Recruiting athletes isn’t just for sports coaches. Many law firm hiring partners like to acquire athletes as well. The thinking is that successful athletes possess many of the traits sought in talented attorneys.

Athletes are disciplined, hardworking, and mentally tough. They are focused and strategic thinkers. If they play a team sport, then they probably excel at teamwork too.

So it shouldn’t come as a shock that Williams & Connolly, a firm full of fearsome litigators who love to win, has a great athlete among its 2011 summer associate class. This individual, who has traveled around the world playing his sport, is our latest celebrity summer associate. (We’ve previously profiled actor Wai Choy, a former co-star of Lindsay Lohan, and Phil Alito, son of Sam.)

Who is this star athlete turned Williams & Connolly summer associate, and what sport does he play?

James Gillenwater, teaching rugby to local youth in Durham, North Carolina.

In response to our call for nominations of celebrity summer associates, one tipster wrote as follows: “What about my man James Gillenwater at Williams & Connolly? He’s the former captain of the U.S. rugby team and just a good guy.”

Like Phil Alito, another celeb summer associate, Gillenwater is a rising 3L at Duke Law School. The Duke class of 2012 is one star-studded group!

Duke Law makes perfect sense as Gillenwater’s law school. He’s a southerner through and through, hailing from Kentucky, and he did his undergraduate work at Vanderbilt University, where he played on the school’s rugby team.

Unlike some Duke students, who huddle inside the ivory tower, Gillenwater has been interacting with, and giving back to, the Durham community. He’s one of several Duke students who are teaching local kids how to play rugby — and passing along health and fitness tips as well. Gillenwater was recently recognized in the Durham Herald-Sun for this volunteer work:

James “Guppy” Gillenwater, 27 and from Kentucky, is a second-year law student at Duke. He’s there on an Albert Schweitzer Fellowship, which requires graduate students like him to design health-based service projects and incorporate student volunteers to implement them in local communities lacking resources.

The John Avery club is in East Durham. That area has its issues. The opening of Joe’s Diner on Angier Avenue is a symbol of hope and revitalization for that struggling section of the city.

So now East Durham has Joe’s Diner’s hot dogs. And rugby. East Durham has rugby. Rugby?

Well, it’ll be an Olympic sport in 2016 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, explained Gillenwater, a former USA Rugby team captain and former rugby All-America at “hooker” for Vanderbilt University.

No, not that kind of hooking. We’re talking about the rugby position:

The hooker, numbered 9, packs in the middle of the scrum’s front row. Usually it is the hooker’s responsibility to operate at the dummy half position, starting the play by passing the ball to a team mate or by running himself. A hooker is usually short, strong and fast.

CORRECTION (12:45 PM): Whoops! Commenters suggest that I linked to the wrong definition of “hooker” (another testament to my rugby ignorance). They suggest this definition instead: “Hooker is a key position in attacking and defensive play. The name is derived from the fact that hookers use their feet to ‘hook’ the ball in the scrum; because of the pressure put on the body by the scrum it is considered to be one of the most dangerous positions to play.”

Don’t know what a “scrum” is? Well, your ignorance (and mine) is understandable. Rugby is not as huge a sport in the United States as it is in many other countries. James Gillenwater may not be as famous in America as, say, NBA star Ben Wallace of the Detroit Pistons, who is also interested in becoming a lawyer (and currently researching law schools).

But before you start making dismissive comments about rugby — not a good idea, given the hulking physiques of rugby players — or questioning Gillenwater’s celebrity status, allow me to ask you some questions (based on this profile of James Gillenwater):

  • Have you ever played a sport in an arena packed with 70,000 screaming fans?

  • Were your games broadcast over international television?
  • Have you traveled to many different countries — e.g., Argentina, England, Scotland, Spain, Dubai, China, Australia, New Zealand — to play your sport?
  • Have you ever graced the cover of a magazine?
  • Have you and your teammates been featured in parades?

No? I didn’t think so. Please sit down and shut up now.

We reached out to Gillenwater via Facebook, to confirm biographical facts and to see if he had any other comment. He provided us with this short and sweet statement:

Hi David,

I can confirm that I played for and captained the US national rugby team and that I am enjoying my time at Duke and at Williams & Connolly very much.

All the best,
James

He’s not only a talented athlete and law student, but he’s also polite and responsive to media inquiries. James Gillenwater is the total package!

We wish James the best of luck at Williams & Connolly this summer, and at Duke Law next fall. We foresee a bright legal career ahead for this young man — especially if he maintains his athletic reflexes and rugby-player physique.

Can you imagine what kind of beat-down Gillenwater would have administered to the guy who tried to attack Williams & Connolly client Rupert Murdoch with a pie? If the ability to protect clients from flying pies is not a good enough reason to give out an offer, what is?

Have a celebrity summer associate you’d like to bring to our attention? Summer is almost over, but there’s still time: just email us (subject line: “Celebrity Summer Associate”). Thanks!

Boys & Girls Club good sports [Durham Herald-Sun]
Pike’s Peek: Glasgow grad finds success – and a little fame – in rugby [Bowling Green Daily News]

Earlier: Celebrity Summer Associate: Supreme Offspring
Celebrity Summer Associate: An Ex-Colleague of Lindsay Lohan


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