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Injured as a Navy SEAL, Kirkland associate serves as inspiration

In honor of Veteran's Day, Kirkland associate Brandon Stone spoke with Thomson Reuters Westlaw Today's Jenna Greene about his journey as a Navy SEAL. He discusses the values that he learned during his seven-year experience as a SEAL, and how they have translated to his role as an attorney.    

When Brandon Stone occasionally limps, his colleagues at Kirkland & Ellis have asked the litigation associate if, say, he hurt his leg over the weekend.

His answer: "Yeah, I hurt it badly, but it was years ago."

April 9, 2011, to be precise, when as a Navy SEAL platoon commander he took the brunt of an improvised explosive device in Afghanistan that blew his left leg apart below the knee. He now has a prosthetic limb. His team members all survived the mission, and Stone was awarded a Purple Heart and a Bronze Star for valor.

As we honor our nation's veterans Wednesday, his story stands as a remarkable tale of duty, determination and resilience.

Not that he'd say that. Stone is not one to boast or brag about his accomplishments – as much as I encouraged him to do so in an interview. Whether a military officer or a lawyer, he's all about the team.

But he does acknowledge that his seven-year experience as a SEAL, which included deployments to Iraq, Africa and Afghanistan, helps him manage the typical stresses of a Big Law associate and keep his cool under pressure.

"It certainly puts things in perspective," Stone said. "What is an emergency and what is not, what constitutes long hours or hard work."

Stone's path to the legal profession was roundabout. He told me that he seriously considered law school after he graduated from Ohio State University with honors in 2004, but was discouraged when he didn't get into his top choices.

At the same time, the Iraq war was heating up and he "felt a real call to serve."

A natural athlete, he set his sights on the SEALs (short for Sea, Air and Land Forces), though there were a few obstacles.

Born and raised in Juneau, Alaska, Stone said his swimming experience – a basic SEAL skill – mostly consisted of going to the municipal pool twice a summer. "I was not a swimmer."

Nor was his eyesight up to SEAL standards, but he stashed spare contact lenses around the training compound in case one washed out of his eye. (He later got laser eye surgery.)

Out of 230 would-be SEALs in his class, he was one of just 37 recruits to pass the notoriously grueling training.

Being a SEAL was everything he'd hoped. "I loved it," Stone said. "I thought, 'This is it.'"

Until April 2011, when his SEAL team 10 was on a four-day operation against the local Taliban in the Upper Gereshk Valley of Helmand Province, Afghanistan. The injury from the IED required the amputation of his left leg. He also suffered shrapnel wounds to his right leg and right hand, though those injuries did not cause permanent functional problems.

After the blast, Stone said, it took 45 minutes to extract him. While waiting, he continued to command his platoon. "I still had to do my job," he said.

He did his rehab at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Maryland. Thirty-two days after his injury, he was walking. Soon after, he was able to run.

"My wife was five months pregnant with our second child," he recalled. "I said 'Look, I don't have time for this. I can't have my wife taking care of me and two kids.'"

(In retrospect, he said, he might have rushed things a bit much.)

Stone had the option of staying in the military, but he figured "If I was going to be desk-bound, I wanted to find something else to do."

He returned to the law, graduating in 2015 from Georgetown University Law Center. He then clerked for U.S. District Judge Timothy Burgess of the District of Alaska, followed by Judge Julius Richardson of the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

As for working at Kirkland, where he is based in the Chicago office, Stone compares the firm's lawyers to the SEAL team of the legal profession. "I look around at the people I work with, and they're amazing," he said. "I'm so fortunate."

The admiration is mutual. Kirkland partner Craig Primis said Stone "is an inspiration to everyone he works with at Kirkland. We applaud his service to our country and the sacrifices he has made to defend our liberty."

Primis added that Stone "enriches our firm with the values and skills he learned as a Navy SEAL: an incredibly strong work ethic, complex problem-solving capabilities, and a grit and determination we all envy."

In an email after our interview, Stone, who is the father of five children ranging in age from 10 years to six months old, added a final thought.

He wrote, "On Veterans Day, we honor veterans for their service, and rightly so. But their families deserve to share in that honor. They send their loved ones off to serve their country not knowing if they'll come back (or if they do come back, whether they'll ever be the same). This is my long way of saying that not a day of anything I have done would have been possible without the love and support of my wife, Samantha, who has stood by me even in my darkest hour."

Reprinted from Westlaw Today with permission of Thomson Reuters.