Attorney at Law Magazine Palm Beach Publisher Rhenne Leon sat down with Russell R. O’Brien to discuss the culture at Conrad & Scherer and how law school shaped him.
AALM: When did you first know you wanted to become an attorney? What drew you to this career?
O’Brien: After I graduated college, I received a grant to study Arabic in Cairo, Egypt. While in Cairo, I got involved in Human Rights Watch. The experience of advocating for people lacking so many of the basic human rights we have here in the United States shifted my attention to law. Once back in the U.S., I started studying for the LSAT.
AALM: How is the practice of law different than your expectations in law school?
O’Brien: I did not realize just how multifaceted the practice of law is, particularly as a commercial litigator. In addition to understanding the complexities of each new case and managing the sheer workload, a litigator needs to be a persuasive writer, an effective advocate in the courtroom, have the interpersonal skills necessary to collaborate with a team, as well as develop and manage clients. It is the rare lawyer who is good at them all.
AALM: What drew you to your current firm? How would you describe the culture there?
O’Brien: I wanted to work on complex commercial cases that went to trial. That is what Conrad & Scherer is known for. I began working at Conrad & Scherer as a fifth-year associate. Within that first year, I second-chaired a jury trial, worked on two bench trials and made several appearances before the SEC on behalf of clients. I did not sleep much. As for culture, the team is a tight-knit group of lawyers who understand how to try cases. You have to be tough, work hard and keep up. Occasionally, we have fun, too.
AALM: With technology and an everglobal world, how do you see the legal profession evolving over your career? Do you believe this will be positive or negative?
O’Brien: I see changes to the legal profession caused by technology as an opportunity. For example, many attorneys pass off issues related to ESI to vendors or non-attorney staff, and do not understand the technical aspects of e-discovery. That is a mistake. For most commercial cases, the cost of litigation now is inversely related to the attorney or firm’s knowledge of ESI and e-discovery.
AALM: Working with senior partners what is a trait they have that you would like to carry through to the next generation of lawyers?
O’Brien: Bill Scherer, the firm’s managing partner, has the ability to take extremely complex facts and legal argument and distill them down into simple issues judges and juries understand. It sounds really simple, but it truly is an art form I continue to be humbled by.
AALM: What do you enjoy doing outside of work? Hobbies? Sports?
O’Brien: My family has a maple syrup farm in Wisconsin. As a child, I hated having to spend my weekends working on the farm. Now, I try to get back as often as I can. Funny how that works.