RealJobs: J.R. Clark

One of the best decisions I have ever made was attending Boston College.  Sight unseen I ventured to Chestnut Hill in August 1984.  I graduated in 1988 from the College of Arts and Sciences having majored in Political Science and Philosophy.  BC provided the foundation for me to grow as a person and gain the basic tools needed to pursue my dream of one day becoming a lawyer.  As a kid growing up in Washington, D.C. it had always been my hope to stand in a courtroom and defend the innocent or make a great argument before a judge.  Hearing from my parents of how Thurgood Marshall had changed the course of our country by using the Constitution as the tool for change I figured I would do the same.  Today I am appreciative that the dream I held as a student at BC has been realized.  I don’t visit the courtroom very often as an attorney.  While studying law I came to see that there were a lot more options I could consider when it came to actually practicing law.  Because there was a Thurgood Marshall I didn’t have to be Thurgood Marshall.  Though the need for civil rights attorneys remain, the options for me as an African-American attorney have expanded.  Looking back to my days at BC, I had always thought being a lawyer meant being in a courtroom, cross-examining witnesses and shouting “objection!” before a judge. As a partner today with a large law firm, I specialize in municipal finance law and policy.  Though I once practiced as a trial attorney I haven’t seen the inside of a courtroom in nearly 15 years.

The pathway from a graduating senior at BC to this point has been exciting and unpredictable.  Keeping my eyes open for opportunities has been the key part of bringing me to this point.  You never know what’s around the corner or from where the chance you need to realize your dream may come.  Being prepared goes hand in hand with keeping your eyes open.  When opportunity knocked for me I was fortunate in that I was prepared.  At least I like to think so.  Right out of law school in 1991 my first job was as a criminal defense attorney for Legal Aid in New York City.  At 25 that was great experience.  There I was able to do those things that I had imagined lawyers did in the courtroom.  After two years in New York I moved back home to the Washington, D.C. area and worked for Legal Aid in Prince George’s County, Maryland.  As chance would have it I ran into a good friend from law school who had a case where Legal Aid was involved.  He mentioned that there was an opening with his firm in D.C.  He set up an interview for me and I was hired.  The new firm represented clients on civil matters.  Because I had a few years of criminal courtroom experience the firm thought I could make the change to the civil courtroom.  While working with this firm in D.C. I stayed active with the B.C. Alumni Association and with the AHANA Alumni Association. A member of these groups and graduate from 1978 was also attending the same meetings.  As it turns out he became the Budget Director for the District and asked me to come and work for the District government.  We both worked on the District’s finances.  I was brought on as the Deputy General Counsel within the Office of the Chief Financial Officer.  The Chief Financial Officer, Anthony Williams, ran for Mayor and won.  Having worked for the Mayor while he was the Chief Financial Officer he decided to bring me over to work in his cabinet as the Director of Legislative Affairs.  In that position I had a staff of about 10 analysts who monitored and authored the legislation necessary for the Mayor’s agenda to be implemented.  After four years in with the Mayor’s office I decided that I wanted to explore returning to the private sector and practice law again.  In 2002 I joined my present firm, Squire, Sanders & Dempsey.  Here I have been able to continue working on policy matters for clients and represent clients on financing issues.

Boston College prepared me well for seizing opportunities that have led to where I sit today.  The classroom preparation is a large part of how BC helped me.  Just as important though, how I prepare, plan and pursue my dreams still is rooted in the time spent on the Dustbowl comparing ideas with friends.  The conversations and meals in the Eagle’s Nest is where I made some of my best arguments on matters that were critically important at that time..  The games at the Plex or discussions in the lounges or dorm rooms of Fenwick Hall and Edmonds Hall laid the ground work for how I interact and debate issues now.  The tools for success are with each graduate of BC.  It’s funny that when the tools and skills acquired at BC are used you may not even realize it.

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One response to “RealJobs: J.R. Clark

  1. As a undergraduate, I had an opportunity to overlap with JR for one year and I appreciate this tremendous story and learnings JR has outlined.
    As a Freshman through to my Senior year, I would routinely hear about the network that would or could be formed in college. As a student, it was hard to conceptualize the true meaning of this especially before the era of email, texting and cell phones. Before you know it, you find yourself 20 years out of school and in great company with the friendships formed at the Heights.
    Again, great insights!
    Best Regards,
    Michael Gaines

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