With a vibrant personality and a professional demeanor that doesn’t fit the traditional mold of an attorney, Jennifer Robinson candidly admits that a career in the law wasn’t something she envisioned during or even after college graduation. Today, however, she is an office managing shareholder for Littler, the world’s largest labor and employment law firm, the founder and co-chair of Littler’s food and beverage industry group and one of the firm’s most successful rainmakers, all right in the heart of Nashville.
Roots in the Law
She enrolled in the University of Virginia as a pre-med student, but quickly learned she didn’t possess the interest in math and science required for a career in medicine. Switching majors and graduating with a degree in rhetoric and communications studies, Robinson moved to Nashville where she pursued her dream – the music video world. Aft er completing two internships with pre-production companies and one disastrous interview to become a VJ, Robinson saw her aspirations of fame and fortune in the entertainment world slipping through her fingers.
“Somehow, for reasons I’ll never understand, MTV didn’t come calling on me,” she laughs. “So I took a job as a cocktail waitress at the Exit/In while I planned my next move. I eventually decided, law school it is!”
Robinson enrolled and went on to graduate from Vanderbilt University Law School in 1990. From there, she found a position at a large, full-service firm in San Francisco, affording her the opportunity to gain experience litigating and navigating state and federal courts while delving into labor and employment law. Her mentor, Dan Clinton, offered Robinson tremendous training and gave her significant responsibility, demonstrating his clear support and confidence in her abilities.
“He taught me not only the practice of law, but also the business and politics of law, all while letting me grow and develop into my own type of lawyer,” Robinson says.
Finding Labor and Employment Law
Early in her career, Robinson worked on a range of cases, from death row appeals to asbestos and breast implant litigation. But her interest was soon sparked in labor and employment law.
“In one of my first cases, an older female employee filed a sexual harassment lawsuit accusing her manager – a younger male – of making inappropriate sexual comments in the presence of, and directly toward her,” Robinson says. “In the process of obtaining the facts of the case, we learned that the older female employee had a rather X-rated sense of humor and had, on occasion, given sexually explicit birthday cards to her manager, signed with her name.
It’s definitely an interesting and personal field of law,” Robinson laughs.
Her time in San Francisco wasn’t all work. Weekends were filled with hikes and winetasting. But eventually, the cost of one of the country’s most expensive cities and a desire to move closer to family combined to prompt a change of pace and scenery. In 1999, Robinson packed up her one-bedroom apartment in San Francisco and settled back in to Music City U.S.A., a city she had always loved.
She was offered a position with a full-service firm looking for a labor and employment attorney to service Southeastern-based clients who had California operations. She spent 11 years working with that firm before moving on to Littler in 2011. She was thrilled to join the largest labor and employment law firm in the world.
On the Grind
When she was recruited to Littler, Robinson was charged with opening the first Tennessee office, an honor she took in her stride.
With one partner, Eric Stevens, and one paralegal, Vicki Shaub of whom she notes is one of the best in Nashville, the three embarked on the journey of establishing a Nashville branch of the firm. Despite the sometimes uphill challenges, the three executed the grand opening beautifully.
“I’m honored and feel privileged to be working at the biggest and best firm in my area of law practice with some of the most sophisticated and expert minds in the field,” Robinson says. “Littler not only recognizes, but appreciates my talents in the business of law,” she continues. “they understand that my best use of time is not just to practice law, but also to focus on client development and management. the other thing I love is that Littler actually ’walks the walk’ of diversity. We don’t hire women, minority and LGBTQ attorneys as a means of ’checking a box.’ We train, mentor and promote attorneys from all walks of life and they evolve into an integral fabric of the firm’s business and management.”
Currently, Robinson is mentoring many younger attorneys in the firm, both in Nashville and in several other offices across the U.S., teaching them the art of practicing law, the business of operating a law firm, and the importance of developing their own books of business. She has become known as a “grinder, finder and minder” in her field and regularly demonstrates to her colleagues that devoting time and energy to building a strong practice and maintaining relationships with clients pays off.
Robinson credits Littler with creating a firm culture that benefits clients and that has also allowed her to be successful.
“Many firms have continued with the longstanding tradition of the billable hour,” she says. “At Littler, we work with our clients under a number of alternative pricing options. We don’t wait for them to ask for options. We want them to know that we are truly a business partner, not just a vendor. Our clients appreciate our flexibility, ingenuity and partnership. But these alternative pricing options also give them some predictability with their legal spend, which, in turn, makes them look good to their internal clients.”
It’s a Lifestyle
While Robinson works tirelessly in the office, she has several different hobbies and interests. She is a contributing restaurant critic for the Nashville Business Journal and she has trained for and completed triathlons and road races. But she doesn’t enjoy these passions in a silo – rather, she does them with her clients, friends and family members. When she wants to try out a new restaurant to review, her clients happily join her. Robinson has run a half marathon with her oldest son, Luke, and they competed in a triathlon together over the 2016 Labor Day weekend (Luke beat his mom). By incorporating her family, friends and clients into her hobbies outside of the office, she’s able to achieve some balance.
“Quite frankly, maintaining a work-life balance is a constant struggle, but I try to do the very best I can. Over the years, I’ve created some ’rules’ that I try to follow, which help me give my time to everyone who needs it,” Robinson explains, including her husband, Jeff, and two sons, Max and Luke.
Some of her rules include not working on weekends, so she can spend time with her family; attending all of her sons’ sporting events and concerts; and exercising in the morning even if it slightly delays the start of her work day.
“I’m grateful every single day for the opportunities and blessings I’ve been given, surrounded by people I respect, trust and love. But I also never forget that the practice of law is a constantly-changing business with significant competition from all sides. What is here today can be gone tomorrow. With these thoughts in mind, I keep a smile on my face, a spring in my step and a business card in my purse.”