Justin H. Sanders is a partner at Sanders Roberts LLP, where his practice focuses on business litigation and general liability defense, as well as criminal investigations. He is also an alumnus of Sidley’s office in Los Angeles. David Carpenter recently sat down with Justin to catch up on his career trajectory from private practice to government and back, memorable Sidley experiences, the impact of COVID-19 on the legal industry and career development advice.
Tell us where you’re currently working and how long you’ve been there.
I am the Managing Partner of Sanders Roberts LLP, an 18-lawyer litigation boutique in downtown LA. I started the firm in 2008 and, fortunately, it has grown and changed over the last 12 years. In 2011, I was joined by my current partner, Reginald Roberts, Jr. We typically handle cases involving business litigation and employment defense, with some criminal investigations as well. In essence, I’m a trial lawyer. I love trial work and I want my firm to be known as a firm that can try cases better than the rest.
Can you describe your career trajectory leading up to where you are now?
After graduating from the University of Southern California School of Law, I thought the best place for me to start would be a big firm, where I could receive good training and mentorship. Back in those days, I was very politically active and close to the City Attorney of Los Angeles, Rocky Delgadillo. So after three years in big law, Rocky took office and he brought me on to manage the city’s outside legal counsel, which I did for another three years. It was a great opportunity. I probably met a thousand lawyers throughout the state of California in that role and got to see the city in a new light. I went to Sidley Austin in 2006 in order to get back into day-to-day litigation and to further develop my skills. Two years later, I went out on my own. I would drive anywhere for anything, and my motto was that I wasn’t too proud to drive across town for 500 bucks. Ultimately, I worked hard and realized there’s a lot of things that I didn’t know and tried to make the best decisions along the way.
What was it like to transition from private practice into government?
Government moves much slower. At first, it was somewhat frustrating, but then I realized it’s just part of the process because you are acting on behalf of so many people. As an in-house lawyer with the City, I was always shocked at how nonresponsive our outside lawyers were – sometimes they didn’t seem to be aware that their business was a service business, and that business could be taken elsewhere. That’s something I’ve always tried to be aware of in terms of my own relationships with my clients now. I try to go that extra mile to make sure that all their questions are answered. I want them to understand exactly what’s going on and that takes a lot of time.
What is it like to be a lawyer who is also in charge of your business, and how has that affected your practice of law?
My hiring decisions are the most critical decisions because of the role I play now as the managing partner. My time is split between litigation, generating new business and managing the firm. It can be scary to trust the people that you work with to do high-level work, high-quality work that you can be proud of because you can’t be everywhere at once. There’s a lot on my plate every day.
How do you see COVID-19 impacting the legal industry, specifically in Los Angeles, over the next year?
The industry will not be back to exactly where we were, but I believe it will recover, especially on the litigation side. Many of our matters are on hold and we’ve pressed pause on depositions but hope to get back out there pretty soon.
You’ve certainly seen the industry from multiple angles. What advice would you give to young lawyers about their career development?
Number one is you have to work hard – you really have to have that “Mamba Mentality.” You have to be hungry and want to learn and do more. I always strongly encourage young attorneys to be as social as they can and to keep in touch with everyone that they meet. Always be ethical and respectful because it follows you. Good networkers should always be willing to do things for people without the expectation of something in return. I personally learned a lot while at Sidley – those years were very critical in terms of making myself a more substantive, better attorney. The attorneys at Sidley were the sharpest I’ve ever encountered. I think Sidley’s associates and partners are in a good place; I’ve always appreciated my time there and the friends that I made.
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