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Julie Jones, Chair, Ropes & Gray

Julie Jones is the Chair of Ropes & Gray, the venerable law firm founded in 1865, which today is a $2 billion enterprise with over 1500 lawyers.

Julie is the first woman to lead the firm, a position she was elevated to at the start of 2020 just as the world and business leaders were facing unprecedented challenges.

In this episode, she takes us back to the beginning, and we learn how steps she took and relationships she formed early in her career continue to help guide her in the leadership role she plays today.

We talk about how she prepared and marketed herself with intention on her way to becoming one of the world’s preeminent M&A lawyers, her experience as one of the inventors of the reverse termination fee, and how she’s adjusted from being a lawyer to being a leader.

Then we get into her firm’s response to the pandemic, how she tries to speak authentically on divisive issues, and the advice she received from Lloyd Blankfein.

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Episode Transcript:

DAVID STIEPLEMAN: Hello, welcome to It’s Not Magic, a podcast from Sixth Street about business building that strips away the pretense and gets right to the useful stuff. We use this show to talk to founders and industry leaders and get them to explain in plain English what they set out to do, and specifically how they do it. I'm your host, David Stiepleman. This is our final episode of Season One. I gotta tell you, I think it's packed full of useful wisdom.

JULIE JONES: But this comes to the advice I got, which is Julie, your success, especially as you're a partner and especially in a private equity industry, is going to depend on whether you build teams who take the hill, just because it's you.

DAVID STIEPLEMAN: That's Julie Jones. She's the Chair of Ropes & Gray, the venerable law firm founded in 1865 and which today is a top tier firm with 1500 lawyers worldwide. Julie's the first woman to lead the firm and she became Chair at the start of 2020, just as the world and as business leaders were faced with unprecedented challenges. I really enjoyed this conversation. There are a lot of great insights in here and they principally come from Julie. You'll hear about how she prepared and marketed herself with intention earlier in her career to become one of the preeminent deal lawyers in private equity, how she was one of the inventors of the reverse termination fee and how she's adjusted from being a lawyer to being a leader. And you'll hear Julie discuss her firm's response to COVID, how she tries to speak authentically on divisive issues and about the advice she got from Lloyd Blankfein. Like Julie, we have a bias for action around here, so let's get to it.

Okay. So it's summertime, and of course it's 39 degrees and cloudy and foggy in San Francisco, but we have Sixth Street summer fellows. You have Ropes & Gray summer associates all over the place and they're thinking about their lives and what are they going to do, and what are they going to work on? And I'm curious, Julie, when you got to the firm, did you know you wanted to be deal lawyer, a transactional lawyer, or how did you arrive at that?

JULIE JONES: Yeah, it's a great question, because law school trains you to be a litigator more than a corporate lawyer. But by the time I started, even as a summer associate practicing law, I knew that corporate was for me, David. I loved the pace of it. I loved negotiating things. I liked counseling. It's not like I was counseling in the boardroom or the C-suite when I was a summer associate or a brand new associate, but I could see what partners were doing. And it just felt like the best combination of skills and flexibility. And I was an econ major, and so partly understanding the business world, it was a great interest to me. So that's how I ended up in the deal world, but I didn't start out as a private equity M&A lawyer. I started out as an IPO lawyer and then my career kind of morphed over the years to doing more and more mergers. And ultimately I ended up as principally a private equity deal lawyer.

DAVID STIEPLEMAN: And was that kind of happenstance? You saw it, and you got staffed on deals and you just started getting good at it, or did you kind of point yourself in a direction? I'm thinking about the summer associate who might be listening to this thinking, how did she do it? Am I supposed to be thinking about what I like to do every day? Or should I just like, kind of go with the wave?

JULIE JONES: Yeah, well we hit the year 2000 and it turned out that the, you know, tech IPOs were not to be found. And I was at that point a fifth year associate and decided like, wait, there are other things I could do. And I decided I needed to market myself internally a little bit differently by going to partners and saying, “Hey, I think I could do that. I know the public company world.” The private equity industry was starting to morph too, the deals were getting bigger, public companies from time to time were the targets, David, and I knew that world. So I told a lot of people like, “Hey, I can do that.” And turned out I, you know, you fake it until you make it a little bit. Then I, you know, I just met the smartest, most interesting demanding, smartest people. And that's what made it sticky.

DAVID STIEPLEMAN: You're talking about your clients or your colleagues, or both?

JULIE JONES: More the clients than the demanding colleagues, but both. You know, you have to be at your best and there is something that's really exciting about that, the adrenaline that courses through your veins when you're doing tough deals, creating solutions for things. It, yeah, you can't match that in other parts of the law world I think.

DAVID STIEPLEMAN: I agree with you. Let's linger on the sort of, marketing yourself. I've read elsewhere you've talked about advice that you would give, I think in particular to young women, but young lawyers, presumably of all kinds about building a brand. And what do you mean by that? And, and how did you specifically do that aside from raising your hand and saying, “Hey, I can do that too”?

JULIE JONES: Well, building a brand I think involves two things. It is choosing an area of focus of something that you think you'd be good at, and that there'll be a need for, and then it involves the elbow grease of dedicating yourself to knowing whatever that area is. Like, you know, there is nothing like elbow grease to advance a career pivot. And so it was in my case, trying to figure out the intersection of LBOs and IPOs, reading every SEC release I could, talking to everyone, reading every merger agreement that came out where there was a private equity buyer, trying to understand that world. That's what I mean by the elbow grease. And it pays off. So when you say like, “Hey, I think that is a good space for me because I see a need,” I saw a void in that in terms of the legal services, and then you couple it with the homework that you need to do to prove yourself.

DAVID STIEPLEMAN: I think that's such a good point and it's been a theme a little bit of our season, knowing, your craft, I guess, but actually when there's downtime go do that work, go figure out who you should talk to, pick up the phone. I think that's super good advice and things I think people miss.

JULIE JONES: And then sometimes it's talking to people even outside your own firms to learn more. In my case that meant talking, not just to private equity clients and lawyers at Ropes, it was talking to investment bankers and seeing, you know, where they thought the market was headed, talking to CEOs that I'd met. And, you know, that took a little bit of courage on my part and on anyone's part, who is, when you're pushing yourself to network. I mean, you could be the most extroverted person in the world but it still kind of takes a, you know, a little oomph to pick up the phone or send the text or the email and sort of introduce yourself. Because you're putting yourself out there and there's like vulnerability and some level of like personal risk that feels like it comes with that moment. And it never does. Then you just tell yourself, like, what's the worst thing that's going to happen? They're not going to respond or they're not going to take the call. Or it's five or 10 minutes. And that's rarely the case. Most people will help others whenever you ask, especially if they're, if you're trying to learn more about what they know about the market.

DAVID STIEPLEMAN: Yeah. What was your pitch as a younger person? Your, "Hey, I'm calling up a CEO,” I agree that’s kind of an intimidating prospect. What did you do?

JULIE JONES: Yeah, I mean, when I would call I would first be humble and say, “you know, you may not remember me.” I'd start with that. but then I would say, “I'm trying to learn from you.” I find that as long as it's an authentic piece of flattery, that gets you a long way . And because people, I do think people like to teach for the most part you know, if their schedule permits it. So it was always appealing to the teaching instinct. And then you'd ask an open ended question and then almost always it would lead to a really good conversation, not always legal work and not always advancing, like, you know every one of my goals, David, but you just, I've learned something from every conversation that I had.

DAVID STIEPLEMAN: Do you still have relationships from one of those conversations you had in the past?

JULIE JONES: I have. I feel like I have many relationships that have been sticky because of advice that that have [been] given to me in those moments. And things that actually stuck around when I became the Chair of Ropes & Gray, 2019 was my transition period where I wasn't yet in the role, but I had been named as our leader. So some of those CEOs, I was calling back and saying, “Hey, I'm not going to ask for five or 10 minutes. I'm going to ask for a lunch, but can you tell me like give me some advice about how to lead an enterprise and what sort of tips?” So it's funny, not only were they helpful at the time, but they proved to be lasting relationships that I called on again.

DAVID STIEPLEMAN: And I do wanna talk about that. Before we do, though, I want to ask you, I mean, Ropes & Gray is a leader it seems to me in particular, in gender diversity. You're about half women, I think, lawyers wise, a third of your partners are women, which is not proportional to the population, but still way ahead of your peers. That doesn't just happen. So I'm curious back where we were talking about you in your earlier career, when you popped up at Ropes & Gray in the early to mid nineties, were they already doing things to lay the groundwork for that relative success and absolute success? Or did you get there and you and others were saying, oh yeah, we gotta make these changes in the next couple years, because I wanna see the firm that you now are leading today.

JULIE JONES: Yeah, I think, so when I started at Ropes, I think our equity partnerships – this is when I was an associate – but our equity partnership was at about 20%. And so it grew really substantially over a relatively short period of time. That was intentional. I mean, it was intentional in that I was the beneficiary of having some women ahead of me, David, who I think were ground breakers. And they were M&A lawyers who saw the opportunity for women at the firm. And then they put their heart and soul in it. And, you know, I think Ropes has, we've had an advantage in terms of our practice areas. This might sound counterintuitive because, you know, obviously private equity which is a massive part of our business is, you know, has a high level, I mean it's disproportionately men, but still private equity is a team sport.

And when you serve clients where, what they do is a team sport, I think there is an, you know, that advantages women in terms of their career aspirations. And so private equity, we’re a big healthcare life sciences firm, and also very complex institutional relationships that require really big and broad teams. So, you know, I do recognize that our areas of practice, I think allowed women to play a very important and welcome role. And then we double down on supporting women in those success. You know, when I joined our management committee about, at this point 11 years ago, and I think from the time that I was on our management committee, at least a third, sometimes a half or more of our partnership elevations are women, David. And that involves intentionality. It's like, we are going to put our money where our mouth is. We are going to elevate women into the equity partnership. And then that builds on itself.

DAVID STIEPLEMAN: I want to talk about how you run a deal. It's like a business unto itself, you know, a little bit, like understanding the client, understanding their objectives, getting all the resources in place, plotting out the, you know, what's going to have to happen over the next number of weeks and months or whatever it is. How did you do that? Did you have a particular approach? And I'm asking in part, because you know, like that's, that's kind of like the business building element and then I'm going to ask you, like, do you apply some of those same things to running the business of the firm. Because I'm assuming you do, but maybe I'm thinking about it wrong.

JULIE JONES: No, it's a really, it's a great question. I'll start with some advice I got as a very young partner and it came after I got some upward feedback, David, where at least one of the people that I was working with did not like me and said like, “Oh wow, she's so demanding. She's so tough.”

DAVID STIEPLEMAN: So that was someone who was working for you or someone---

JULIE JONES: Yeah, someone who was working for me, and maybe like some people get upward feedback. My reaction was, “Oh, well, no, they can't have been right,” and “It’s a demanding job,” and blah, blah, blah. But this comes to the advice I got, which is “Julie, your success, especially as you're a partner and especially in a private equity industry is going to depend on whether you build teams who take the hill just because it's you.” And how do you get that? You get that by being loyal, by showing them the teaching and training that you think that every associate should get but requires a partner to do it. So my ability to serve clients well on these big deals involved a lot of groundwork in training and mentoring over years. So that when you have the particularly complex, really thorny projects where you need, I mean, I think SunGard, which is a deal that I represented the private equity sponsorship group on, we had 200 plus lawyers working on that deal.

DAVID STIEPLEMAN: Talk about that deal because that's kind of a legendary deal in the industry and that was you. So talk about that.

JULIE JONES: Yeah, so that deal I learned a lot about negotiating in large groups, including never throw a jump ball up when you have, when you have multiple parties trying to negotiate things. But one thing I, I particularly remember about that is the need to every day, wake up and say, “My job isn't to be a lawyer,” -- it was certainly that – “My job is to be a problem solver.” And that's something that I've carried through almost every day of my career and very much as the head of the firm. It's like, “Okay, how do I need to solve today's problems? How do I need to take things, you know, off the plate of clients who are also doing something completely new?” We, you know, developed teams that were, you know, dealing with probably eight to 10 work streams. I had a system of, you know, you create your project management plan, like, you know, a half hour touching base with this team and then that team, and then this team and that team, but always coming back to prioritizing what the biggest problems were of the day and knowing that's where my time would be best spent.

But then again, of course having a team of people who, because you had devoted yourself to them, you knew would take the hell and give you their best. So there's those team elements and then there's just creating new solutions, like the reverse termination fee, which no one had done in a private equity deal. And David, I will say, I remember when we negotiated the fee, that the seller thought that they had gotten this amazing deal from the private equity firms and saying, “Yeah, are you guys sure you're going to agree to a reverse termination fee?” And we said yes. And we hung up the phone and we were, I don't ever remember dancing in my office for winning a term, but we were dancing in the office saying, “We just bought ourselves an option, and I don't think they realize what we just did.” There's some satisfaction into doing things that are really new and novel in the legal world as well.

DAVID STIEPLEMAN: I kind of want to take both sides of that conversation. It's an 11 and a half or 12 billion dollar LBO in, when, 2000…?

JULIE JONES: Yeah, exactly. 2004.

DAVID STIEPLEMAN: So that has to have been one of the, if not the largest deal ever at that point. So, you're in the middle of it and you've got your team and you want to teach your team. Are you taking the time in the middle of that to like, sit down and say to the mid-level associate, I wanna talk to you about how you would draft this or let, lemme tell you why I marked it up this way, or because that's, that's very disciplined and very hard to do. A great investment, but how did you think about that?

JULIE JONES: Yeah, one of the things I did for that project was I commandeered a couple of conference rooms and instead of just sitting in my office and letting people join in it, it was setting up a computer using a larger space, having more people participate in like, just be listening and having those sidebar conferences so that you could expand – physically expand your reach. You know, it's kind of funny to think about now with so many people working remotely so often, but how critical that was because much of the learning given the pace that we were at was happening by listening, getting a, literally a 30 second teaching moment, delivering that and then moving on to the next issue. And then every day, recaps. One of the things that, no matter how busy we were, we started our day with a group meeting and we ended our day with a recap. And that proved really good and dedicated times to teach and train.

DAVID STIEPLEMAN: That's really smart. You mentioned before how you did a little bit of an advice tour as you were kind of transitioning to the seat and that was in 2019. And you took the seat, I think starting officially in 2020, which is unbelievable timing. Like, you know, heading into COVID, heading into everything. So was any of that advice, did you throw all that advice out the window or was it useful?

JULIE JONES: It was great advice. I mean, I got a piece of advice from Lloyd Blankfein, and it was sort of, he was speaking at a client event and I asked him how he had managed Goldman during the financial crisis. And he said, well, the very first piece of advice in any crisis: communicate, communicate, communicate. And so, I mean, that I've remembered from starting in March saying we need to transform the way we're communicating within the firm and especially within the partnership, There was just so much uncertainty about the safety issues and also the potential performance of financial issues that our clients would face, that we could face as a law firm. And so we just said, we're going to talk every week. Look, this is, we're just going to gather our partners together and share all the information, all the information we have.

So that was one piece of very concrete advice that I remembered. I had another CEO who reminded me, don't have all of your day be back to back meetings, Julie, because for the leader, whether you're leading a deal or leading an enterprise, there's always a crisis because our jobs are really hard. And they're unpredictable. You have to leave buffer time, at least a couple times, an hour or two, completely unscheduled and say, this is my crisis management time. And that was advice that I think about all the time and remember every day that I am scheduled back-to-back like, oh no, there comes the unexpected. But I got amazing, amazing advice along the way, from some trusted advisors who had been the heads of enterprises themselves

DAVID STIEPLEMAN: So far as we're talking, I'm seeing a through line of like your life as a deal lawyer and a lot of the skills and insights that you, that you kind of distilled down to becoming a leader to the firm. Are there things that you had to get good at that you just had never done before? New muscles?

JULIE JONES: Yes. I think there were a lot of new muscles, including I, you know, I think as a person I’m relatively impatient and I have a bias to action, and at some points I needed to slow down to make sure that I was absorbing all of the information, especially when there were areas that I didn't know as well. I mean, spending hours, making sure that I understood actually how our technology systems worked, both because when your business becomes entirely remote, you need to understand how you're operating and because the people that are doing that work deserve to be heard and, and for a moment for their, the head of the enterprise, to understand where their worries are and share them. And I think at the beginning I just thought, well, if there's nothing I can do with this information, I probably shouldn't spend my time in this meeting. I need to act, act, act, because, you know, as a lawyer, that is the case that you have to be doing that. And as a leader, there's a bit more time you need to spend on listening and just being there to support people. And action isn't always needed to achieve that part of your job description.

DAVID STIEPLEMAN: So what does that look like? That's listening and emoting? And I'm not diminishing that. I shouldn't say it that way, but you know what I mean. Or what is that; what does that look like for you?

JULIE JONES: Yeah, no, I think it's making sure that whether it's a process function at the firm or it's an area of practice that, you know, wasn't a part of my personal history as a lawyer, that I am dedicating part of my schedule to spending time with them and just asking them to tell me where are their worries and what's their vision and strategy. Where's the opportunity. And, you know, occasionally even just hearing that, smart people can add some value and they can also remind the person on the other side that they're not alone in shouldering those worries. And they're definitely not alone in knowing like what we need to do to seize those moments and those opportunities. And so yeah, I think, I mean, it comes down to just pure time, listening and then trying to gather those insights.

And the other thing I would say that's different about being the head of the firm even than leader of a deal is, I have a bit of a reputation for being detail oriented and a tiny bit of a control freak. And I have to resist that temptation. Ropes is a $2 billion enterprise, we've got 3000 people and I can't do everything. And that takes for me just a little bit of courage, letting go, and relying on your ability to have great people who can spot the issues and bring the right ones to you. But I will say that is something that I need to continue to work on because I'm not perfect at it. But to, you know, to have this organization succeed, I really, I absolutely need to operate with letting there be decision making at a localized level and you know, on issues that are appropriate to their job responsibilities.

DAVID STIEPLEMAN: I think that's a challenge that I face. I'm not running as big an organization as you are, and I'm doing it with a lot of partners, but I think we hear that from founders and leaders in the conversations that we've been having. You are good at something, and then you get elevated to this position where you're doing other things and you're not doing the things that you were good at and you feel like you probably would be able to do just as well, if not better than anyone else is doing them, if you have some healthy sense of ego, and hopefully not over ego. And it's hard. And then you have to set up, I find you have to set up systems to make sure that you're hearing what's going on, you're getting leverage for yourself and you're letting people make decisions, but you're also able to kind of parachute in and be helpful. First of all, is that right? Do you think that's right? And then if it is, how do you do that? Like what's your system?

JULIE JONES: So I absolutely agree and think that's right, and you also need to resist the satisfaction. You're a doer. I know it from having seen you in action and I am too. There's satisfaction that comes from that, and one of the things I learned early on is that actually may just be self-satisfaction, and resist of the instinct, it gives you a, you know, a bit of a juice to get something done. But in terms of the systems that I put in place when I became the head of the firm, it was broadening the circles of influence around me. I'll give you some concrete examples. We have a management committee, they're extraordinary, they're wonderful, they're highly skilled, and we had always met. That group of 12 partners is a tiny subset of our partnership. I need to form some kitchen cabinets that include the leaders of our large practice groups and meet with them regularly. Systematically. I need to gather our senior partners, people who had been practice group leaders and beyond that but were no longer in that role. We need to meet, you know, every month and get their insight. And I need to set in place systems that allow that. I need to meet with our support leadership team about once a month in order just to have these hearing tours. So, and again, process is very strange for a lawyer to have process be a weakness, but I found like I absolutely needed to insist on those things because I didn't think it was my strength, but so that I had the system and then couldn't get caught up in the, oh, I'm really busy and I'll get to that next month. I'll go sit down with these, you know, very important and helpful senior partners in Q2, not Q1, you know, calendaring all of that out was very beneficial to me. And as a result of all that process, I'm getting perspectives from different parts of the firm that I don't think we've gathered systematically before.

DAVID STIEPLEMAN: I think that being intentional about that I think is, and, you're right, calendaring it out, like actually looking forward and saying, I'm going to be doing this for the next year, systematically, is not the way I thought about organizing my life, you know, prior to being in a seat like this, sounds like you didn't either because you're going from deal to deal. But it's so important, and sticking to it is so important. Actually, I think we're kind of dancing around a little bit, some of the issues that…the law firm business, it's a hard business. Like it's a, the business model is kind of, if you think about it, it’s kind of crazy, right? You've got, you said 3000 people. You have like 15 half of them are lawyers, half of them are non-legal staff.


DAVID STIEPLEMAN: 1500 lawyers, your product is their judgment, which means they've gotta be around for a while to develop that judgment. You gotta keep 'em, so, is there a working relationship, is there is a client list, and they're billing by the hour. And so you want to maximize their ability to do that. You also don't want to kill 'em. They're all very opinionated. They do different things. They're experts. You're not an expert in what they do. When you got into the seat, you know, pre COVID and you know, thinking about strategy. How did you think about the strategy of the delivery of legal services? And were you trying to change it, were you're trying to, what are you going for?

JULIE JONES: So one of the things that I have tried to do is reorient people about what our job is because, you know, I think they, articles I've read said that the level of depression and anxiety amongst lawyers might be the highest in the professional world. And I think part of that comes from having a job where the only thing you're selling is your personal time at points. There is something that is sort of screwed up about that model because, it's finite and it feels like there potentially is no relief from the demands of that job. How do you confront that? It's making people feel a higher sense of purpose in two ways. And this is what I mean by reorienting. We started trying to tell people that being a lawyer at Ropes & Gray, it's about practicing with purpose.

And that really means what we're doing for the community. We're doing great things for our clients. But a part of all of our job, which offsets those demands, is that you can use your skill to devote yourself to causes that you care about and really change the world. And that's no, I don't think that's an exaggeration of what lawyers can do. So that's one part of reorientation. The other part of reorienting the way people think about their role as a Ropes & Gray lawyer is that our job isn't to bill by the hour, our job is to develop the strongest client relationships in the world. And if you had to ask me what our vision and our mission is, it's build the strongest client relationships. And so when you think about your job as relationship oriented, then like, okay, yeah my job is to solve that client's problem. My job is, whether that's buying the company, whether it's, you know, getting out of that litigation, there are a lot of different ways you can think about problem solving for lawyers. But if you start to say like, I'm going to wake up and I'm going to think about what Josh Peck needs. I'm going to think about what you, David, need or, you know, whoever the human is, think about it as a human level, then you can put your feet on the ground and feel pretty fired up about the day as opposed to filling out a time sheet.

Now, you know, is that perfect? By no means, you know, the attrition rate is always really high in law firms. It's a model of, you know, people learning their craft and then going to work for clients or elsewhere. Turnover is really high and it's never been higher during, you know, during 2020 and 2021. The demands of the job have really tested people's resolve to stay in them. I may be a contrarian, I think that's temporary. I think, you know, I think we're already seeing evidence of the fact that attrition is down and that ultimately, that this, being a lawyer at the elite law firm can be a really rewarding and exciting job.

DAVID STIEPLEMAN: I think you and we had similar perspectives on one aspect of that, which was like, the work from home and the transition back from work from home. And you saw people say, “Well, are you going to be four days in, three days in two days in, what are you going to do?” And “I'm going to choose my employer, whether I'm going to stay here, you know, based on that.” And I know our perspective was, you gotta be together. We can talk about how many days, but you gotta be together. That's more rewarding. It's how we get better work done for our clients. It's how we learn.

JULIE JONES: Oh, I completely agree. I've often said to people, our job, being a lawyer in the kind of firm you're at, it's being a stage actor, not a TV actor . And there are, there are two different jobs, but for us, we know what we're about. You have to be together for many reasons. There are some fundamental benefits of teaching and training, but part of it, David, is the, it’s the energy that you derive from having humans around you that helps you confront the tough moments that we all experience. And like, I think we're crazy if we're not recognizing that you know, there's a reason that no law firm or any professional services firm that I can think of with success was built as a virtual entity. It it is a people business. And so I keep coming back to that.

You know, if you had to ask me where my worries are, one of them is, am I calling that right? Like, will the workforce you know, has it been sort of fundamentally altered by the experience of the pandemic, people's confidence that they can operate remotely as effectively? Like, am I going to get our people there fast enough? And you know, the answer is, I don't know. We're sure…we're trying, like hell, in trying to recognize also the benefits of some of the remote work and giving people a way to do the things they need to do to, to be there for their families more effectively as well. And I think there's an effective middle ground, but I don't think we're there yet. Yeah.

DAVID STIEPLEMAN: I, we, agree with you. And last thing I'll say out that is, the ability to transition quickly at the beginning of the pandemic to working remotely into communicating well was drawing on a Goodwill bank that we had built up as a result of being together in the office and being together as teams. And you saw that deplete and you gotta recharge it. And I agree with you, retaining some of the benefits of flexibility and not being so – not that we ever were – but like so huge to FaceTime or to, to being in the office at particular times, take care of your life, do what you gotta do, but being together has gotta be the, be the priority. You were talking about, you know, having a purpose is the thing. And again, that's another theme that we're hearing from our guests that we've had conversations with in whatever business and at whatever stage of their career and whatever stage of their life cycle in the business, like that's ultimately what people come back for.

And it's not the kind of details around compensation or whatever, though, obviously compensation is important. And you were talking about, you know, clients and then also like doing things that you care about. Long build up to this question, which is, Ropes & Gray has done some amazing pro bono work. You guys worked on the Obergefell case, which legalized same sex marriage. You've done other things representing, I think, you know, inmates at Rikers, those are amazing causes. Are you finding that it's harder and harder to navigate what you select to do because the world is so divisive and that you're like, you're going to irritate some clients? Maybe you're going to irritate some of your personnel? How do you approach that?

JULIE JONES: Yeah, it's a great question. And what have I been thinking about it regularly over the last couple weeks I, you know, with the Dobbs case for example, you know I as a person believe strongly in reproductive rights, you know, I know that that's not uniform in the Ropes & Gray community. And so even before I turn to pro bono, I’ll just talk about like, how do you approach that as a leader? I think for a long period of time, especially law firm leaders would say, we say nothing. We say nothing. I don't think that is where humans are right now. But I was, in writing my personal views on the worries I had about the Dobbs ruling, I knew that there was risk that I would alienate people, and by sharing those views. Ultimately though, I decided you can't not, you have to be authentic.

In order to be an effective leader, you have to be open and then you have to respect others. And which is what I always tried to do. And so I, you know, there were people in our, in the Ropes & Gray community who were unhappy that I wrote a note of significant concern about the finding. And then I talked to them and said, here's why I believe this. I understand where you are, but that does tie to pro bono causes because, you know, I think that a lot of our community would say Ropes & Gray champions immigration and asylum cases, whether, you know, there were a lot of cases on the border during the Trump administration. And, you know, I'm sure there were some members of our community who have strong feelings that, that is, you know, that our lawyer time as a firm asset, that shouldn't be devoted to a cause that they viewed as sort of democratic or liberal leaning.

JULIE JONES: My answer is like Ropes & Gray is always going to fight for civil liberties and civil rights wherever those are. And we just, we're going to need our people to respect the views of the lawyers who want to spend their personal time doing that. And so that ultimately, for the first time that I can remember, we’re taking on pretty significant set of cases about reproductive rights. And that's because we have 400 lawyers who within an hour asked to donate their time to those causes. And I've gotta recognize that too. So there's a little bit of leadership, courage and time that comes with making sure that other parts of our community don't feel that I am disrespecting them or their views and finding things that are, you know, consistent with some of our other missions where they can give their time to something that they care about, because that's equally true. There are causes they care about, there's a lot they can do to help the world and are with the Ropes & Gray pro bono program.

DAVID STIEPLEMAN: I appreciate that. Thank you. Thank you for that. You're the one person who we're talking to, who is at the helm of a really old organization. Ropes & Gray was founded in what, 1865? You must be one of the five oldest, like law firms of your caliber, nationally…I don’t know. So do you think about the tradition of the firm? Do you think about its role in American legal society and Boston and how does that inform any of the things that you do day to day?

JULIE JONES: So Ropes & Gray was founded in 1865 by two best friends from Harvard Law School. And I say that only because when I look at the firm's history, I am reminded that a lot of your ethos and your values structure, you can point down, you can point back to what was a part of your, for a really long time and realize there are things you never want to lose, like that sense of like this friendship, and partnership, but there's a lot of Ropes & Gray’s history that, you know, it's time to move on from. Like in 2012, I was only the third member ever of our management committee who was a woman, 150-year-old institution. and I was the third ever. And so that tells me something about heritage that, of, you know, male dominance, that needed confronting.

And so, you know, I am conscious of trying to respect and in fact admire the stability of the institution and the great things about it, but never being afraid to change it because, you know, I think that values can stay the same, but the way that they're applied has to shift based on where your employee population is and where the world is. But in terms of like us as a business, one of the things that has been interesting about Ropes is we've always followed the giants. And by that, I mean, Ropes & Gray represented when educational institutions like Harvard controlled a lot of assets, that was where Ropes & Gray, you know, spent its time advising. When certain areas of the corporate world were dominant, that's where Ropes & Gray was. The Johnson family, several of them were associates at Ropes & Gray, and you know, so we understood that asset management was where asset accumulation was happening. So it is interesting to also understand there's something about our institution, where we've always followed the money. And that has been a, you know, that's been a successful model for us as a client service organization.

DAVID STIEPLEMAN: I think there's a lesson there of, you can look at your history with clear eyes, doesn't mean you wanna burn things down. You take what's good from it and you move on from other things. Let let's talk about the future for a second.

JULIE JONES: It has been an interesting time for all of us as humans. And we have this commonality of having lived through a pandemic together. And I think there's opportunity there, because it's hard to think like, other than war, David, of something that has been so significant to human existence. Now for you and Sixth Street and for me and Ropes & Gray, a big part of the challenge was navigating the incredible demands on people's time. You know, in addition to the safety issues that people felt. Like people have been through a lot. And while sometimes that feels very heavy, like, oh my gosh, we have all these challenges, I can't believe I took over during, you know, these horrible times. I'm looking at it in a different you know, in a different way, saying, it is a uniquely human challenge and businesses that can do and address those issues the best are going to win. Like use the moment to support your people, hold on to them, win the talent war and then you win it all.

DAVID STIEPLEMAN: I think that's a really good point. Actually, I'll make this my last question for you, Julie, there's all the things that you just talked about and then you have to create boundaries for yourself so you can continue to be a, an effective leader, and thoughtful and creative. And it's true for everybody, but maybe in particular for you, how are you doing that? How are you managing that personally?

JULIE JONES: It's hard not to be very intense about a job where you feel like there are, “Hey, there's 3000 people that are depending on me.” But you know, I've developed techniques and I encourage everyone listening to do so. Like there are periods of like, “Oh, I can't even get my run in because I have to do this, that," and then I said, “Forget it.” Like, I have to run, that clears my head, it’s fundamental to my keeping anxiety down and worries down. And so the boundaries I'm, I'd be misrepresenting if I said I was a great example of boundary setting other than to learn like about what helps you best confront whatever anxieties you hold as a person. So I think about it, know what that is. I know for some people it, you know, it's not just running, it's some other form of exercise, but make your list and then stick to it because that's an investment in yourself.

DAVID STIEPLEMAN: Yeah. I think that's really good advice. I'm going to leave it there other than to say, I always love talking to you, Julie. Thank you so much for taking the time. I think our listeners are going to really benefit from listening to you and we'll talk soon I hope.

JULIE JONES: Thank you for letting me join you. This has been really fun.

DAVID STIEPLEMAN: That was Julie Jones. She joined us for an interview on July 6th, 2022. We learned so much in the time that she was with us. One, we talked about the importance of creating systems and discipline around training teams and how it pays off, not just for you personally as a leader, but for your team and therefore for the entire enterprise. I really like what she said about the vision of reimagining the provision of legal services and really the lesson for everybody, which is that people want to connect to a sense of purpose more than anything else. And how as a leader, part of your job is not to shy away from being a human, and how it's a good thing to lead with courage and empathy in particular, talking about difficult issues.

So thank you to Julie, from myself and from everyone at Sixth Street for joining us for such an engaging conversation and believe it or not, that's a wrap on season one, keep an eye out for the breakdown on the themes that we've developed from the great guests on our first six episodes. That's going to come out soon and really a special thank you to our guests, Evan Smith, Ambassador Michael McFall, Sean Mendy, Janice Chen, Igor Rozenblit, and Julie Jones, all of them for their time and for their insight. Stay tuned for our next round of conversations in season two, that'll come out in the fall of 2022. You've been listening to, It’s Not Magic, a Sixth Street podcast.

You can read more about our guests on and subscribe wherever you get your podcasts. If you enjoy today's podcast, please share and follow @SixthStreetNews on Twitter for more on the show and our firm. Thanks to the Sixth Street production team, Patrick Clifford, Ritvi Shah, Kate Hanick and our summer fellow Nami Lindquist for putting this together with sound engineering by Stephen Cologne. Our theme song is It’s Not Magic, an original song from Patrick Dyer Wolf. Once again, I'm David Stiepleman. Thanks very much for listening.

The views expressed in this podcast are not necessarily those of Sixth Street and Sixth Street is not providing any financial, economic, legal accounting or tax advice or recommendations in this podcast. In addition, the receipt of, or listening to this podcast is not to be taken as constituting. The giving of investment advice by Sixth Street. Please see additional disclosures on our website for more details.

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