Lawyer Limelight: Alex Romain

As a classically trained pianist and experienced litigator, Alex Romain sees similarities between music and the law – not least of all in the extensive preparation required to excel before an often-difficult audience. That’s an insight we can trust, given that many clients view Romain as the virtuoso of choice for their most difficult cases and investigations. Romain, a University of Michigan Law School graduate, was a partner at Williams & Connolly in Washington, D.C., for 10 years before making the move to Hueston Hennigan and Southern California in 2016. Among his community efforts, Romain serves on the board of directors for Alliance for Children’s Rights.

Lawdragon: Please talk a little bit about your practice – what keeps you excited about it?

Alex Romain: Although I frequently represent large corporations, for much of my career, my clients have been individuals – in securities cases, white-collar criminal cases, and administrative proceedings. I appreciate the bond that I have formed with each of my clients. Every case is traumatic for the litigants, especially if they go to trial, and I have deemed it a privilege to help my clients to clear their names. My job is not merely to advocate for them; it is to steer them through an often terrifying process, and to help them come out on the other side with their dignity intact. Working with an individual client highlights the joys of being a trial lawyer – complete devotion to one person’s cause, a deep understanding of your client and his or her industry, and a bond that lasts long after the litigation and trial. I enjoy all of it – the counseling, the advice, and the advocacy. The law is a people profession, and I love people.

LD: I assume the enjoyment of working with people also applies to those within your firm.

AR: Yes. I also enjoy mentoring junior lawyers as they embark on their own journeys in the law. As one example, I still remember my first deposition – it was great – and now, every time a junior lawyer walks into my office to seek advice on his or her first deposition, I get just as excited. Ours is a noble profession that relies on meaningful mentorship and sponsorship.

LD: Can you talk about a recent litigation you’ve handled to some type of resolution?

AR: As lead counsel, I recently defended an international consulting company in an $830 million actuarial malpractice case brought by the City of Houston. After three years of litigation, and shortly before the case was scheduled for trial, the City settled for 5% of its initial demand.

LD: Interesting. What were some of the challenges or big issues involved with the case?

AR: The case was challenging because the subject matter was complicated, but a $6 billion pension deficit – for which the City blamed my client – is easy to understand. To prevail, we had to drill into the actuarial science and hundreds of pages of expert reports, identify the flaws in the City’s analysis, and expose it in our Daubert motion to exclude the City’s expert. Simplicity was the key: distilling the expert analysis to make it accessible, and then setting it within a compelling narrative to prove that my client had done a good job and had not done anything wrong.

In addition, in a litigation that was at the center of Houston’s public discourse about the pension crisis and how to address it, much of our work was done – and remains – under seal. As a result, the citizens and potential jury pool knew only of the City’s 20-year old pension crisis, but had little information about the facts of the case.

The case was watched closely within the actuarial profession and by other firms that provide actuarial services to public pension funds, as the verdict could set a wide precedent. In summary, the City claimed that my client’s forecast of pension costs over twenty years was negligent. Had the City’s theory prevailed, it would have greatly expanded the potential scope of liability for numerous companies in the industry.

LD: Looking back towards the start of your career, can you identify a mentor who turned out to be critical to how your professional life turned out?

AR: After college, I worked at a law firm in Boston, my hometown, before applying to law school. I was assigned to work for a young law firm partner named Deval Patrick. His considerable personal and professional gifts were immediately evident, and he became a significant role model for me. I still carry many of the lessons he taught me.

Patrick combined respect for everyone with a candor that was sincere and disarming. He consistently said that we should all focus on the many things that unite us, and he genuinely understood and respected the views of those who disagreed with him. And Patrick espoused these views long before he moved into public life – first becoming the Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights and later the Governor of Massachusetts.

Later, when I worked for him in the Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Department of Justice, he provided me with extraordinary opportunities to shine and the opportunity to be recognized. Deval’s sense of authenticity and accountability resonated with me because they are the same principles my parents instilled in me.

LD: Is there a case or client that stands out over the years as especially memorable?

AR: Yes, the Baltimore Ravens. We represented the Ravens in connection with the National Football League’s investigation led by Robert Mueller into the Ray Rice domestic violence incident, the response to various media inquiries about the incident, and the grievance that Rice filed after the Ravens terminated him. The Ravens immediately appreciated the seriousness of the domestic violence incident that occurred with Rice and his wife, who were both long-time members of the Ravens family. And part of what stands out for me is the integrity and decency of the various individuals within the organization as they worked to do the right thing.

It was not a typical legal case: The media’s inquiries do not follow any script; the NFL’s collective bargaining agreement is not drafted like a statute; and the arbitration was widely publicized in both news and sports media. As counsel for the Ravens, it was necessary to consider all of these elements in helping the organization to navigate the crisis.

LD: Among the biggest cases in your career was the exoneration you helped win for former Alaska Sen. Ted Stevens after his 2008 corruption conviction. The dismissal got a huge amount of attention because the federal judge determined that prosecutors withheld evidence. Do you have any take-aways or thoughts about how the Sen. Stevens case unfolded and finally concluded?

AR: It has been 10 years since Senator Ted Stevens was exonerated, and at least two things still stand out to me today. First, the case and many individuals, including Judge [Emmet G.] Sullivan, helped to enact tremendous change – from training regarding Brady disclosure obligations to increased disclosure by many prosecutors. That change has helped to ensure that many additional defendants are able to get a fair trial. Second, Stevens was an extraordinary man and public servant.

As time has passed, I have a growing appreciation for Stevens’ resolve to stand firm and clear his name – even though it was unpopular to do so – without any guarantee that it would happen. Such fortitude is uncommon and it has had a lasting impact.

LD: What do you do for fun when you’re outside the office?

AR: I am a husband, father, musician, and trial lawyer. And when I am not in the office, I spend my spare time enjoying my kids – who are 10 and 8-years old – before they stop thinking that I am cool! I am also a classically-trained pianist, and I have been somewhat obsessed with the piano and music since I was six-years old. I see many similarities between the practice of law and music: the meticulous preparation; the pressure – and gratification – of a live performance; and the emotional arc generated by a rhetorical phrase or a musical performance. Both the lawyer and the musician appeal to a listener’s heart as well as his mind, and they try to transport their listeners, whether a jury or an audience member, to some inevitable conclusion or place.