July 18, 2017

Pickering Award Spotlight: Robert E. Juceam

Robert E. Juceam

A consistent champion of robust pro bono programs and access to justice for vulnerable groups, Robert E. Juceam is the 2017 recipient of the John H. Pickering Achievement Award.

Tell us about your career. 

I grew up in the household of a trial lawyer (my best training), was graduated from Columbia School of Law in 1964, achieved an LLM at NYU in Criminal Law in 1966, clerked in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York from 1964-1966, joined Strasser, Spiegelberg, Fried & Frank (now Fried, Frank Harris, Shriver & Jacobson LLP) in its NY office in 1966 and have been with the firm ever since as an associate, a litigation partner, as Chair of Litigation in its DC office from 1996 until 2002 when I returned to New York,  and became and remain Of Counsel there since 2007.

From the very start at my firm, I was privileged to be involved with and later lead complex civil and criminal case litigation in tax law, insurance fraud, mergers and acquisitions, SEC enforcement defense, arbitration defense of substantial reinsurance claims, and defense of architect and lawyer malpractice claims and disciplinary proceedings. I was also involved in litigating substantial business interruption and other coverage claims arising from New York 9/11 losses to buildings adjacent to the World Trade Center, and arbitration of real estate rent resets for commercial buildings. I prosecuted and defended against actions seeking the release of documents under FOIA, counseled on intellectual property matters, prosecuted an injunctive action against a financial institution that raided a competitor’s personnel, and represented family members in seeking control of a substantial family-owned business.  I liked my colleagues and the practice has been fun and challenging for me, not just a job or source of income.

Along the way, I was a cooperating attorney and later Chair of the NY Civil Liberties Mental Health Legal Panel 1966–8, oversaw my firm’s defense of more than 90 tort cases against the City of New York as counsel to the city during its 1970s fiscal crisis, and represented putative fathers in adverse adoption proceedings. I chaired the immigration committees of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, the General Practice Section of the International Bar Association, the ABA Section of Litigation and the ABA Coordinating Committee on Immigration Law (now the ABA Commission on Immigration).

Among other things, I am founding member, past President and current Director of the American Immigration Council, a past President of the now 15,000-member American Immigration Lawyers Association, a founding director of Capitol Area Immigration Rights Coalition, a former director of the Washington Lawyer’s Committee on Civil Rights Under Law, a current member of the ABA Working Group on Unaccompanied Minors, a current Director of the Atlantic Legal Foundation, and a former Director of the New York County Lawyers Association.

Other of my pro bono representations have included defending a prisoner in prison disciplinary proceedings and petitioning for clemency; representing a prisoner seeking parole; representing aliens seeking asylum; representing 501(c)(3) organizations in specific matters, serving as General Counsel to the U.S. Supreme Court Historical Society, serving as General Counsel to the American Immigration Lawyers Association.

I represented the Haitian Refugee Center and others in a class action led by Ira J. Kurzban of Miami in a 10-year battle to enjoin interdiction at sea and mandatory detention of Haitian refugees in violation of the Administrative Procedure Act and the Fifth Amendment. I also represented mental patients involuntarily transferred from a civil hospital to a criminal prison without a hearing, and represented prisoners in filing and litigating writs of error coram nobis for denial of allocution at sentencing;

Is it what you had planned when you started law school?

When I started law school, my narrow focus was on the academic experience ahead: absorbing as much as I could to hone my capacity for legal reasoning, developing the facility to absorb documents and legal materials rapidly and competently, and testing out possibilities on how I might fit in the profession to advance the cause of justice and equal protection when admitted to the bar. I also knew I wanted to make a decent living someday “in the real world”, but money was not a driver in anticipating a lifelong career. Leading up to graduation, I was under pressure to join and “inherit” my father’s solo practice. When I came to tell him I wanted to pursue other options, knowing the disappointment he would have, it was among the saddest of times.

What has been the highlight of your career?

Besides the significant highs and lows in the outcome of individual cases, many of which were deeply felt for the clients and by me for the role I had played, the critical “highlight” is in deciding to join Fried, Frank, evolve with it, be mentored within it, and take the freedom of platform that it gave me to do the kind of work I wanted with firm support and encouragement. I could not have had a better place or mentors in which to practice.

If you could go back to the beginning of your legal career, would you have done anything differently?

Frankly, no.

What advice would you give to someone considering law school today?

The law schools of my day had mostly mandatory and structured classes for the first two years, and legal activities were largely limited to study groups, clubs, moot court and scholarly journals and writing. Their curriculum has largely been overtaken by a very different program that offers a variety of elective courses, subject matter clinics dealing directly with clients, term-time judicial clerkships, alumni interaction, serious efforts at placement of graduates in private and governmental positions, and a hands-on focus on how to practice, not just study, law. 

My general advice to the person considering law school today is to consider why you want to attend, explore the breadth of the school program and ask if it measures up to your purpose. Talk to current students before deciding. Sit in on a few classes. Read the guidebooks, but with a grain of salt.  Reach for attending the school with the highest of academic standards and quality of faculty which you think most likely will force you to grow as a person and counselor. And, not least, pick a place that you expect will be fun to attend. 

What were the biggest changes you saw in the legal profession over the course of your career?

The changes in firms like mine evolved at different rates, but between my start in 1966 and now they have undergone a sea change. Putting solo and small practice formats aside, the biggest change by far is the impact of technology. Other big ones are the acceptance and now virtual universality of lateral hiring of associates and partners, the emergence of non-equity partnerships, firms run as an engine of profit for its partners, the domestic and global expansion of law firms resulting in coordinated regional and local practices, and law school graduates seeking to join to lessen education debt and not with a long-term focus. Also, partners feel like they have no influence over how the firm operates or have materialinvolvement in making basic decisions on governance and operations. For most of my life in the firm, I felt like an “owner,” not an employee, and in the loop on whether to open or close an office, hire or terminate staff, have a say in who should be admitted to the firm and on what basis, on what cases should not be handled and why, on what insurance in what amounts we should carry, and other matters that inevitably affect longevity and professional contentment.

When did you first become a member of the ABA and why did you decide to join?

I joined in 1966.   It was the place to be.

What has been the highlight of your work with the ABA?

There have been so many that you are asking me to slice the baby. Many relate to adoptions of policies that made us more open and diverse despite acrimony about them that had existed. Or when the Coordinating Committee on Immigration Law was formed.

That said, the primary highlight was when the American Immigration Lawyers Association became an Affiliate of the ABA with a seat in the House of Delegates in 1986 and the road that was taken to get there.

If you had not become a lawyer, what do you think you would have done?

Viewed from what I know I had in mind in 1961:

  1. I would have found a career working with children in need and owned a summer camp for the more affluent 8- to 16-year-olds in the wilds of Maine; or
  2. Work in the criminal justice system to reform prisons, sentencing policy and limitations on appellate review of criminal convictions.

Today, I know I should have been a grandfather earlier.

Robert E. Juceam is of counsel at Fried, Frank Harris, Shriver & Jacobson LLP. A consistent champion of robust pro bono programs and access to justice for vulnerable groups, he is the 2017 recipient of the John H. Pickering Award of Achievement.