started. That’s all natural; it’s just the natural cycle of things developing and evolving. A lot of times when people get more senior they tend to reflect in some nostalgic way about ‘the good old days’, as if somehow twenty years ago it was better. I don’t subscribe to that. I think it’s just different and the market is continuing to change. And the world that associates are stepping into today in 2019 and 2020 is going to look different for certain, and you can guarantee it’ll look different again in 2030.

One of the big primary drivers of change is technology, and the implications of how it causes us to work in certain styles, from the way we work in our offices to the way that we access our understanding of the law. You used to sit in the library. Now you can access a much more robust set of information from your iPhone sitting in the middle of wherever. All those changes have been a driver of what some call disruption, which I think is a fair description. So the world of an associate in 2020 is certainly very different in many respects than for somebody from 1988. But in many respects it’s very similar. It’s still a labor-intensive profession that requires professionals who are very curious, detail oriented and able to think critically and not accept the quick answer to things. We look for people with very strong writing skills, which, in the litigation context, continues to be a tremendously important skill for lawyers. The ability to organize and present your thoughts in a coherent, clear way – that was a necessary skill in 1988 when I started, as I know it was in 1950 and as it will be in 2020.

"Folks need to bring their curiosity, open-mindedness and enthusiasm about problem solving."

CA: When did you decide to become a lawyer? Why?

TT: I’ve always been interested in issues of policy and history, although in terms of thinking about becoming a lawyer, that occurred when I had the opportunity to sit through a very difficult criminal case after completing my undergraduate studies. I sat through a multi-week jury trial and was fascinated to see how that process played out. That experience was a primary driver for me apply to law school.

CA: Looking back at your career and the knowledge you've gained, what advice would you give to students who are about to enter the legal industry based on the lessons you’ve learned?

TT: First of all, it’s a wonderful profession, and it continues to be a profession that affords great opportunity for people to develop a range of skills. I think when people step into the profession they should be mindful that it involves a lot of hard work. It requires a passion, if you will. It’s not something you do casually. It’s a significant financial investment for someone to go to law school today, as well as an investment in time, particularly in the early formative time in someone’s career. For this level of commitment, you have to want to do it. And I would say folks need to bring their curiosity, open-mindedness and enthusiasm about problem solving. If that gets you going then I think the legal profession is a really wonderful path for people. It certainly has been for me.

Published May 2019. Interview conducted by senior researcher Leah Henderson.