Julie Jones, First Woman to Chair Ropes & Gray, Talks Empowerment & Collaboration

She grew up in Peabody and is a “lifer” at her firm, having started as a summer associate in 1993. She attributes her success in her career to her laser focus and her willingness to seize opportunities to learn new things. Her portfolio includes work with high-profile clients such as Bain Capital, TPG, J. Crew and LPL Financial.

She is Julie H. Jones, and in two years, she will take over as the first female, firm-wide chair of Ropes & Gray.

“The significance of having a woman in this position is not lost on me, and it sends an important signal to my colleagues,” Jones said in a recent interview. “People, especially women, look to change because it gives them hope, and it gives them the feeling that opportunities exists for them, too.”

For Jones, it’s crucial to empower her colleagues in the same way that she has always felt empowered herself. Jones is known for taking on challenges, and for providing outstanding counsel to her clients. Her philosophy, that it’s “important to be a well-rounded and thoughtful corporate lawyer,” is a belief the firm has championed, and Jones plans to encourage firm leaders to carry on the tradition of giving associates the “building blocks to succeed.”

Jones will take the reins in 2020 from R. Bradford Malt after he retires in late 2019, at which point she will lead the firm’s 11 offices around the world. She already has extensive travel planned, with a trip to Asia ahead in March, and visits to Ropes & Gray’s offices in London and California thereafter.

“My immediate priority during the transition is to spend time with our partners, and to be out with those partners in front of our clients,” she said.

Though Jones acknowledges the immense responsibility that comes along with chairing the firm, she won’t shoulder it alone. It’s not her approach, she said, to govern in a vacuum. Her style is to build a consensus and make decisions.

“It’s critical to open channels of communication. My style is to speak with clients, to get information that enables us to home in on their needs,” she said.

Jones honed her collaborative style over the course of her career, advising private investment funds and public companies in major transactions. She became the practice group leader of Ropes & Gray’s Securities and Public Companies group during her second year as a partner, and has also served on the firm’s Policy Committee for six years.

“It almost feels more incremental than revolutionary to take on the role of chair,” Jones said. “I’ve been integrally involved with the firm’s management priorities for six years. That said, it will be different when the buck stops with me on everything.”

But Jones is not intimidated by the challenge. While she said it would be “premature” to comment too extensively on her agenda as chair, she did name a few key areas.

“The focus will stay squarely on understanding legal trends, and differentiating ourselves. The level of competition among law firms is hotter than ever, and there is also more partner mobility than before. When I started, people stayed at their firm until retirement. We want to make sure our partners see Ropes & Gray as a firm they want to retire from,” she said.

Jones also stressed the importance of public service, and said there has “never been a more important time for lawyers to dig deep” and dedicate resources and expertise to representing vulnerable clients in pro bono cases. She pointed specifically to the firm’s long history of legal involvement with LGBTQ rights, including arguing the landmark marriage equality case before the U.S. Supreme Court, immigration and asylum cases, voting rights issues and work on behalf of military veterans.

“Of all the work we do, pro bono can be the most intimidating. These are oftentimes matters with individual lives at stake,” she said. “But we have so many lawyers who are passionate about it, and whose focus is on going above and beyond the firm’s pro bono requirement. We are deeply engaged in a number of important social justice initiatives.”

A self-described people person, Jones anticipates that tackling challenges will be both fun and fulfilling as she leads Ropes & Gray. When she reflected on the trajectory of her career, she credited the firm with providing her the tools to become “not only a great lawyer, but to become a great leader.”

“The issues that women have faced in their careers are astonishingly hard. They have never been in sharper relief than they are right now,” Jones said. “There are a lot of demands on women and women lawyers, especially at big firms. You find yourself asking, ‘What clients do I support? What internal initiatives do I support?’”

Her advice to women starting out in the legal profession—which is the same advice she would give to all attorneys—is to “look for things you feel like you do well.”

“Focus on being a great lawyer. If you find an area of law you think you’re good at, success begets success,” she said. “Don’t get distracted; concentrate on just kicking butt. Focus on clients and building a brand – those are the most important things.”