In the News Los Angeles Daily Journal

Two Summer Associates Form 'an Awesome Team'

Professor Jim Gash remembers the first time that he saw William Grignon on Pepperdine University School of Law's campus. It was the summer of 2000, and Grignon was walking around with his white cane trying to memorize the layout of the campus.

The following fall, Gash watched students offer what they thought was invaluable help, walking Grignon to class. But Gash knew that the student had the campus memorized. Even so, Gash says, Grignon took their right elbows and allowed them to lead.

"He didn't need their help," Gash says. "It was his way to get to know them."

One of the students who Grignon got to know was Jack White. After working on a project together late in their first year, they became best friends. This summer Grignon still held White's elbow as they walked through the halls of Kirkland & Ellis' Los Angeles office as summer associates.

One of Grignon's first assignments was for partner Alexander Pilmer. Grignon came to Pilmer with an associate to discuss the assignment. Grignon opened his laptop, took notes and asked questions during the meeting. It wasn't until Grignon stood up and put his hand on the shoulder of the associate to be led out of the room that Pilmer learned of Grignon's blindness.

Pilmer admits that he was skeptical of Grignon being able to do the work.

"I was unsure how he was going to read the cases and documents," Pilmer says.

That's when Pilmer found out about the software that Grignon uses, which reads his computer screen and speaks the words into headphones.

"I was pretty darned impressed," Pilmer says.

In fact, any typed document can be scanned and entered into Grignon's computer so that he can read it. The only thing his computer can't handle is handwritten notes.

"I may be the first paperless student to go through law school," Grignon says.

Pepperdine's Gash expects that handwritten notes will be Grignon's main obstacle in his law career.

"He will need someone to work closely with him," Gash says.

 So far that person has been White. The pair isn't a likely match. Grignon, 44, took the long way to law school, working as a fitness director at a local YMCA and earning his master's degree in screenwriting from UCLA in 1999 before entering Pepperdine.

White, 28, came to Pepperdine after graduating from West Point and serving in the Army for five years. He continues his military career in the reserves, where he has served for three years.

The two agree, however, that their similarities keep the friendship going. Both are very patient, fairly rational and have similar personalities.

"We both make allowances for other people," Grignon says.

Observers like Kirkland & Ellis partner Sydne Michel think that White and Grignon make a great pair.

Michel, a litigation partner who has worked extensively with White this summer, was amazed at his commitment to Grignon.

White doesn't go to summer associate events because he agreed to pick Grignon up for work and take him home every day. The firm would pay for a cab to take Grignon home, but White prefers to keep his promise. Plus, White lives in Agoura Hills, which means that he wouldn't get home until 11 p.m. or later if he attended a summer associate event. And that wouldn't coincide with his early morning schedule.

White gets up to jog at 4:30 each morning. He leaves his house at 5:45 and picks up Grignon in Malibu at 6:15. The two arrive at the downtown Los Angeles office of Kirkland & Ellis promptly at 7 and leave by 6 p.m.

"These guys are not interested in playing," Michel says.

"They want to learn and soak up as much as they can while they are here."

Grignon says that he used lunches as a way to get to know the attorneys at Kirkland & Ellis.

Michel recently invited the duo to hear her give closing arguments in a civil trial in Torrance. Once in the courtroom, Grignon asked White what it looked like. White leaned over and whispered a description, beginning with the old whiteboard next to the judge.

"They are an awesome team," Michel says.

As for the future, the duo still has a year left at Pepperdine, where Grignon is tops in their class. White will then head off to New Jersey where he has a clerkship with Judge Samuel Alito in the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. After Grignon completes the bar, he will embark on a Baltic cruise with his parents and his wife of nine years, Meghan O'Leary.

Beyond that is anyone's guess. Gash believes that White could become a clerk for the U.S. Supreme Court and that Grignon will find his place as a law professor.

Grignon and White, still on a high from their summer experience, seem to be leaning in a different direction.

"I want to be in a courtroom," White said.

Grignon has found that litigation is a lot like the storytelling that he used to do.

"You're basically standing in front of 12 people saying, 'Let me tell you a story,'" Grignon says.

As for Kirkland & Ellis, the firm's hiring committee will hold a meeting within the next few weeks to decide which students it will extend offers to, according to partner Rick Richmond.

Kirkland & Ellis has certainly made a lasting impression on White and Grignon.

"I'd love to be back here," White says.

Reprinted with permission from the Los Angeles Daily Journal, August 18, 2002.