David Moreno discusses his experiences thus far with Blank Rome, including what led him to join the firm, as well as how cultivating relationships will bear “abundant fruit”.
CCBJ: So David, talk to us about what led you to join Blank Rome.
David Moreno: I’ve been aware of Blank Rome’s industry reputation for years, and I’ve had the good fortune over my legal career to work with various Blank Rome partners in different capacities, either as co-counsel or on the other side of transactions. And it was always the sentiment of those with whom I’ve interacted that the firm is incredibly team-oriented and collegial, and that they have enjoyed their firm’s strong platform. So that was really attractive to me. In changing from Brown Rudnick to Blank Rome, I was really trying to find my long-term BigLaw home. One of the things I was looking for was a commitment to DE&I. Being a partner of color, it’s obviously something I have to think about because organizations that are committed to that will not only make the environment better for me—helping me to really “lift while I climb”—but will also help usher in future generations of diverse attorneys.
I also saw Blank Rome as a great national platform to serve my current clients. Having offices in key markets across the country is particularly beneficial. The firm also offers a wide range of service offerings and established practices that will help me expand upon relationships that that have been warm for years, but that I haven’t yet converted into business relationships as I haven’t historically worked in some of those practice areas. I’m a firm believer in cross-selling and getting to know your partners, and one of the biggest attractions for me—and to BigLaw generally, even before I got to Blank Rome—is: Can I provide more value to the folks in my circle and their circle? Obviously the bigger the firm is—the more offerings and practice areas it has at a high level—the easier it makes my job in terms of just trying to add value.
How would you describe your leadership style and what brought you to that?
My leadership style is really, really focused on personal relationships. For me to lead effectively, establishing strong personal relationships is critical. We all have heard Maya Angelou’s quote a billion times: ‘”People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”.’ That’s something that’s been particularly important to me as a leader. If you take time to get to know people on a personal level, they truly appreciate that, and it inspires them to really go to bat for you, to be engaged, to want to work with you. The other reason I like to get to know folks is it gives me information that can be useful when assigning work or building a team. It helps me put folks in spaces where they, (a) have a competency, but also (b) have an interest. And the stats and studies have shown us that we are more successful when working in fields and on tasks that we personally enjoy and are enthused by.
While a number of people have contributed to helping me craft my leadership style—having competed in sports at a high level in college under the leadership of strong coaches as well as serving as a prosecutor early in my career where great mentors were incredibly useful during high-stakes litigations—when it really comes down to it, it was my grandma who inspired me the most. My grandmother was the foundational piece for my life-long focus on getting to know people, being of service, being kind, treating people the way that one wants to be treated, and establishing meaningful relationships. She was someone who, after she passed, I realized how many different folks, from the janitor at her church to a doctor at the hospital she worked at, were impacted by her love and kindness.
That to me just was a great sort of full-circle testament to how she lived her life and who I strive to be. And I think it’s been helpful to my practice as well. I’ve been able to establish a role as a trusted advisor to so many organizations and individuals. And I feel a lot of that has stemmed from building these meaningful relationships and knowing what inspires people, what drives them, and what’s important to them. That’s been critical to my career.
Speaking of relationships, what qualities do you look for when you’re hiring new people into your team, or working in relationship development?
First and foremost, you need someone who is competent in the role that you’re hiring them for. But people can differentiate themselves by having great skills in terms of (a) being a part of a team and (b) being able to work towards the big picture, even if their involvement is limited to a singular task. Also important is a low ego. I’ve seen, both in my career and in my personal life, that people who have a low ego (but high confidence) are able to put their own needs aside to help advance the needs of an organization.
So competency, low ego/high confidence, an ability to work well with others, and I’ll add one more: a defined value system that they live their life by. It could be two or three core tenets that dictate how they act in certain situations. It’s important for me to dig into what folks’ values are because when confronted with difficult decisions, if their values are in line with my organization or my personal values, if they have a strong moral compass, they’re going to make the right decision when left to their own devices. So those are the things that I would look for when hiring for my team.
I know that you’re fairly new to Blank Rome, but what was the draw and how would you describe the culture?
My understanding of the firm’s positive culture, from the outside, was certainly a draw. And now that I’m here as a partner, my initial impression is even more favorable. It took me almost two days to respond to all of the messages saying not just “welcome to the firm” but “welcome to the firm; my name is X. I do Y. And if you need any help navigating the firm, or just want to chat, I’d love to get to know you.” I’m talking over 200 messages from partners, associates, and staff alike, welcoming me to the firm. Astonishing, really, given the culture of the legal industry and how busy we all are, how folks were sending these messages from airplanes or as they’re walking into court. It was just so meaningful, so touching. It makes you feel so welcome, so important, so valued. That’s a killer first impression.
What career advice would you offer others in the profession, whether they’re attorneys or business professionals?
What I would tell you and everyone, no matter the role—lawyer, doctor, engineer, janitor, etc.—is to be a student of your calendar. We all focus on doing a good job by spending more time, but we don’t spend enough time analyzing how to be efficient with our time. Being a student of your calendar means looking at it daily with an eye towards productivity and accessibility, because the former is often at the expense of the latter, and when you’re not accessible, you’re not top of mind when new opportunities arise because you’re off in a corner or a silo somewhere working on your craft—which is important, but so is accessibility. So look at your calendar daily and critically, and focus on the white spaces and what you can be doing daily to get where you want to go. The other thing I would say—and this is advice that was given to me early in my career and is especially apropos to lawyers—is to be flexible. Don’t pigeonhole yourself. You can handle a range of different things. Also, and this next piece of advice is probably going to sound counterintuitive because of what I just said, but it’s important to establish one’s credibility and competency in one space and be an expert in your field. That said, as my bio shows, I’ve done a wide range of things as a lawyer in different practice areas and with different sorts of clients in a number of different roles, investigations, trials, serving as a trusted advisor, managing transactions, et cetera. But the reason I was able to do all that is because initially, right after leaving the DA’s office, I set about making a name for myself as an expert trial lawyer in criminal court.
That’s what led to athletes and sports agencies hiring me to handle their litigations. And once that circle saw me as an industry expert in their space, the inquiries became, “Hey, I’ve got this arbitration against my league. Can you help me with that?” And then I was able to establish competency there. I looked at every single situation, one by one by one, as an opportunity to establish my credibility and my competency. Now, even though I do all these different things, if you ask 20 different people, you will get 20 different responses: David’s an expert in trials. David’s an expert in white collar. David’s an expert in criminal affairs. David’s an expert in guiding an athlete through an endorsement deal. Because I took the time to strategically establish my credibility in each one of these spaces.
When I talk to my in-house executives, they want somebody who really knows their regulatory landscape or operational challenges. It’s not enough that you know employment law, you have to know employment law the way it cuts for sports organizations with unions.
What changes would you like to see within the legal industry?
We touched on it a little bit before but I’m going to come back to diversity and equity in this space, especially when we look critically at leadership at the highest levels. As a profession, we still have a ways to go to be more inclusive. I’ve tried to be an ally and to help as much as possible with regards to attracting and, more importantly, retaining diverse talent. We’ve already seen such a shift, particularly in tech and in other spaces where diversity is really valued. And many clients are choosing law firms that better align with their values. What they’re looking at is a departure from the traditional BigLaw landscape, which historically has been dominated by white males. We now need to make the legal profession one where women and people of color and marginalized communities are elevated to roles of senior responsibility and where their visibility can be inspiring to younger generations. The power of seeing folks in those roles is just so inspiring.
So that’s one change I’d love to see, and it’s something I’m committed to. And if I can help anybody with that—including anybody who’s reading this—I’m happy to talk to them and give them some tools and guidance that I’ve used to navigate a number of different spaces and personal experiences. For example, early on in my career when I was prosecutor, I was routinely mistaken for the defendant or wasn’t let into the building because security didn’t believe this Black man was an actual prosecutor. I developed tough skin and a calloused mind to successfully navigate these situations. And I can use these experiences to hopefully make it better for the next person.
Another change I’d like to see in the profession generally goes to the fact that too many people have to make the tough choice between having a successful personal life and a successful professional life. I’d love to see a shift in time equity—for young lawyers, especially—where their focus on being successful in their career doesn’t come at the expense of building a successful personal life. And I think that reevaluation is already underway as companies look ahead to life after the pandemic, time spent commuting, and those sorts of things.
So those are the two things I think our industry can really benefit from, and they’re issues that a number of different industries are grappling with.