Jonathan Brennan is Managing Director and Associate General Counsel of Bank of America Merrill Lynch, and an alumnus of Sidley’s New York office. Andy Stern recently sat down with Jon to hear more about trends in the legal issues affecting the wealth management industry and how the in-house role has changed in the last 10 years.
Andy: What are your job responsibilities at Bank of America, and what changes have you seen in the in-house role during your time there?
Jon: My team is responsible for managing customer litigation that arises from the bank's wealth management businesses. I also manage litigation involving Bank of America’s global corporate trust business, which was sold in 2011.
When I joined Merrill Lynch in 2005, my job was mostly day-to-day advice and hands-on management of litigation. Since that time it’s really evolved into a more strategic position. Now I spend more of my time focused on alternative fee proposals, deepening law firm relationships, keeping up with the demands of e-discovery and making sure we’re anticipating the needs of our business clients.
Andy: Do you remember being surprised by anything in particular when you went in-house?
Jon: Early on, right after I joined, in-house business clients would call me up with various legal issues and requests for advice. I was unnerved by it because they weren’t, strictly speaking, seeking litigation advice. But, by pushing myself out of my comfort zone, I really came to enjoy those calls and that aspect of my job. It taught me a great deal about how the business operates on the ground and it really built my confidence in my ability to solve problems for clients on a real-time basis. In litigation, it can take years before you get to a resolution, so the opportunity to solve somebody’s problems with such immediacy was certainly a gratifying change.
Andy: What thoughts would you share with attorneys who are considering transitioning to an in-house position?
Jon: Listen, listen, listen. If you're going into meetings with your new business clients and you’re doing all the talking, you’re missing out on what drives their business and what their concerns are. The less you talk and the more you listen, the better service you’ll be providing. The other thing is to challenge yourself. There are many skills that you need as an in-house lawyer that you don’t necessarily develop at a law firm, and many of these you’ll only develop by forcing yourself to try new things.
Andy: In what way do you think that working in a law firm prepared you for your current role?
Jon: One of the things that large organizations are looking for is subject matter expertise. If you're managing a portfolio of litigation or transactions, there is an expectation that you know how large litigations or transactions work from the inside. That kind of intense training, which I certainly received at Sidley, has been invaluable as I’ve progressed in my career. The other advantage of coming out of a place like Sidley is you’re being constantly challenged by very smart colleagues, which causes you to continually improve your skills as a lawyer.
Andy: What advice do you give to young attorneys?
Jon: Early in my career, I remember Bob Pietrzak telling a group of junior associates: “Treat each one of your cases as if you’re the only attorney on it.” When you are a junior member of a large team, there is a natural tendency to see your job as the small, discrete tasks you are given. The way to become a better lawyer, though, is to figure out how those specific tasks fit into the larger needs of a case and to anticipate what needs to be done on a case before anyone asks you.
Andy: What was your most recent Netflix binge?
Jon: I have four young children, so if I’m bingeing on any TV right now it's probably Doc McStuffins or Little Einsteins. But when I do get a chance to sneak in some Netflix, I just finished “Making a Murderer” and found it to be absolutely fascinating. Since the series aired, I’ve had at least three people tell me I look like Dean Strang, which is one of the best compliments I’ve received in my career.
Published April 2016 - UPDATE, Principal, Jonathan Brennan PLLC (August 2018 - Present)
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