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Building a Legacy: Insights on Leadership and Diversity in the Law with Robert J. Grey Jr.

Building a Legacy: Insights on Leadership and Diversity in the Law with Robert J. Grey Jr.
Building a Legacy: Insights on Leadership and Diversity in the Law with Robert J. Grey Jr.

The fight to advance diversity, equity, and inclusion has deep historical roots, marked by significant milestones and challenges, from the Civil Rights era to present-day initiatives, including the recent Supreme Court decision on affirmative action. Robert J. Grey Jr., President of the Leadership Council on Legal Diversity (LCLD) and former President of the American Bar Association, has witnessed several pivotal moments in this ongoing battle. His experiences growing up during these transformative times have profoundly influenced his career and dedication to both leadership and advancing diversity in the legal profession.

In this episode of the Branding Room Only podcast, Robert delves into his impactful career and the current state of diversity in law and society. He discusses the vital work of LCLD, the importance of mentorship, and the lessons learned from career successes and setbacks. Robert shares his insights on what it takes to continue moving forward and build a legacy that inspires.

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1:36 – Aspects of a successful personal brand, how Robert defines his brand, and his favorite quote and hype song

9:20 – How his upbringing and schooling impacted Robert’s brand and career

17:43 – What Robert learned about himself in not winning the 2008 Richmond mayoral race

21:07 – What the Leadership Council on Legal Diversity is and why it’s important

26:32 – Robert’s insights into the state of diversity in the country and the legal profession

32:34 – A broader concept of mentorship and how it can be critical to your brand

37:03 – How Robert made jury improvement and preservation his focus as American Bar Association president

43:07 – The legacy Robert hopes to leave behind and what he does for fun

49:39 – The inflection point confronting us right now and why persistence is so critical

Connect With Robert J. Grey Jr.

Robert Grey is the President of the Leadership Council on Legal Diversity. He is a retired Senior Counsel with Hunton Andrews Kurth LLP. Robert’s practice focused on representing businesses in administrative, regulatory, and legislative matters. He has also served as a neutral in dispute resolution matters with the McCammon Group.

In 2010, Robert was appointed by President Obama and confirmed by the United States Senate to the Board of the Legal Services Corporation, and has been reappointed by President Trump.

Robert served as president of the American Bar Association from 2004 to 2005. During his term as president, he worked for justice through better juries via the American Jury Initiative. Robert was elected chair of the ABA House in 1998, the first person of color to serve in that role.

He received his B.S. in 1973 from Virginia Commonwealth University and his law degree in 1976 from Washington and Lee University, where he served on its Board of Trustees from 2006 to 2014.

Mentioned In Building a Legacy: Insights on Leadership and Diversity in the Law with Robert Grey Jr.

Leadership Council on Legal Diversity (LCLD) | X/Twitter

American Bar Association

Legal Services Corporation

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Sponsor for this episode

This episode is brought to you by PGE Consulting Group LLC.

PGE Consulting Group LLC is dedicated to providing a practical hybrid of professional development training and diversity solutions. From speaking to consulting to programming and more, all services and resources are carefully tailored for each partner. Paula Edgar’s distinct expertise helps engage attendees and create lasting change for her clients.

To learn more about Paula and her services, go to www.paulaedgar.com or contact her at [email protected], and follow Paula Edgar and the PGE Consulting Group LLC on LinkedIn.

Paula Edgar: Welcome to The Branding Room Only Podcast where we share career stories, strategies, and lessons learned on how industry leaders and influencers have built their personal brands. Now, let’s get started with the show.

Hey, y’all. This episode of Branding Room Only, my guest is so inspiring, Robert Grey, president of the Leadership Council on Legal Diversity, also known as LCLD. He shares his remarkable journey through the legal profession, his insights on building a personal brand, and the crucial role of diversity in today’s society.

I really love this conversation. Robert’s story has so many valuable lessons and motivations. You don’t want to miss this, so I can’t wait to hear what to say and think about this episode. Stay tuned.

Hi everybody, it’s Paula Edgar, your host of Branding Room Only. Super excited to be with my guest today, Robert Grey, president of the Leadership Council on Legal Diversity.

Robert is a phenom. He’s also had a distinguished career in representing business and administrative regulatory and legislative matters and has made significant contributions to the legal profession, including serving as president of the ABA, American Bar Association, and being appointed to the board of the Legal Services Corporation by President Obama, and so many other things that we are going to get into shortly. Robert, welcome to the Branding Room.

Robert J. Grey Jr.: It was my pleasure, Paula, glad to be here.

Paula Edgar: Good, all right, well, let’s get started. What is a personal brand? How would you define a personal brand?

Robert J. Grey Jr.: I think a personal brand is the accumulation of your style over the years of your life professionally. I think a brand is not static. I see it as always evolving. I think when people think about a brand, they think static. That’s not from a personal perspective. I don’t think that’s exactly the best thing to do.

As you evolve, so does your brand. But I think there are certain aspects that have to be a part of it. I think you have to be authentic. If you’re not authentic, then your brand is not either. I think that people have to trust you. Trust is a component of building a brand. If we know about the iconic brands in the marketplace, it’s really based on the trust people have for that product.

Then I think the final thing to brand is your standards for excellence, for respect and for achievement. When you assemble that, you recognize that you can’t get respect until you give respect.

If you’re not trying to be the best, then you won’t be the best. That’s like, “If you put tin’ in it, don’t get to the hole, it ain’t going in.”

Paula Edgar: That part, that part. I think that was a textbook, like exactly what I would put into what a brand is, almost as if I fed you the answer, but I didn’t, which is even better.

Robert J. Grey Jr.: Well, to be honest with you, a lot of this is what you said at our meeting and it resonated with me very much. So thank you for that.

Paula Edgar: I’m glad. For those of you who are listening who may not know, I have had the opportunity and the pleasure to speak for the LCLD Fellows for the past two years. It’s one of my favorite events of the year.

They are a fabulous group of folks and it’s just a wonderful opportunity to really talk to them about knowing what their brand is and then catalyzing them to go out and continue to iterate it.

Robert J. Grey Jr.: That’s right.

Paula Edgar: Awesome. Well, then tell me about your brand, Robert. Describe yourself in three words or short phrases.

Robert J. Grey Jr.: That’s really hard. The one thing I gotta tell you that has always been hard for me in my life is to be a self-promoter. But I think that’s an important part of who you are and being able to brand yourself. I think I am a visionary. It is the first thing that comes to mind.

A short second to that is creativity. I like to be creative. I think that brands usually distinguish you from other people. It’s my vision. I like to see and think big picture, but I like to be out of the box. I don’t want to be constrained, so creativity is important.

Then I think the last piece of that is what are you doing to infuse the next generation with the idea that at some point, it’s your turn. If we haven’t had a discussion beforehand, then the handoff is not going to be as smooth.

Paula Edgar: I think that that’s perfect, even though you didn’t prep for it, I think that was perfect. Point of privilege, since I’m the host, I’m going to say that I think that a word that I think of when I think of you is impactful.

Robert J. Grey Jr.: Oh, thank you.

Paula Edgar: Oh, so yes, thank you for being impactful. All right, do you have a favorite quote or mantra?

Robert J. Grey Jr.: I don’t want to tell you what my father told me. He said, “You don’t get a second chance to make a first impression.” He was a career army. Everybody knows I did not serve in the armed services, but I want you to know I did 20 years.

My father had me so regimented I didn’t know what to do, but it was purposeful and it has helped me throughout my life. The Valentine Museum in Richmond asked for artifacts from different people who have lived in the city as a way of collecting their belongings for the long haul for historical purposes.

They asked me to give them a suit that I had worn. They said, “We like the way you dress, though. Send us one of your suits.” So I sent them a suit that they put in a showcase at the museum and they said, “Give us a quote.” The quote was for my dad, “You don’t get a second chance to make a first impression. Be on your game.”

Paula Edgar: I mean, how perfectly you’re thinking about branding.

Robert J. Grey Jr.: That’s the truth.

Paula Edgar: Well, how you show up is a part of it as well as what you got behind it. But yes, I’m a big believer that you should always be prepared for whatever you might experience. That includes what your uniform is for the day, whether it’s a suit or a suit. Love that.

Robert J. Grey Jr.: The other thing is you bring it every time you show up. Your first impression is dramatic and intentional. That’s what it takes being conscious and recognize that if you don’t believe in yourself, guess what, nobody else is either.

Paula Edgar: Absolutely. You want to be purposefully memorable. Right?

Robert J. Grey Jr.: I like that.

Paula Edgar: Thank you. Trademarked. Okay. What about a hype song? For me, I define it this way. When they’re going to get the full Robert Grey experience, what song is playing in your head when you’re walking in a room? Or, if you’re having a bad day and you need to be picked up, what song are you going to play? It could be the same song or different songs. What’s that?

Robert J. Grey Jr.: Sade, Cool Operator.

Paula Edgar: Smooth.

Robert J. Grey Jr.: Smooth, I’m sorry.

Paula Edgar: I got you.

Robert J. Grey Jr.: I’m thinking cool.

Paula Edgar: That’s because you are cool, but that’s a good one. I think you might be the first person who’s selected Sade. The soundtrack is going to be magnificent for the podcast. That is awesome. That’s a good one. My husband’s a big Sade fan.

Robert J. Grey Jr.: Oh, really?

Paula Edgar: Yes. I’ve dragged him to a bunch of concerts, but that was the one where he dragged me. I was like, “I like her, but no,” he was like, “We’re going to see this.” And it was fantastic.

All right, so you’ve mentioned Richmond. I don’t know a lot about where you grew up. Is that where you grew up?

Robert J. Grey Jr.: It is.

Paula Edgar: Tell me about how you grew up and how that impacted your brand.

Robert J. Grey Jr.: Substantially. As I told you, my dad was a career military. My mother was one of the most innovative educators in the country, having started elementary model schools in Richmond.

She turned 98 on April 10th and she still works. She is employed by her alma mater for Junior Union University as the program director of their museum that she started. I’ve got a dad who had two careers. He was in the military for 20 years, retired, and then went to college, graduated, became president of the Richmond Urban League, and then an executive with the A.H. Robins Company, which is a pharmaceutical company that made Robitussin and ChapStick and was the highest ranking African-American in that organization at the time.

I grew up around the corner from Doug Wilder, who was the first African-American governor elected in the country, and I grew up down the street from Oliver Hill, who graduated number two in his class at Howard University Law School. I said, “Mr. Hill, you were number two, who was number one?” Thurgood Marshall. I saw you talk about my environment. It very much shaped me.

Paula Edgar: Literally, wow. Did you have siblings?

Robert J. Grey Jr.: I have a younger brother by 10 years. I’m more like a surrogate father than an older brother because [inaudible] who had to live with me for a while.

Paula Edgar: As an older sister, I get that, trust me. So, tell me about when you decided to go off to school and what that experience was like for you.

Robert J. Grey Jr.: Yeah, everything for me was a first, and somebody’s gotta be first, so it might as well be you. But going to public school in a segregated environment up until middle school and then going to an integrated environment from middle school to high school.

But integrated back then was like maybe 30 people in the whole school. It was still a small group of people and the same was true with everything else I did. I think I was the fourth Black graduate from the Washington and Lee Law School.

I was the first African-American president of the Young Lawyers Conference of the Virginia State Bar. I was the first chairman of the Chamber of Commerce of Central Richmond, the first president of the partnership of the first officer of the American Bar Association when I was elected chair, second African-American president.

For me, it was about cutting the trail as opposed to seeing how the trail was cut. But the beauty of it all was that it caused me to grow up and take responsibility and say, “If you don’t make this happen, it’s not going to happen so get out there and work your butt off often and do the best you can.” I couldn’t get the job I wanted when I moved back to Richmond.

I pondered for a while, “What the heck do I do?” That’s when I went back to my alma mater, which was Virginia Commonwealth University. I talked to the chairman of the business school where I graduated, who happened to be a lawyer. He said, “Listen, we would love to have you teach full-time at the university, then you to figure out what you want to do. We love you here.” I said, “Well, good because I ain’t got a job. So that’s a good idea.”

So I taught at VCU when I was 28 years old. I was 23 when I graduated, so five years later, I’m teaching. I’ve got an office next to the people who taught me undergrad. I taught business law, and during the day, I started my own law firm.

If I can’t get a job, I might as well hang out my own shingle, which I did, and did lots of different jobs, I was a general practitioner, I did lots of criminal work as a court-appointed public defender position. This other lawyer taught me real estate so I created a real estate practice and I went to all the Black realtors in town. I said, “Hey, I am going to come in on Saturdays and give you all all the legal advice you can handle and in exchange, I hope you’ll come see me with your clients.”

Paula Edgar: Look at that. I love that strategy. Okay.

Robert J. Grey Jr.: It worked. It worked. I was doing more closings. I had to hire a paralegal to help me do this. That’s the part I like about life is that if it’s not clear to you exactly what to do, then you clear it by creating the environment you think you want to be a part of.

Interestingly enough, I got appointed by the governor to be the first African American to head the Alcohol Beverage Control Board for the state of Virginia. In Virginia, it’s a revenue-producing agency because all the liquor is sold from state stores.

So, I had 1,500 employees, 136 outlets, transportation, warehousing, very engaged with the legislature, knowing the power players and the government. At the end of the day, I had a big legislative battle with the biggest law firms in the state.

I got to tell you, I was beating the crap out of them. I really was until the governor pulled the plug and they got to him. But the result of that, Paula, like you said, is because I put myself out there, now they want me in the firm.

They wanted me when they didn’t know me. But now they know me and say, “Oh, yeah, we want you in the firm.” The rest is history. I mean, I just progressed along the way, doing different things.

But the bulk of my career was being a lobbyist and representing companies before administrative agencies for regulatory purposes and doing a lot of what I would call pro bono work. I mean when you’re Black, well, you volunteer a lot.

Paula Edgar: I know this to be true. I know this to be true.

Robert J. Grey Jr.: I was President of the Richmond Crusade for Voters, which was a Black political organization, started by Oliver Hill and some of those folks at that time, and it was about getting out to vote. I was running that for the city that I lived in and did it during the time that Doug Wilder was running for governor.

It was a big deal, and everybody was engaged. Then in 2008, I ran for mayor of Richmond. My good friend Dwight Jones, who’s a Baptist minister, beat my butt. That led to LCLD.

Paula Edgar: Well, let’s pause before we jump in LCLD. Tell me what you learned about yourself from not winning that race.

Robert J. Grey Jr.: That’s a very, very good question. You are not as important as you think you are. The only people who make you important are other people who think you are. You can think you’re important all you want to, but if they don’t think, don’t care. It was a humbling experience.

Paula Edgar: I feel like, especially because at that point you had already been president of ABA, you’ve already been out there.

Robert J. Grey Jr.: I thought I was a [inaudible].

Paula Edgar: Well, clearly you are. That is just that aside. Of course, you are, but I like to pull out what failing or not accomplishing, what it does because so often people think that your career or your brand is a straight line and it’s from what you say it’s going to be and it’s hills, valleys, and roads, and pivots and all these things and I think it’s encouraging the folks to hear that the people who they look up to and who have done all these things have also had times when it didn’t go the way that they thought it was going to go. Yeah. Yeah. Yeah.

Robert J. Grey Jr.: That was a humbling experience. It also put me in touch with my community in a way that I hadn’t been before. That being in touch is important to understand people’s point of view when they talk to you.

You can’t live everybody’s life or the way they live it, but you learn a lot by visiting people where they live. When you’re running for office, that’s what you do. I had a much different feel for the city after that, and the concerns that people had.

I realize I like being engaged in political activity and seeing the results of it, but you don’t have to be a candidate to do that all the time. That just wasn’t my thing. I needed to know that. I needed to realize that.

Now I’m at peace with that idea. I don’t need to prove anything to myself or anybody else from that standpoint, but I still want to be engaged and that’s why I continue to do things like Legal Services Corporation because there’s more to life than just your professional career and giving back is more important than what you receive.

Paula Edgar: Yes, yes. I think regardless of where diaspora you’re from, anytime I’ve spoken to anybody Black, there’s the ancestral need to do because things have been done for and to lay the foundation for other folks to have the ability to do it as well. So I hear that.

Let’s talk about LCLD. What is it? Why is it important? What is your focus, your vision, as its leader?

Robert J. Grey Jr.: I should start with the vision that was an LCLD, and that is attributed to Rick Palmore, who’s the retired general counsel of General Mills. His idea was that we can do better. People are doing what they do, but we can do better. That’s what captivated me was this idea, “What can we do that’s better?”

The thing that we recognized is something we didn’t have, and that was a powerful network of people who cared about us. The question is how do we create that network where not only people who care about each other, but they care about you being successful, just as much as I want to be successful, I care about you being successful. The question is, how do you invest in other people? How do you do it?

We wanted to create a platform, an environment, and a community where not only are we trying to get better and be the best that we can at what we do, but we want to do that with people who we care about and who care about us.

If we can build that community, then that community will take care of itself because everybody in it has the same mission and focus. It is what the majority community always had, was this network, and they took care of each other. It’s okay, but we should be able to do the same thing.

Paula Edgar: Yep.

Robert J. Grey Jr.: So, what you see every time you come is the expansion of that network and the development of those relationships. The other thing, another very important part about this is you can’t do it on a weekend. You can’t hold a conference, have a weekend, and say, “Okay, we’re good for the year.” No, you’re not. You’re not even good for the next day.

Our programs last over the course of the year so that people can invest in others and build those relationships that then establish a cohesive and sustainable network.

Paula Edgar: I speak—thankfully everybody keeps hiring me—at a lot of conferences and for a lot of organizations, and I had always heard about LCLD, I knew a lot of LCLD fellows and folks who are pathfinders, and folks in DNI space, but there is nothing that can describe the actual experience of being amongst folks who are, to your point—everybody is special, put that to the side—they are special and they are investing in each other’s specialness. And they’re taking that charge, then go out and say, “We’re going to use this connection to do better in the world.”

I had a chance to meet you several times. But this last time, I was like, “Oh, my gosh, I have to have him on the podcast,” because you spoke about that. You spoke about how if everything that they get stays in the room, then they have failed.

Robert J. Grey Jr.: That’s a lot.

Paula Edgar: It’s gotta be that you go out and do more. I’m on a foundation board. One of the ways we give money is we say, it has to be that whenever we give money, that has to be a multiplier. It has to be that that thing is going to multiply. LCLD is a multiplier. It’s a capital.

Robert J. Grey Jr.: It is. You captured one of the key phrases is, we wanted to be a multiplier effect. You’re right.

Paula Edgar: It is exactly that because you will always know. I know before I even talk to people like, “Oh, that’s a fellow, that’s a fellow.” I know because they know a lot differently. I mean, to be frank about your team, there’s so much thought that goes into what their experience is going to be, it’s why I love it and why I stayed for the whole conference.

Sometimes I speak in conference, I’m like, “Okay, I gotta go.” But I’m like, “No, I got to stay because I get as much out of it as I also give into it.”

Robert J. Grey Jr.: That’s good.

Paula Edgar: I think that it is powerful. One of the other things about LCLD that I want to make sure that folks know, it’s not just the participants, but you’re also bringing together the change agents, the leaders, the folks who are making decisions to talk about what is going on in the world, in their worlds, and what we expect from their investment into the people who they’ve put into the program.

I think that is another piece that makes this very different, especially now, especially with what’s happening with diversity and inclusion now. I wanted to give you some space to talk about what your thoughts are about the state of diversity in our profession, generally in this country. Now, what are your thoughts?

Robert J. Grey Jr.: Well, you know how I feel about this. The diversity train has left the station. We are not going to be a less diverse society. That’s done. The question is what kind of society do we have as a result of that?

My sense is there will always be obstacles for us in this country. It is just ingrained in the psyche of this country because we started out as subhuman. You don’t just get human overnight when people don’t take you to even belong to the race of human beings.

We will always have that as a challenge, but it’s like everything else. Everything has a season. It might be your season this time. But let me tell you something. The train has left the station and it’s motoring down the tracks and you can throw some gunk on the track and slow it down. I’ll give you that. But you ain’t stopping the train.

I mean, we should never accept the fact that Jim Crow or Ku Klux Klan, any of that stuff, was ever going to stop us from gaining our freedom. It was just a matter of time.

The diversity in our society is such a heavy burden on all of us when we try to undermine it. I think what happens as people continue to try to do that is that every generation is less impacted by those who would stand in the way.

After the Supreme Court decision on affirmative action, I call about 120 of my members. I said, “Why are you [inaudible]? I’m taking your temperature. I don’t know what you’re thinking. How are you feeling? Tell me what’s up.” What I got was, “You know what? It pissed me off more than it did anything. What are we going to do?”

I think this generation of general counsel is not afraid of diversity. They’re in their 40s, 50s. It’s just not a thing to them like it was to my generation. There is less angst about trying to do diversity.

Now, did some people sort of use that as an exit strategy? Yeah, they did, and you’re going to have that. Just like they use George Floyd as an entry strategy. They used SFFA as an exit strategy. It was like, “What are you all about?”

But they’re not going to be there on the long haul. What we’re looking for is people who are going to make the investment toward a more perfect union and toward a profession that reflects the population that it serves.

Paula Edgar: Hmm, I mean that period closed to the envelope. In a nutshell, a lot of law firms contacted me like, “Paula, what are you hearing? What’s going on?” I’m hearing, I’m a girl from Brooklyn, New York. I don’t like bullying, we are bullies. We don’t like to be bullies.

Robert J. Grey Jr.: That’s right, we’re the bullies.

Paula Edgar: Right, exactly, that’s what we do here. I think of this as any other time a bully shows up, they will continue to bully you if you continue to back down. The more that folks realize that this is just a tactic and we have the exact tools that they have, they’ve got the law, so do we, to be able to use it to our benefit, to be able to say, “Hmm,” and the people who actually care, you’ll see that they continue to care.

What I encourage the folks to look out for is the folks who are showing that they don’t because people have a choice. We can choose what we decide to work. We can choose with whom to engage in terms of business. They will then learn that there are repercussions to the decisions that you have made.

Yeah, at the last LCLD Fellow meeting, you spoke about this. I, again, had that same thought. I was like, it’s one thing to read all these headlines that are like, “This attack on diversity, and backlash, and diversity fatigue, and all these things.”

It’s like no, we need to talk to people who are clearheaded. We’ve just got to keep on pushing. This is, yes, a slowdown, but it’s not a stop. Back to your point, I don’t think it can ever stop.

The society has moved such that even if we wanted to stop it, it couldn’t stop. Somebody said somewhere I’m going to want to do something differently and want the diversity to be acknowledged and to be included.

I’m glad I gave you some space to talk about that because I think it’s important for folks to hear, particularly because you’ve seen a lot of the ups and downs that people are like, “Oh, how are we going to do?” You’ve seen a lot of it. So there’s that.

I’m going to come back and ask you this. Mentorship. Part of the LCLD ecosystem is really creating relationships where those things happen automatically. They happen as a part of the thought process. But who are the folks who mentor you? And who do you mentor?

Robert J. Grey Jr.: Mentoring is not always one-on-one. To be honest with you, most of my mentoring was done by watching other leaders and saying that I like the way they handle that thing. I like the way they talk to that person. I like the tone that they use in that argument.

Most of my mentoring was distant mentoring, from watching people who I felt represented, my values, my expression, and my methodology of being who I was. I just incorporated various parts of that into who I am.

Mentoring can be very structured and therefore very good. But I am a perfect example of unstructured mentoring. I think if you realize that, then mentoring is a much broader concept than a one-on-one. I think peer mentoring is critical to the success of LCLD.

Paula Edgar: Absolutely.

Robert J. Grey Jr.: You like leadership mentoring where somebody with greater experience and greater knowledge is sharing that with you and saying, “Here’s what I see in you that you don’t see in yourself.” That’s the value of mentoring.

If you can get that honesty, it’s a beautiful thing, but you can’t always get it. You got to decide how you’re going to get your mentoring. Leaders are one thing. It’s you have less control over it.

But with peer mentoring, you have lots of control over them. Because that’s where you’re investing in other people that will then turn around to invest in you. I had a deep reservoir for investment purposes.

Part of that is you gotta give respect to get respect. I was the first to try to help somebody because I figured that was how I was going to get respect by them saying, “Brother didn’t have to do that. But he stood up and stood in when it was maybe not his job, but he saw it as purposeful and necessary.” That’s sort of how I look at it and it’s how I experienced it.

Paula Edgar: I love that because often people will ask this question like, “I’m looking for somebody to help guide me. How do I do it? Do I just go up to them and say like, ‘Can you be my mentor?’” and I go, “No, don’t do that.” But because, to your point, that you can learn so much, I say all the time, Oprah Winfrey is one of my mentors. That is to take the things that you want to do and also the things that you would not necessarily want to do and shape how to incorporate them.

It’s such a big lesson also about your brand, two ways. One is because you can gain other skills and perspectives in seeing other people, but in remembering that we are being watched, that even if you are not interacting with others, speaking to the brand, people are watching you and they’re getting things from you and your experience and how you show up. That’s another reason to do it as well as you can.

When you mess up, be accountable for it, which is another piece that people don’t necessarily get either. I love that. Can we talk a little bit about when you were an ABA president?

Robert J. Grey Jr.: Yeah, that was a unique experience. I watched other ABA presidents before me and decided I was not going to do what everybody else did. Everybody wanted to, “I’m going to do this about that and this about this other thing and this about that and I’m going to spread it all in.”

I said, “I’m going to pick a project. I’m picking a project and then I’m going to go for it.” I ended up talking to a lawyer from a law firm in DC who was talking about bemoaning the fact that it’s so hard to try a case in front of a jury.

This is sort of in the light of, remember the McDonald’s case where she spilled some coffee and got a billion dollars and then all of a sudden all these states started closing in on jury awards and putting limits on them, what juries could take with it.

You know what, when he made that observation to me I sat back and I said to myself, “That is the most integrated institution in our government, is jury service. It’s in every town, county, and city in the country. What are we doing about it? How are we trying to make it better and preserve it?” Because there are people who are attacking it, trying to tear it down. So I made better justice through better juries as my project.

Somebody said, “Well, I need somebody who really is respected for their contributions to jury service. I was given the name of Judith Kaye who was the Chief Judge of the Court of Appeals of New York. Called her and I went to see her. She said, “Absolutely. Absolutely. I’ll do this with you and I’ll chair the commission.” She said, “But you need an honorary chair. You need someone whose gravitas is greater than all of us.”

I was looking like, “I’m not sure we can get that guy, but okay. I’m going to call Sandra Day O’Connor and ask her if she would do this. I’m going to invite her to talk to you, and that means you’ll have to go visit her.”

I did. I walked into her chambers and she said, “Mr. President,” I said, “Madame Justice.” “I know why you’re here. The answer is yes. What else would you like to talk about?”

Paula Edgar: Wow.

Robert J. Grey Jr.: Judith Kaye was the chair of the commission, Sandra Day O’Connor was the honorary chair, and the other woman who was the past chair of the litigation section of the ABA was in charge of the working group.

I had three women in charge of the capstone program that I was putting together in the ABA. No guys. Every one of them showed up. Justice O’Connor called me and said, “I’ve called the DC Superior Court. I’m going to go and panel the jury myself. I’d like for you to be there. Let’s show them what we’re talking about.”

Paula Edgar: Wow. You then show up.

Robert J. Grey Jr.: People took ownership. They said, “We’re going to do this.” I’m going to tell you who was in my working group. He was the general counsel of Merck. It was Kenneth Frazier. That when he was chairman or president, when he was general counsel. That’s how far back we’re going. Anyway, that was back in 2004.

Paula Edgar: Wow. I’m glad you just said when it was because I know it, I’ve seen it on your CV, but will you think about the longevity of the profession? Then when you hear people talking about first and you’ve talked about a lot of firsts and you realize some of those firsts were like a hop, skip, and a jump.

Not a long time ago for these firsts and it’s why it’s so important for us to talk about what we have done and what still needs to be done. Still, so many firsts that are out here.

I didn’t really learn, I think, enough about ABA when I was in law school and it was actually an NBA person who was like, “Paula, you could be involved in the ABA.” I loved it because, number one, I’m in a lot of bar associations, I love bar, I’m a bar baby, I love lawyers but there’s something about seeing the literal engine, I’m on the House of Delegates, so to see when something’s coming up and how we’re going to talk about it and all those things, it’s literally how we set the tone for what’s going to come, law-wise for the most part, or to say, “We don’t like what has happened.”

It is powerful and ABA is not sponsoring this, but they can if they’d like to, but bar membership is so important. For folks who are not lawyers, understanding what the bar is doing is also still important to lay folks as well.

I’m glad that we delved into that. You’ve done so many things. I want to ask you this before we get into closing: what legacy do you hope to leave a legal profession?

Robert J. Grey Jr.: The Legacy, I think, is an attitude that I want to leave. It’s not a project, it’s not an LCLD, it’s an attitude. The attitude is you have to believe in yourself. You have to have faith in yourself. You have to have a strong spiritual being to take it to the next level because the only thing that is certain is that if you don’t try, you’re not going to get there.

My feeling is to have an attitude that when it’s all said and done, there wasn’t nothing left on the table. I took it all. I tried it all. I tasted it all. I did everything I could, but I also wanted to make sure that I shared the experience that it wasn’t a gluttonous affair.

It was a shared affair where everything I learned I shared with as many people as I could because I want them to have that attitude that if you can conceive of it and you can believe in it, then you ought to be able to achieve it.

Paula Edgar: I’m going to take that. I receive that. I receive that and so many things and I know that the folks who are listening will as well. As we close, there are a couple of questions that I ask everybody. Well, one of them, I’m really interested in hearing, is what do you do for fun?

Robert J. Grey Jr.: Ah. Well, I collect art. I like collecting Black art, particularly, but I like collecting art. I’m always on the hunt. A good friend of mine is an art dealer. That’s not a good thing to have as a friend because they bring you very expensive paintings.

They go, “Look what I’m selling.” “Well, how much does that cost?” I said, “Well, I already bought a car. I don’t need how many of these things.” But I thoroughly enjoy artistic expression and to find out how we express ourselves through art is fascinating.

Anyway, paintings I like. The other thing I really have enjoyed is trying to keep myself physically in shape and to learn how to play something that intuitively has no rhyme or reason. That’s golf.

Paula Edgar: I was going to say it has to be golf.

Robert J. Grey Jr.: I mean, it just doesn’t make any sense how you’re supposed to swing the club and where it’s supposed to go and all that. But to be outside, to be able to walk in such a beautifully manicured lawn, and be with friends, to share that.

I mean, you’re not playing against them. The only thing you’re playing against is yourself. It’s up to you how good you are. Nobody’s standing in your way, so it’s hard to explain when you don’t do it all. What happened?

Paula Edgar: You’re talking to yourself in the mirror, like, “What did you do?”

Robert J. Grey Jr.: Exactly.

Paula Edgar: I love that. My grandfather was a golf caddy at Sandy Lane in Barbados.

Robert J. Grey Jr.: That’s a big deal.

Paula Edgar: Yeah, and so often bringing in golf-type things and I, as a part of the Bar Association, we chair every year a golf tournament, which is actually coming up. I don’t know how to play golf, but how to wear a golf outfit, I can do that. I can do the outfit. I can pretend to play golf.

Robert J. Grey Jr.: That’s right, that’s right. Well, let me tell you something, even people who think they can play golf, that’s another humbling sport. I mean, it really is. I mean, you just think you got it, and it’s just, “Okay, I can do this,” and you go back out and you go, “Where did I leave my life? Where did it go? I can’t figure this out.” Anyway, it is a lot of fun.

Paula Edgar: I love that and I love the art piece as well. Have you had a chance to see the Harlem Renaissance at the Museum at The Met?

Robert J. Grey Jr.: I have not but I am going to New York, I got a couple of trips–

Paula Edgar: Okay, will you call me when you’re ready to go because I love [inaudible]

Robert J. Grey Jr.: Okay, all right.

Paula Edgar: I studied museum anthropology as an undergrad. That’s the study of how people go through museums, so I love museums and I got to go to the opening of The Met at the Harlem Renaissance. It was fantastic. It’s excellent, the art is gorgeous. So, when you come, just give me a ring, I’m just going to be there.

Robert J. Grey Jr.: I think I’ve got about six photographs from Van Der Zee, Harlem Renaissance, right?

Paula Edgar: Yes.

Robert J. Grey Jr.: I’ve got one of Joe Louis and one of, I’m looking at, what’s his name? Who is going to take us back to Africa? It’s on the tip of my tongue.

Paula Edgar: Yes, him. I’m like, “We both know who we’re talking about.” Garvey.

Robert J. Grey Jr.: Yeah. Exactly.

Paula Edgar: I’m so glad I got my Jamaican family.

Robert J. Grey Jr.: But that shows you how much we have to retain history. I think the other thing, I’ll tell you, let me close on this too, we have to write the story because the person who writes the story determines the history.

That’s why we’re trying, that’s why a lot of these books are getting eliminated and all that sort of stuff because it’s telling the story. We have to be persistent about that. The good thing is that libraries are not static anymore. You can take it out of the library. You can’t take it out of circulation.

All of this is really performance-based. What are you doing? You can’t eliminate the damn book, so why are you doing this? Because I am performing for my constituents, whatever.

But I’m going to tell you, we are at a critical stage in this country. This is an inflection point. We’re either going backward or we’re going to go forward, but we’re definitely going one way or the other. We ain’t standing still because the forces that want to take us back are strong and they are vocal and they are exercising their will politically, legally, and otherwise.

Unless we are firm in our commitment, firm in our understanding that together we are the United States, but divided we are not, we are vulnerable to many challenges if we don’t stand tall.

But we’re going to find out pretty soon who we are. Once we do, I think some of this will take care of itself. It will be like, “You took your best shot. Now you better go on home because we’re about to take you out.”

Paula Edgar: We have to go forward because we cannot, we cannot go backward. We have to go forward. Even if it’s a little bit, we gotta go forward. I take it to heart.

I sit and think about what everybody can do in this space and people ask this question all the time. I don’t think that people have to do the same thing, but we have to do something.

If anybody takes from this, and I know that you all will, is that we have to decide what our values are, what our priorities are, what our goals are, and then do something towards that.

Robert J. Grey Jr.: You know what? The other stuff is really important, but the last piece that you just said is the only way you change the course of history because if the story you’re writing is the past, it won’t work. You have to write about the present and what you’re doing in it in order to affect the future.

Paula Edgar: I usually end with two other questions, but I’m not going to do it. I want to end right there because I love that perfect point on that. Robert Grey, thank you so much for spending some time with me. I’m going to send everybody to let them know what LCLD is, I’m going to put all those links and everything so they can find out more about you and the work that you do.

But just from me and then from all of my followers, I appreciate all the impact that you have had with your visionary leadership and your creativity and thinking out of the box, it is making us and the world a better place. We thank you for it. Thank you for joining me today.

Robert J. Grey Jr.: Paula, thank you, and thank you for all that you do and the beautiful person that you are, and all the love you bring every time you show up. Thank you.

Paula Edgar: Oh, thank you. All right, see y’all.

Robert J. Grey Jr.: Ciao.

Paula Edgar: Wasn’t that an incredible conversation with Robert Grey? I feel filled with so many insights and inspiration and reflecting on what our discussion was. It was so clear that Robert’s journey through the legal profession and his dedication to diversity have profoundly shaped both his career as well as the lives of so many others.

His experiences and perspectives remind me, and hopefully you, of the importance of building a personal brand that resonates with authenticity and purpose. So let’s make sure we carry forward some of the lessons that we learn from leaders like Robert to create a more inclusive and supportive profession and world.

If you’d like to learn more about LCLD and more about Robert and the work that they do, make sure you check out the link in the show notes. As always, thank you so much for tuning into Branding Room Only. Don’t forget to subscribe, leave a review, and share this episode with your network. Keep on building your brand and making a difference. See you soon. Bye, y’all.