Associate, Fabian & Clendenin, Salt Lake City
Jess Cheney completed a dual degree in economics while at Duke; he also holds an MBA from Cornell University and an undergraduate degree from the University of Utah.
Alumni contact was a big factor, as was firm culture — specifically, finding a firm with a good balance of life and attorneys who enjoy getting outside were big factors for me. I may not have been the traditional law student, or at least the traditional law student that’s portrayed as one obsessing over getting into the most prestigious national law firm. For me, I wanted to be close to numerous outdoor activities, National Parks, and either a mountain or an ocean (and preferably in the West to be close to relatives). I chose the markets that met those criteria, then looked at the reputable firms in those locations.
My initial contact with Fabian was an email to a Duke graduate, which was followed up with a 2 a.m. Skype phone call from Tokyo (where thanks to the Duke Asia program I was working at the time). When I interviewed with Fabian the following August I found many of the attorneys I met got outside for recreation more than I did.
Fabian has a good local reputation, the people at the firm were balanced and took time for family, play, and work, and the structure offered a diversity of legal experience. It also didn't hurt that the recruiting retreat each summer is to Grand Teton National Park. So far the firm has been as advertised, a good firm that allows me to work, spend time with my family and get out in the great outdoors. So far I’ve been able to get out and see: Grand Teton, Badlands, Wind Cave, Yellowstone, Arches and Canyonlands National Parks. Additionally, the firm's business planning retreat is in Zion National Park this year.
Describe your work.
I chose Fabian in part because of its solid reputation and in part because I would have the opportunity to work on a wide range of projects during my first year, from litigation to transactional. In that regard it has been a wonderful first year; I've been able to work in a wide range of practice areas and learn what areas I like. I thought bankruptcy was what I wanted to do coming out of school; however, being able to diversify my experience during this first year has allowed me to determine that I prefer transactional work and to begin to focus in that area, specifically mergers and acquisitions, the Uniform Commercial Code, as well as other transactional work.
What part of your legal education at Duke best prepared you for practice?
Duke Law's dual degree program allowed me to complete an MA in economics with my law degree and the economics degree has been much more influential than I would have expected. In fact, I recently had a long conversation with a partner to discuss the economic impact of a legal structure we were proposing. While it may not be every week, economics comes up a lot! I would highly recommend taking a Law and Economics course and/or Law and Rationality; even if a law student doesn't like economics, the knowledge may prove very useful. Besides, we all make economic decisions every day.
What advice would you give a Duke Law student who wants to work in a smaller market?
Alumni, alumni, alumni. The best thing I did was contact almost all the Duke Law alumni in the markets I was interested in. They were very helpful in securing interviews at the firms with which they were associated; but just as importantly, the alumni were very helpful in explaining the dynamics of their local legal market and what firms were likely hiring in that market.
Start early. I started contacting alumni during the spring of my first year in order to get the information I needed and set up interviews for the August just before my 2L year. I interviewed with firms in the markets I was interested in after my first summer's internship but before I returned to Duke for on campus interviews. In fact, on more than one occasion I had an interviewer or interview chair mention that I was the first interview the firm had.
Duke Law. Remember the Duke name carries a value almost universally. In the medium-sized markets I was looking at, not many Duke graduates interviewed and I'm sure the Duke name alone got me in some doors, even before I sent a transcript or a writing sample.
What do you like best about living in Utah?
The outdoors! For me it's been wonderful to get out and hike. Last fall I often woke up early for a morning hike to take pictures, then went to work. There aren't many places you can get lost in the mountains and then be to work all before 10 a.m. I'm a summer guy, so the winter is the price I pay for the mountains and the wonderful hiking and photography of the spring, summer, and fall.