Q: What is your full title?
A: United States District Judge
Q: Which division of the federal courts do you serve?
A: Northern District of Illinois, Eastern Division (Chicago)
Q: What is a typical day for you?
A: I would distinguish between trial days and non-trial days. On trial days, we do status hearings and motions at 9:00 and 9:15 and then spend the rest of the day on trial, especially if there is a jury. On non-trial days, we still do status hearings and motions at 9:00 and 9:15 and often have other proceedings (sentencings, changes of plea, settlement conferences) starting at 10:00. On quiet days, I work on opinions in my office. On busy days, I spend much of the day in the courtroom.
Q: What made you want to serve as a member of the judiciary?
A: When I clerked for Judge Flaum (1993-94) I realized what a privilege it is to have a job in the public sector where your only obligation is to be fair and act consistently with the law. Judge Flaum has always said that “public service is the highest calling,” and I have taken that lesson to heart over the past quarter century since I left my clerkship.
Q: Prior to your appointment, what area of law did you primarily practice?
A: I was mainly an appellate lawyer at Mayer Brown. To the extent that I did work in trial courts, it was brief writing along with occasionally drafting motions in limine or jury instructions. I was pretty much a generalist, though I spent a lot of time working on the breast implant litigation early in my career and on telecommunications issues in my later years at the firm.
Q: What advice do you have for YLS members appearing in court?
A: Always be on time and prepared; always be candid; if you don’t know the answer, say so and ask for time to research it.
Q: Do you have any advice for YLS members who may be interested in serving as judges in the Northern District of Illinois?
A: There is no set path to the judiciary – judges come from all kinds of backgrounds (civil or criminal; former prosecutor and defense lawyers; big firm, medium firm, small firm, in-house; academic, etc…) There is a lot of serendipity involved in getting appointed at any level (circuit, district court, magistrate judge, bankruptcy judge), so be as good as you can be at whatever job you have and don’t be afraid to get active in bar associations, conferences, pro bono work – whatever you can do to build your reputation for excellence.
Q: What is one piece of advice you would have given yourself when you started practicing?
A: Find as many mentors as you can; don’t be afraid to ask for help/advice as people are flattered to be asked; don’t be afraid to try new things (depositions, trials, oral arguments); look for pro bono opportunities as you may get more responsibility at an early stage of your career; remember that we are a profession, not a business.
Q: Do you have any other comments?
A: The law is an honorable profession; you can help a lot of people with your law degree and you should, whether they can pay you or not; please be civil to your clients, your adversaries, and the judges—litigation is not a blood sport.
About the Judge:
Robert M. Dow, Jr. has served as a United States District Judge for the Northern District of Illinois since December 2007. Since 2013, he has been a member of the Judicial Conference Advisory Committee on Civil Rules and the Chair of its Rule 23 and MDL Rules Subcommittees. From 2010 to 2013 he served as a member of the Advisory Committee on Appellate Rules. He has sat by designation in the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth and Seventh Circuits and is a member of the American Law Institute.
Prior to entering into judicial service, Judge Dow was a partner at the Chicago law firm of Mayer Brown LLP, where he was a member of the firm’s Litigation, Telecommunications, and Supreme Court and Appellate Litigation practice groups.
Judge Dow received a bachelor’s degree summa cum laude in History and Political Science in 1987 from Yale University, where he was elected to Phi Beta Kappa. He attended the University of Oxford on a Rhodes Scholarship and earned master’s (1990) and doctorate (1997) degrees in International Relations. He graduated cum laude from Harvard Law School in 1993. Immediately after law school, Dow served as a law clerk to Judge Joel M. Flaum on the Seventh Circuit.