One of the hard, cold facts about making the military a career is that you will have to have a second career. You have to retire twice. After I retired from the Army, I was able to hook on with the Department of Transportation for about three years It was a political appointment. So, I had to check out when the Administration lost the election. That doesn’t count as a retirement (it’s more like getting canned). Life is full of bumps.
I was 55 years old and had never been in private practice. I always wondered what it would be like. After three years at DOT, I professed to have an “area of expertise.” I knew a lot about motor vehicle safety law. I also knew about a half dozen Washington lawyers in D.C. firms who were willing to “pass on my resume.” Bump, bump.
I had one close friend who was a senior partner at Arent Fox. We had started together in the JAG Corps thirty years earlier. After three years in the Army, Larry Henneberger got out and joined Arent Fox. We stayed in contact through the years. Larry didn’t think my “future client base” would fit at Arent Fox as they already represented a large number of motor vehicle parts manufacturers and it seemed like I would be pointed toward representing major auto manufacturers. While he didn’t think Arent Fox would be the right place for me, he thought it would be good experience for me to interview with the Fox and pick up some interview skills. I did too.
I have a good friend named Dave Zucker who had worked for me at the JAG School as Chief of Government Contracting. He had retired from the Army and was practicing with a large law firm in Los Angeles. I asked him what it was like to be in private practice. He said there were some similarities to the Army. He said, “Jack, think about taking your office to the field. Everybody is in a circle around a bonfire. When the fire starts getting low, someone goes out and gathers some more wood and throws in on the fire. It’s the same in private practice, except everyone is facing away from the fire looking for possible clients. They are also hoping that someone else is looking after the fire.” Bump, bump, bump.
I also asked Dave whether he thought I could pass myself off as having expertise in Government Contracting. He said, “Definitely not!”
The Arent Fox interview consisted of meeting individually with five partners. They were quite friendly and it was an enjoyable experience. Maybe that was because I had been told not to expect anything to come of it. I even got a free lunch. Eventually during each interview, they wanted to know how I intended to bring clients to the Fox. I did my best, but I obviously didn’t have any clients. So, I told them I would go out and find them. Not too original.
Later, Larry called to tell me that the interviews had gone well and that they wanted me to come back for more interviews. The second set of interviews led to an offer which I happily accepted. If they had offered me a lot less, I would have happily accepted.
In reflecting back, I needed a job. I probably would have accepted an offer from any firm (Dewey, Cheetum and Who?). But to my good fortune, I ended up with one of the really great firms in D.C. The people at the firm like each other! They are smart in their clients world and work hard, but always as a team. There are actually lots of partners at the firm who are keeping track of the bonfire.
That was 14 years ago and I haven’t heard anything on those other resumes I floated. That’s OK, because I am getting ready to retire, retire.