Making Partner in a Pandemic: Hinshaw & Culbertson’s Brad Dunn

April 12, 2021, 9:31 AM

One of my legal mentors once told me that becoming a partner at a law firm is like winning a pie eating contest, where the main prize is being forced to eat more pie. While I now perfectly understand his humorous take on the achievement, I also understand what it is like to become a partner at a law firm during a global pandemic and the differences in those respective achievements.

In short, the global pandemic forced me to do even more, while somehow simultaneously also not allowing me to do as much. Let me explain.

The Plaintiff Who Wouldn’t Use Computers or Mail

The path to partner in a pandemic meant running my daily practice while not being able to leave the confines of my home unless I deemed it absolutely necessary, which can be a difficult decision when cases continue to move forward even though the system is technically supposed to be at a standstill.

It meant agreeing to travel 30 miles each way to the house of an elderly pro se plaintiff who I was defending against so I could personally scan and review documents while outfitted in personal protective equipment because she refused to leave the relative safety of her home, refused to use the “dishonest” mail service, refused to learn how to “put documents on a computer,” and refused to allow a document processing service or anyone else at all (except myself, of course) to enter her home to view the documents that my client needed to finally resolve the case.

It also meant having to learn the intricacies of various online deposition software, each maddeningly having different means of allowing me to present my exhibits on the main screen so the other parties could view them.

It meant having to restart the online deposition of a use-of-force expert eight different times because his screen kept freezing up and I could not tell if it had frozen again or he was just in deep thought contemplating my last excellent question.

It meant explaining to a key witness that his desire to take his WebEx video deposition via his phone while sitting in the cab of his pickup truck while outside of a work zone was likely not going to be acceptable to the other parties, despite what he might have heard in terms of the recent advancements in “litigation technology.”

Work from home meant delivering successful closing arguments during telephonic hearings before the superior court while my eight-year-old son continuously knocked on the door behind me, seeking help for his third-grade math problems because his school district had gone to remote learning and he now shared “office space” (otherwise known as my guest bedroom) with me on a daily basis.

It also meant learning of my partnership via a Zoom call and being mailed a celebratory champagne bottle, instead of being able to celebrate the moment with an in-person lunch or after-work happy hour toast with co-workers.

Learning to Hit the Curve Balls

Yet, despite the challenges of the pandemic and all the changes it has wrought on the workday, the road to partner still meant (and has always meant) adjusting to the times, whether good or bad, while continuing to provide professional representation and quality customer service to clients. Every road to partnership is unique, pandemic or not. Each requires the attorney to continually adapt and stay knowledgeable about marketplace trends.

The pandemic forced all of us to change and adapt at a much quicker pace than likely ever before, but it also taught me that I am in fact capable of quickly adapting and changing to the betterment of my practice. It removed any doubt that I may have had about my ability to be successful in this field for the foreseeable future, because I now know that whatever may occur, I will change and adapt my practice to the benefit of my clients.

When I started the practice of law, I had originally intended to be strictly a business transactional attorney because of my financial background and MBA degree. Over the years, however, I learned that sometimes attorneys need to learn other aspects of the legal profession to survive.

Just during the past year, I have handled M&A transactions, personal injury litigation, civil rights litigation, insurance coverage disputes, stock purchase agreements, real estate litigation, creditor bankruptcy matters, bankruptcy adversary proceedings, trademark infringement litigation, employment disputes, and also performed general counsel duties for my business clients as needed. My ability to adapt helped make me successful in my election to partnership.

While we hope the challenges of the past year will not last for much longer, there will still be challenges of some sort on my next journey going from income partner to the second level of partnership at my firm, capital partner. I will again have to learn to adapt to new challenges.

Becoming a partner at a law firm during these times was definitely a unique experience, but as the saying goes: Life throws all of us curve balls every once in a while, you just have to learn to hit some of them.

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of The Bureau of National Affairs, Inc. or its owners.

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Brad Dunn is a partner in the Phoenix office of Hinshaw & Culbertson LLP. His practice focuses on complex business litigation and commercial transactions.

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