Photo by Justin Clemons.
It’s a short list, the one that Jerry Clements is on, and she has pardoned those who have figured, based on her name, that she is probably a guy. Less than 10 percent of the top jobs at the 100 top law firms in the U.S. are held by women and Clements has been running the rodeo at Locke Lord, based in Texas, since 2006.
She’s steered the firm to international prominence through mergers and by judicious lateral hiring and internal growth. The one-time baton twirler and Miss Majorette of Texas who grew up to become one of the Lone Star State’s top litigators is now firmly ensconced as one of the most influential women attorneys in the country, effectively the CEO of a half-billion dollar global empire. She received her law degree from Baylor University School of Law in 1981.
Lawdragon: You’ve been an attorney based in Texas for pretty much all of your professional career and you’ve led Locke Lord on a fairly steady expansion path nationwide and, more recently, internationally. Over the years, how has that changed the culture of the firm? What has been the biggest challenge in that regard?
Jerry Clements: The main reason that our three mergers have been successful is our focus on preserving our culture of outstanding client service, collegiality and teamwork. We simply won't do a deal if we can't convince ourselves that our potential merger partner lives and breathes these same basic tenets. Once we get beyond that hurdle, everything else tends to fall into place. Clearly, the biggest challenge is integrating new offices which are geographically distant and making sure our lawyers in those offices get to know and work with lawyers in other offices. The philosophy of an integrated "one firm" mentality is critical to our culture.
LD: You maintain a close relationship with Baylor Law, your alma mater, and serve on the Baylor University Board of Regents. How is Baylor meeting the challenges faced in general in law education across the country, regarding both costs and preparing students for a difficult and changing market for legal services?
JC: First of all, Baylor recognizes that law school is a large investment in time and money for our students. As an alumna, I'm proud to say that Baylor Law School has remarkably generous alumni who have, over the years, provided the school with an endowment that is among one of the larger endowments among law schools, especially on a per capita basis. That endowment allows Baylor Law to significantly discount tuition through scholarships for many of its students and thereby keep student indebtedness down.
As an alumna, I also can share that Baylor Law prepares its students to be practice ready. The school has been a poster child for an approach to legal education that has been advocated in the ABA's 1993 MacCrate Report and the Carnegie Foundation's 2007 report on legal education. Baylor Law teaches students the fundamentals to successfully practice law by developing the core lawyering skills of thinking, writing, and speaking clearly and analytically in a high expectations environment. Baylor Law gives students supervised training in performing a reasonable range of lawyering tasks through a series of highly realistic, simulated courtroom exercises in its rigorous (I can say from personal experience!) Practice Court program and through pro bono clinical and externship opportunities.
In addition, Baylor Law has created a professional development program that addresses the requests of both employers and recent graduates for training in the professional and business practicalities involved in operating a law practice.
LD: It’s pretty widely reported that as a young girl you met John F. Kennedy just a few hours before he was assassinated – and told him you wanted to be president someday. As an adult, have you entertained the notion of running for office? Might that still be in your future?
JC: No; however, that early encounter made quite the impression on me and probably played a role in making me the political junkie that I am today. More importantly, U.S. and global politics play a critical role in law firm management strategies these days. Not paying attention to what's going on in the geopolitical environment is a risky proposition for law firm leaders.
LD: What do you see as the biggest challenges facing Big Law firms in the coming five years?
JC: I think the biggest challenge is making sure that leaders can make an honest and reasoned case to our partners about the need for change and provide them with a vision and business strategy that ensure continued viability and competitive advantages in a market that is changing significantly. A law firm that can't distinguish itself based upon expertise, quality and value of service, a highly regarded and recognizable brand and a footprint that mirrors that of our clients will, no doubt, be lost in a sea of mediocre competitors.
LD: Locke Lord, unsurprisingly perhaps, has a reputation as being a great firm for women to work for and clearly has a strong commitment to diversity and inclusion policies. Is that something that has advanced significantly under your leadership in the last eight years? Is there a specific initiative you take pride in?
JC: Locke Lord has more than our fair share of strong, powerful women lawyers. In that regard, we are very fortunate. But, as we all know, that doesn't just happen. I am pleased to say that I am actually the second female managing partner of our firm. I followed in the footsteps of Harriet Miers. Harriet made sure women in our firm had client relationship opportunities and leadership opportunities. I try very hard to continue what she started. Our women lawyers do a great job for our clients, our communities and our profession and I am very proud of that fact.
LD: Can you single out any particular attorneys or mentors who helped you on the way up? How did they help you and what did you learn from them?
JC: My "How to be a Lawyer" mentor was Morris Harrell. Morris was a former President of the ABA and the American College of Trial Lawyers, but most of all, he was the consummate gentleman and trial lawyer (in that order). He put me on his team when there weren't many women in the courtroom handling high-profile clients and cases. He taught me how to win and lose with grace and he also taught me that a sense of humor comes in very handy. That has served me well throughout my career.
LD: I've heard you're a golfer. Favorite courses? What’s the most memorable thing you’ve ever done on a golf course?
JC: My favorite golf course is Skibo Links at The Carnegie Club in the Scottish Highlands--especially the 19th Hole! The most memorable thing I've ever done on a golf course was a rare eagle last summer on Number 4 (Par 4) at Spyglass Hill (driver, 6 iron).