Getting to Know Jennifer Rubin, Mintz Levin’s Fearless “Dudette”

I recently spoke to Mintz Levin Partner Jennifer Rubin, who was gracious enough to give me a few minutes of her time for an interview for Ms. JD. I was extremely impressed by Rubin, and I think you will be too.    

In her 25-year career as a lawyer, Rubin has gone from handling general commercial litigation cases as a young associate to building a bi-coastal employment practice. It would seem that someone this dedicated should have been preparing all her life to be a lawyer. But Rubin isn’t one of those people. She “wasn’t a very good student” in high school and never thought about law until college, when a dispute with a roommate convinced her that a life in the law might be her calling.

Like many young lawyers, Rubin’s path in practice wasn’t a straight one. She’s worked at five different firms in her career, starting in New York City at a large firm where she handled personal injury defense and general commercial litigation. While Rubin didn’t necessarily love the types of cases she handled, she describes the experience as “fantastic” because she learned to manage cases from the get-go and spent considerable time in the courtroom honing her skills.

After Rubin had her first child, she left her large firm to take a position with a smaller boutique firm in Connecticut. At one point, Rubin even worked part-time (four days each week) to manage her practice and care for her children. “You do what you have to do,” she says. When, in 2000, several of Rubin’s colleagues left their firm to form the New Haven, Connecticut office of Mintz Levin, Rubin went with them, and she’s never looked back.

When I say Rubin is fearless, I’m serious. Lawyers as a group of generally risk averse, but Rubin breaks that mold. A few years ago, Rubin was representing a San Diego client in New York litigation. She made frequent trips to the west coast, and every time she stepped off the plane, she wondered why she didn’t live there. After her son graduated from high school, Rubin took the plunge, put her stuff in storage, and left the east coast for California.

She loves living in San Diego and working in Mintz Levin’s office there and swears she’ll never go back, but she admits that leaving the practice she had built in Connecticut and moving was risky. As Rubin sees it, though, the only thing she really could have lost was a little time and money, and she could have returned to Connecticut if her cross-country move didn’t work out. “You can’t win if you don’t play,” says Rubin.

Switching coasts wasn’t a breeze, though. After having practiced for more than 20 years, Rubin had to study for and take the California bar exam, one of the hardest exams in the country. She described the experience of studying for another bar exam as “horrific” and one of the most humbling and stressful periods of her life. But she passed (as if there was really a question), and now she has a new coast, new clients, and an “amazing life.”

What makes Rubin’s life so amazing? She loves spending time with her adult daughter and two rescue pugs, practicing beach yoga, paddle boarding, horseback riding, and—her favorite—surfing. That’s her, hanging ten on the left. Rubin also donates considerable time to The Honor Foundation, a San Diego-based organization that helps veterans of Special Operations Forces, such as Navy SEALS, make the often-difficult transition from military life into the private sector.

Rubin serves as an instructor for the Foundation’s students (called fellows); she describes the fellows as the most organized, focused people she has ever met. She also advises fellows on a one-on-one basis, helping them negotiate compensation packages with private-industry employers. She describes her work with The Honor Foundation as her most rewarding because she is able to make a direct impact in the lives of people who have sacrificed so much.

Rubin loves her extra-curricular activities, but that’s not to say she doesn’t spend much time working—she does. And as a partner at her firm, Rubin knows getting out there is the key to building business. She spends a significant amount of time—40 to 60 hours per month—speaking to other lawyers, participating in bar and other networking events, such as the San Diego California Women in Leadership Symposium in March 2015, and attending charitable and community functions. She also leverages her relationships with her partners to meet people. That’s people, not clients. At least not yet. Rubin doesn’t focus on “selling herself” or her practice. She focuses on getting to know people and showing them that loves what she does and is good at it. She does follow up with her contacts, reaching out to them on LinkedIn, following up via email, and sending them articles and materials of interest. But she says the time commitment for doing so is small and the potential benefits are large. When those contacts do need a lawyer, many of them call on her.  

Rubin also spends a considerable amount of time each month writing articles on employment law, which she publishes on LinkedIn and on Mintz Levin’s Employment Matters blog. She doesn’t write for other lawyers—she writes for real people in the real world. Rubin enjoys writing and is excited to be able to use the knowledge she’s amassed throughout her career to help those dealing with employment law issues.

But Rubin also has excellent advice to offer other lawyers. She encourages law students and young lawyers to focus on finding a mentor to “teach [them] to be a lawyer” rather than trying to graduate from law school knowing exactly what they want to do. She points to her own story as an example—Rubin spent several years learning to be a lawyer before she finally discovered the area of practice that interested and existed her most. Based on her experience both as a young associate and a partner supervising young associates, Rubin developed an insightful list of “Five Simple Rules for a Successful Associate”:

You will make mistakes but you should (a) learn from them; and (b) never hide them.
Nothing is beyond your job description.
Develop ESP.
You are the firm.
Be yourself but emulate the best of what you see around you.

She encourages young associates to post this list in a conspicuous place and look at it often. It’s served her—and the many Mintz Levin associates to whom it’s been given—well.

Rubin is a breath of fresh air in a profession full of people who seem perpetually unhappy. “Life is too short to be miserable,” says Rubin. “I’ve made mistakes,” she admits, and “I’ve had to stick out some bad situations, but I’ve tried to learn from them so I never make the same mistake twice.”

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