Contact — Taleah Jennings
You came to Schulte as a lateral associate from another large firm. Why did you choose to come to Schulte?
I had attended some Schulte social events, as a close friend of mine worked here. So I’d met some people from Schulte before I was looking to move, and I thought it was an interesting firm with people who got along well. I liked the vibe of the place and the people, which is what first attracted me.
What do you think helped you to succeed here?
Hard work, combined with senior people having trust in me and getting me out there to litigate. They trusted me to be an attorney, to think on my own feet and to handle things as they arose on my own. When you have to do it, you do it – but people also have to trust you. I got that here, pretty much as soon as I arrived. Because it’s a smaller shop, you have to give that responsibility to younger people. It’s a good thing. When I arrived to the firm as a fourth year associate, I was the senior associate on the first two cases I was staffed on. I was strategizing, brief writing, handling depositions, arguing in court and working with our clients. There was no filter between me and the partner, who was very senior at the firm.
What’s it like as a woman partner here?
When I became partner, the existing partners were very welcoming and the women partners included me amongst their special group. The women partners have lunch together once a month and I look forward to it each month. But, to be honest, male or female — it makes no difference. The expectations are the same.
What do you focus on specifically in your practice?
I am a general commercial litigator. My specialty is complex commercial litigation, whether it arises out of employment, bankruptcy, real estate, or trust and estates matters. During the past couple of years, I’ve been focusing more on employment-related litigation, and trusts and estates work. As you become more senior, it’s common to develop an expertise. Since I consider myself to still be in the earlier stages of my career, I still work on a broad range of cases, which I love. Once you learn how to litigate, you can litigate in a variety of industries.
How would you describe the firm culture?
We all work very hard, but there’s a relaxed component to our personalities and work styles. You often hear laughter in the hallways. Attorneys across levels and departments enjoy each other’s company and have a good time together – both at work and socially. This really makes it so that work can be fun, even under stressful conditions. Also, at all levels across the firm, there is a real commitment to reflect the diverse backgrounds and experiences of each member of our firm. It’s still true, what attracted me a long time ago: You can be yourself here, be respected and do well, all while having some fun.
You’re a member of the hiring committee and co-chair of the Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Committee at Schulte. How do those roles fit together for you?
It’s a good fit, because they are interrelated to a certain extent. One of our goals at Schulte in increasing diversity is to recruit the best talent. On both committees, we brainstorm ways to make that happen and make sure our initiatives work. The members of our Recruiting Department are very in tune with what’s going on with our firm’s attorneys, both personally and professionally, and it’s important for the Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Committee to know that as well.
They are two different committees, though. Recruiting is just one aspect of the Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Committee. We also focus our attention on education and making sure Schulte is an inclusive environment socially for all of our attorneys.
You recently won a pro bono award from Sanctuary for Families (for the second time). Tell me about your work for that organization.
I love the work I do with Sanctuary for Families. When I went to law school, my plan was to become a family law attorney. It did not quite turn out that way, but working with Sanctuary for Families provides me with a certain balance. I am able to do family law work on their behalf, while also practicing corporate litigation. I got involved with Sanctuary for Families early on in my career and have worked with them on both trials and appeals. I became a board member of the organization last year and look forward to continuing our work together. They also have a very strong relationship with my firm.
What is special about Schulte’s approach to pro bono services, and how does it include new associates?
We’re always looking for pro bono opportunities to give younger associates a chance to get out there on their feet. It’s a perfect chance for younger lawyers to take ownership of a case, identify their own strengths and develop their own style of lawyering.
The firm also serves in the role of outside general counsel to many nonprofit organizations, which provides pro bono opportunities for non-litigators. In that role, we often handle their real estate negotiations, tax matters and filings, employee-related matters and other corporate matters that arise. It really is a great model, because typically, pro bono work focuses on litigation. Because of our unique role with many nonprofit clients, our corporate attorneys can get involved in pro bono work too.