The Last Word

Hogan Lovells CEO Emeritus J. Warren Gorrell Jr. '79 Offers Lessons Learned — and Advice
June 16, 2017

J. Warren Gorrell Jr. '79 is CEO emeritus and partner at Hogan Lovells, former chairman of Hogan & Hartson (now Hogan Lovells), and former co-CEO of Hogan Lovells.

Describe the job you just retired from and what you liked about it.

I just retired from practicing law (client work); I remain involved part-time as the CEO emeritus. I’ve been a corporate and M&A lawyer for over 37 years, all fortunately with the same firm. (I started three days after law school graduation.) I’ve always enjoyed the challenge and the feel and momentum of deals, of working on a team trying to put something together and help clients achieve their goals. I was always drawn to business and feel that has best used what I’ve had to offer. While the pace of deals undoubtedly is a hard road at times and can be disruptive, it has always been worth it. I’m sure I’ll miss this but, for me, this was a good time to step aside.

What gets you out of bed in the morning?

I naturally get up early, even on the weekends. (Though I confess I do enjoy sleeping a little more than I did when I was younger.) The specific thing that gets me out of bed is the need to get my workout or my bike ride in early, before the day starts and other people’s problems get in the way of taking care of myself. But more generally, I’ve been lucky that I’ve been passionate about what I’m doing, and so it’s good to get up and get going. I enjoy healthy competition and I enjoy helping others — there are many opportunities for both every day.

What’s an important lesson you’ve learned in your professional life?

Don’t ever be afraid to take a risk, to do something that hasn’t been done before. This isn’t easy for most lawyers, but for me, it has been critical to both my practice and my management roles. It’s of course a way to differentiate, to make a difference. I’ve never been very good at just doing something the way it’s been done before. In my practice, I was part of the team that in 1994 conceived a new way to structure publicly traded REITs (real estate investment trusts), and this structure has been commonly used now for over 20 years as the industry has grown to over $1 trillion in market cap. In my role as chairman of Hogan & Hartson, I led the team that in 2009 conceived and executed the merger with Lovells, creating Hogan Lovells. Both of these are good examples of doing things that hadn’t been done before, and both had great outcomes. And of course it’s also helpful to be lucky!

Give us your best advice for lawyers just starting out.

Bring your A-game to every assignment and project because you never know which one will change your life. I can trace virtually my entire practice to one transaction in 1986. It was the start of building relationships and a reputation that led deal-by-deal to a very large practice, for me and my team. That deal took a lot of hard work and sacrifice, and I often wonder how different it would have been had I not done that.

Now that you’ve retired, what’s on your to-do list?

I’m continuing to help the firm in some strategic, leadership and relationship areas as CEO emeritus, which I expect will be a nice way to continue to help but also have more flexibility. I expect to continue to be actively involved in the nonprofit and philanthropic activities I’m already involved in, most of which relate to education. Being only the second person in my family to go to college, I can honestly say that education (Princeton and Virginia) changed my life and the lives of my family, so it’s important (and easy) to give back there. Beyond that, I’m just going to see what I’m drawn to and let it happen. That approach, in itself, will be a big change.

What’s your favorite memory from law school?

There are many, but one that will always stand out is the first time I was called on by John Jeffries in Criminal Law. He said, “Well, Mr. Gorrell, today’s your day; how do feel about that?” Since this was one of the first times I had been called on, I was of course worried about being humiliated, but I quickly decided some humor from the back row would be useful, so I replied, “I can’t tell you how much I’ve been looking forward to this opportunity.” He smiled and replied, “I certainly hope you feel that way in a few minutes. Now about S-1 ....” I survived, and I’ve never forgotten his generosity of spirit in not making me look too bad.

You have the last word. What do you want to say?

I hope this isn’t my last word, but to the Virginia Law community, I’d say “engage.” We’re all fortunate to have attended a great law school, one that has taught us so many lessons in law and in life and has afforded us some great opportunities. Today Virginia stands among the top law schools in the country. We all need to help maintain the traditions of excellence and leadership that Virginia stands for and do all we can to make sure the opportunities we’ve had available to us are available to those coming behind us.

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