On her very first day of class at Cornell Law School, Julie Jones ’94 experienced a heart-stopping moment familiar to countless alumni who have braved the school’s rigorous instruction style: She was called on during a round of Socratic questioning by Professor Faust Rossi in his Civil Procedures class. Jones may have been on the spot, but she was also thoroughly prepared—a trait she remains known for to this day. It’s one of the reasons she has achieved so much, including, this year, being named as the next chair of global law firm Ropes & Gray. She’ll be the first woman to hold that position in the firm’s 152-year history.
Jones began laying the foundations of her success right from the beginning of her time at the Law School. She and a small group of friends immersed themselves in a study group, spending hour upon hour grilling each other about coursework. “Having that group was amazing,” she recalls. “We were so committed to each other’s success. It taught me how much you can learn from others.” The experience honed interpersonal skills she uses constantly in her work.
Jones also formed close friendships with a group of fellow female students who lived together in Hughes Hall and later shared apartments. They remain among her best friends to this day, sharing an understanding of the challenges involved in maintaining a busy practice and a busy life.
Of course, it wasn’t only the students but also the instructors who left a lasting impression. “I had the benefit of studying under some real legends,” Jones observes, citing Robert Hillman and George Hay, among many others. Then there was James Henderson, who taught her first-year Torts class. “Something about the way he taught was so inspiring,” she remembers, adding, “I have such gratitude for the school and the faculty. I was very well prepared.”
After graduating, Jones headed to Ropes & Gray, where she quickly found that the firm’s culture and dedication to talent development were a perfect fit for her. She’s been there ever since, making partner in 2003, serving as head of Ropes & Gray’s securities and public companies group from 2006 to 2011, and, currently, serving as a member of its policy committee.
Over the years, Jones has become one of the world’s leading private equity attorneys. She has led multi-billion-dollar deal teams and guided blockbuster deals across multiple industries. Among her proudest achievements is her work on the 2005 acquisition of tech behemoth SunGard Data Systems. At the time, it was the largest tech buy-out and second-largest buy-out of any sort in history. Over grueling, 120-hour weeks, she navigated the deal with the equity funds involved (all seven of them—”talk about herding cats!”), forging lasting relationships. Later, Jones covered the deal in one of her occasional seminars at the Law School.
As she prepares to assume the chair position in 2020, Jones is looking forward to being a steward of her firm’s strong commitment to teaching and meritocracy. As the first woman in this role, she welcomes the opportunity and the duty to be an example to other women of what they can achieve. And, as always, she’s excited to compete with other top firms: “Bring it on!”