John DeGroote '90 is a big believer in networking — in business and beyond.
“It’s a valuable tool for keeping in touch with friends and meeting new, like-minded people,” says DeGroote. He makes it central both to his Dallas-based practice focused on service as a trustee, mediator, and arbitrator, as well as to outreach within Duke Law’s alumni community, which he has served continuously since 1995, most recently as Law Alumni Association (LAA) president.
DeGroote discovered the power of networking as a Duke Law student, in fact. “I loved that Duke Law was so collaborative,” he says. “Law school is about learning the law, but at Duke I really learned how to work with people. Students would make copies of relevant cases and stick them in a shoebox in the library for anyone who needed them. I was blown away. It was completely inconsistent with the cutthroat stereotype of law school you saw in ‘The Paper Chase.’”
Early in his career, DeGroote says, he benefitted from the Duke Law alumni network, receiving valuable guidance and feedback from senior attorneys, and some of his first client referrals from classmates. That’s one of the reasons he has stayed so closely connected to the Law School. He has served as president of the Future Forum (now the Young Alumni Association) and on the executive committee of the LAA, and he has mentored students and young alumni, most recently taking a 2013 graduate into his firm through the Law School’s Bridge to Practice fellowship program. He also is a longstanding member of the Barrister Donor Society.
“I owe a lot of my success to Duke,” he says.
DeGroote’s success as a negotiator and mediator offers evidence of his skill at bringing people together. He has facilitated settlements in twenty states and in various countries around the world. After establishing himself as a litigator over almost a decade in law firm practice with McKool Smith and Jackson Walker, he honed his skills at BearingPoint, Inc. (formerly KPMG Consulting, Inc.), a multinational management and technology consulting firm where, from 2000 through 2009, he served consecutively as chief litigation counsel, chief legal officer, and president. He launched his firm, John DeGroote Services, LLC, in 2009, when he was appointed to manage BearingPoint’s liquidation, and now divides his time between trust work for that and other companies, and a growing practice as a mediator and arbitrator.
Blogging and public speaking are key outreach tools for DeGroote. In his blog, Settlement Perspectives, he offers regular commentary and numerous resources relating to negotiation, mediation, and arbitration, each of which he considers to be a vital skill for lawyers.
“As outside counsel, pushing toward settlement is important,” he says. “When the client is truly in jeopardy, and you’re moving toward trial without trying to solve the problem, then you’re not serving the client’s real interests.” In addition to sharing his own perspectives, DeGroote enjoys the interactive aspects of blogging. “It’s been great. People find me and start conversations — both attorneys in the field, as well as people who need my help.”
While much of DeGroote’s networking takes place online, he takes a face-to-face approach to mentoring his associate Keaton Forcht ’13.
“When I was a junior attorney, I was lucky enough to sit in on conference calls, attend client meetings, and hear partners strategize cases out loud,” DeGroote says. “Now there are fewer options for kids to listen in, since a lot of case discussion takes place ad hoc during cell phone conversations outside the office.” He tries to include Forcht more directly in case evaluations and meetings.
“It’s a wonderful situation,” says Forcht, who met DeGroote at a Law School event during his second year. “John is tremendously generous with his time. I’m more like an apprentice than anything — he has been committed to my learning the practice of law and is never too busy to explain things as we go along.”
DeGroote, who actively encourages others to mentor and engage with young Duke Law alumni, is nearing the end of his term on the LAA, but plans to stay connected — and networked — with the Law School.
“I’ll miss my frequent trips to Durham, but there’s a lot to be done at the local level,” he says. “I love the institution.”
— Caitlin Wheeler ’97