Although she didn’t always intend to pursue a career in law, now, Jones Mayer Partner Denise Rocawich can’t imagine doing anything other than law enforcement legal advocacy. We sat down with Ms. Rocawich to discuss how she discovered that she wanted to devote her career to “her guys” and what it means to practice this area of law during a time when so much of the national conversation is focused on the challenges of law enforcement.
“What can I do?”
While Ms. Rocawich was growing up in Upland, California, she dreamed of becoming a surgeon. But as many dreamers discover, lofty goals require a specific set of skills that don’t come naturally to some. In Ms. Rocawich’s case, she found her math prowess wasn’t going to be strong enough to get where she wanted to go in medicine. She needed an alternative.
Opting not to force herself to become a math genius, she switched her focus to art history, aspiring to work in museums. However, when a trusted professor pointed out that majoring in art history would almost certainly lead to lifelong financial struggle, Ms. Rocawich turned to her final great academic interest: political science. She enjoyed her education but ultimately questioned what she could accomplish with her degree. Ms. Rocawich came face to face with two main options, teaching or law school.
Law school sounded like more fun.
Despite the challenges of law school, the experience caused her to wonder why she didn’t consider it sooner. It was at law school that she “found her people.” One question remained: “What can I do?”
In law school she discovered a passion for constitutional law, but she wasn’t sure how to begin practicing this area outside of working for the ACLU. She considered working for a firm that served as counsel for the National Rifle Association, but the commute wasn’t a good fit.
After graduation, she spent nearly a year at a municipal law firm, getting her foot in the door and growing her affection for constitutional law.
“This is what I want to do.”
Still early in her career, Ms. Rocawich met (now) Jones Mayer Partner James R. Touchstone while he was preparing a police officer for upcoming testimony in an excessive force case.
“I was blown away by his skill,” she recalls. Sensing what she describes as an “instant connection” with the subject matter of the officer’s testimony, she said to herself in that moment, “This is what I want to do.” This lightbulb moment, combined with her respect for Mr. Touchstone’s approach and talent, inspired her to position herself to receive as much work from him as possible.
“Thankfully, he took me on as a mentee,” she says. About five years later, Mr. Touchstone left for Jones Mayer. When he called a year later and asked if she was interested in working for the Firm, she didn’t hesitate.
“I cannot picture myself doing anything else.”
When Ms. Rocawich speaks of her law enforcement clients, her respect, compassion, and affection for them shine through. She insists that she only works on cases related to law enforcement because officers are the “greatest clients.” “Especially these days, they need people like us in their corner,” she says.
During a complex national discussion about the roles and responsibilities of law enforcement, Ms. Rocawich’s work is an honor and a challenge. “I live and breathe working with cops,’ she says. “The vast, vast majority of officers do their jobs well and even brilliantly.”
Yet, people often judge the profession based on horrific outlier events. “It is disorienting to have someone who puts their life on the line every day thank me for my efforts,” she says. “They feel the weight of the world on them right now.”
Ms. Rocawich says that it is harder to practice this area of law right now due to all the tension across the country centered on law enforcement, but that it is also uniquely rewarding work because championing law enforcement honors the service and sacrifice that our society requires of officers. The pride is evident in her voice when she says, “I cannot picture myself doing anything else.”
“I take my cases personally.”
Ms. Rocawich explains that she takes her cases personally for a few reasons. “First of all, I’m passionate about what my clients do,” she says. “After that, I’m passionate about what I do.” Ms. Rocawich isn’t alone in holding these twinned passions. She traces Jones Mayer’s success to the similar enthusiasms found in every attorney at the Firm.
“Everyone is focused on serving our clients and improving our skills, so there’s no rank-and-file politicking, which is refreshing,” she says. “We’re not told to stack up hours. Instead, we’re encouraged to share what we know, help one another, and ask questions.”
Those shared values go beyond the practice. They include the balance every professional at the Firm strives to strike between work and family. “The Firm’s leadership would never ask anyone to choose between work and family,” Ms. Rocawich tells us. Ms. Rocawich says she and her husband, beloved stepdaughter, and Labrador have lakes, rivers, and oceans to conquer.
There is no question that Ms. Rocawich loves her job, but she also loves traveling, experiencing the world around her, and sharing all that life has to offer with her stepdaughter. Not having to choose between pursuing her professional passion and living a full life with her family? That’s just about as good as it gets.
Ms. Rocawich can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or by calling (714) 446-1400.