Different Perspectives

KU Law alum starts podcast to learn more about the people behind the law degree

Brian Roberts, L’98

Success in the legal profession doesn’t always take the straight and narrow path. Graduating seniors may be looking toward a different future entirely than the one they envisioned at the start of their 1L year as recent graduate Paula Lopez expressed in a past blog post. Another KU Law alum, Brian Roberts, L’98, has had a similar journey starting with his roots in Lawrence, Kansas, and ending with his current role in Paradise Valley, Arizona where he serves as the chief legal officer at litigation service provider, Array. Recently, Roberts embarked on a new journey with his venture into the podcasting realm in his podcast, “The Attorney Lounge.”

From the Crimson and the Blue to the desert and the sun

Born and raised in Kansas, Roberts has always considered himself a Kansas local even though his career has kept him in Arizona since his law school graduation.

“Some of my earliest memories are on KU’s campus,” said Roberts. “Both my parents worked on campus so basically the first 25 years of my life I grew up immersed in all things KU.”

After his graduation in the spring of 1998, Roberts joined Arizona law firm Snell & Wilmer LLP. He practiced corporate law there for five years before moving in house to serve as general counsel at a variety of different institutions in Arizona including Grand Canyon University. Now he’s settled down at his newest venture with Lawrence friends and fellow KU alums Thadd Hale, Thad Warren and Chad Hoffman.

“I had an entrepreneurial itch that I wanted to scratch,” said Roberts. “The fun thing about it is that I’m working with people I grew up with and have known my whole life.”

Roberts and family during his graduation in 1998.
Photo courtesy of Brian Roberts.

Despite his career taking him hundreds of miles away from his alma mater, Roberts still has strong ties to the crimson and the blue. He recalls with a smile how his entire career was set in motion by one KU Law staff member.

In his 2L year, Roberts had signed up for two interviews with two different law firms: a small firm located in Kansas City and another firm in Phoenix, Arizona. When the interviews lined up back-to-back, Roberts had a decision to make.

“I thought I had a pretty good chance of getting a call back to the Kansas City firm,” Roberts recalled. “I didn’t want to leave that interview early or tell them I had another interview, so I went to Crystal Mai and asked to take my name off the Arizona firm’s list.”

Mai, now associate dean of administration, gave Roberts some advice that he has kept with him more than 25 years later.

“She told me that I could take my name off the list, but to consider that I had taken a spot from someone else they could have chosen to interview. So I went to the interview,” Roberts said.

The Phoenix firm Roberts interviewed at? Snell & Wilmer.

“The crazy thing is, if Crystal had just said, ‘I don’t care,’ I would have taken my name off the list and none of what I’m doing today would have ever happened,” said Roberts. “It’s the little things that happen in life that can have such a big impact on the outcome of where you end up.”

The Little Things

What other little things had influenced the careers of his friends and fellow classmates, Roberts wondered. Alongside his robust career in corporate law, Roberts picked up a microphone and started asking those questions.

“Throughout your career, you’re always networking. You’re going out to have coffee, lunch or dinner and at the end of the conversation you’re thinking, ‘wow, I really got a lot from that,’” said Roberts. “You always learn something new about someone every time you talk to them. You walk away from those meetings and wish that you had recorded your conversations because other people would have gotten something out of that too.”

That’s what Roberts hopes to bring to his listeners with his new podcast, “The Attorney Lounge.” Started at the end of 2023, this podcast brings on accomplished attorneys and legal professionals to talk about their professional and personal lives. “The Attorney Lounge” is “inspired by the vibrant discussions that occur inside the walls of a prestigious law firm’s lounge” and offers an informal look into the careers of such attorneys as Supreme Court Lawyer Kannon Shanmugam and U-Haul’s General Council Kristine Campbell.

“I’m focusing the podcast on really getting to know people and having a relaxed conversation about them and their background versus trying to make it a technical podcast taking deep dives into substantive areas of the law,” said Roberts. “I think the person behind the lawyer is really interesting.”

Even in the short amount of time Roberts has been working on “The Attorney Lounge,” he has managed to collect an impressive amount of stories from successful lawyers, and he hopes to be able to share these stories with current law students just starting out.

“One of my favorite moments in creating this podcast was with [Boston Marathon Bombing prosecutor] Aloke Chakravarty,” said Roberts. “He started his career in a prestigious firm but wasn’t feeling satisfied. So, he took a step back in the hopes that he could take two steps forward and went to work at the prosecutor’s office in Boston. Now he’s a nationally recognized trial attorney and it’s all a result of making a bold decision early in his career.”

Roberts contributes podcasts like ‘My First Million’ as inspiration behind “The Attorney Lounge” as it, and other shows like it, also invite a glimpse into the lives of successful entrepreneurs, but at an informal and personal level.

“’My First Million’ doesn’t just dissect the business side of their careers and their guests’ careers,” said Roberts. “They talk about their personal lives, the mental side of their careers and how the decisions they’ve made throughout their careers have impacted their lives. I wanted my podcast to be a similar format, but in the legal industry.”

As of publishing, the newest episode of “The Attorney Lounge” features Kannon Shanmugam, a Supreme Court lawyer and fellow former Lawrencian. Roberts wanted to take a different approach to interviewing Shanmugam focusing less on the substantive issues he’s argued before the Court, and more on what his life looks like as one of the best Supreme Court lawyers in the country.

“I think a lot of people want to talk to him about the issues he’s brought before the Supreme Court,” said Roberts. “For me, I just wanted to talk to him about what it’s like to be an attorney and appellate lawyer. I wanted him to take us inside what a typical day looks like.”

Two Steps Forward

Though “The Attorney Lounge” is still growing, Roberts is excited to see where this new venture will take him and is enjoying the simplicity of learning the unique stories of lawyers across the country. As he looks to the future, Roberts has several goals, both large and small.

“To me the Holy Grail of guests would be Barack Obama,” said Roberts. “He is the ultimate candidate for someone who got his law degree but chose an unconventional path. That’s what I’m looking for in guests for the podcast. They’re applying principles of their legal education to their career, but they’re not practicing as a traditional lawyer.”

His other goals bring him back home to his alma mater.

“Stephen McAllister was, to me, the epitome of what a great professor does because he could take difficult subject matter and make it relatable and easy to understand,” said Roberts. “I would love to interview him because he’s someone I look up to and he’s had an interesting career.”

Roberts, Clarence Thomas (center) and Stephen Mcallister (right) during Thomas’ KU Law visit.
Photo courtesy of Brian Roberts

E.S. & Tom W. Hampton Distinguished Professor Stephen McAllister recently celebrated his 30th anniversary with KU Law, but that doesn’t even scratch the surface of his illustrious career which includes arguing cases before the Supreme Court, practicing at big law firms and teaching.

“He’s also one of the few people who have clerked for two separate Supreme Court Justices: Byron White and Clarence Thomas,” said Roberts. “During my time at KU, he was able to bring both Justices to campus.”

Overall, Roberts just hopes that “The Attorney Lounge” will be beneficial to law students interested in exploring the avenues their careers could take in the always evolving world of law.

“A lot of what we’re exploring is how these individuals get interested in the law and how they got their start,” said Roberts. “When I was navigating those questions during law school, a show like this would have really helped me think through some of my options. If you’re looking to emulate someone and their success, you can pick up a lot.”

Want to get caught up on “The Attorney Lounge?” Start at the very beginning with Roberts’ interview with Jamie Boggs, vice president of athletics at Grand Canyon University.

– Emma Herrman