The @theBar blog has decided to re-run this article with the recent passing of Larry Rogers, Sr. This article was originally published on the @theBar blog on October 21, 2020.
Interviewed by Kenny Matuszewski
The Rogers family have always been trailblazers, due to their character, love for each other, and respect for education. While these qualities may sound traditional, it revolutionized a path to success for Larry Sr. and his family. One of seven children, Larry Sr. grew up in the Roseland neighborhood of Chicago and was raised solely by his mother after his father died. Despite the difficulties involved with raising so many children, his mother wanted all seven of them to be well-educated. To achieve this goal, she sent them to Catholic school, while she worked two jobs. Larry Sr. has her to thank for instilling the importance of a strong character and a quality education in him.
Following his mother’s advice with respect to pursuing a quality education served him well at St. Xavier University, where he majored in Philosophy and earned the respect of his professors. One of his Philosophy professors would change Larry Sr.’s and his family’s trajectory forever by suggesting he attend law school. Larry Sr. took this advice to heart and started law school at DePaul University College of Law soon after graduating from St. Xavier. However, a health issue forced him to take a leave of absence. While Larry Sr. recovered, he worked part time at a family friend’s gas station across the street from White Sox Park. He also worked in a hospital in the respiratory therapy department. While working at the gas station, he met Joe Power, a young lawyer and customer who lived in the area, who soon became Larry Sr.’s friend. When Larry Sr. resumed his law school studies, Joe Power helped him secure a law clerk position at the firm where he worked. The curriculum at DePaul changed completely when Larry Sr. returned to law school, so Larry Sr. had to start all over as a first-year law student. He nonetheless was undeterred and re-started his law school education as a first-year student while working as a law clerk. His pursuit of his education along with the opportunity to work as a law clerk in a law firm laid the groundwork for Joe Power and Larry Sr. to become fast friends and ultimately, founding partners at what has become Power Rogers, LLP (“Power Rogers”). For the last 11 consecutive years, Power Rogers has been named the top personal injury law firm in Chicago by Chicago Lawyer Magazine.
Notably, Larry Sr. was the first in his family to become a lawyer and did so during a time when there were very few African American attorneys. But Larry Sr. was ready to apply the lessons his mother and education taught him to create opportunities for himself. As a result, he spun a web of influence that inspired several members of his family to also become attorneys. Currently, the attorneys in the Rogers family include:
- Larry Sr., the Founding Partner of Power Rogers, where he practices personal injury law and medical malpractice.
- Larry Jr., Larry Sr.’s son and fellow partner at Power Rogers, where he has practiced since the start of his career. He currently practices Plaintiff’s personal injury and wrongful death litigations handling medical malpractice, personal injury, wrongful death, aviation, trucking, and civil rights cases.
- Frederic, Larry Jr.’s brother and Larry Sr.’s stepson. A solo practitioner, Frederic practices personal injury law, along with real estate and property tax law.
- Carmen, a partner at Squire Patton Boggs, where she practices defense-side employment litigation. Carmen is Larry Sr.’s niece and Larry Jr. and Frederic’s cousin. She’s not only the first woman to practice law in the family, but also the only defense attorney.
- Sean, Larry Sr.’s nephew, who graduated from UIC John Marshall Law School in 2019 and currently works in the real estate and property tax field.
- Dominique, or Dom, is Larry Jr.’s son. Dom recently graduated from Chicago-Kent and now works at a personal injury and wrongful death litigation firm.
- Trevor, Larry Sr.’s grandson, recently graduated from Loyola cum laude, and is currently a lawyer at a firm whose work includes plaintiff’s personal injury and wrongful death litigation.
Additionally, Larry Sr.’s daughter, Ann, is an official court reporter for the Circuit Court of Cook County and his sister, Brenda, is a legal secretary at a prominent international law firm in Chicago. Larry Sr.’s influence not only stretched across generations here in Chicago, but also extended to family out west in California. Carmen grew up in southern California but heard several stories about her uncle’s, Larry Sr.’s, successful legal career. Even 3,000 miles away, Larry Sr. is a legend of the plaintiff’s bar, as Carmen has found when sharing her family background with opposing counsel. Doing so allows her to create a common bond with them and highlight her reputation for excellence in the courtroom.
While the Rogers may have been members of a family known and respected in the legal profession, none of them felt pressured to enter the legal profession. All of them mentioned that no matter which career path they chose, their family would have supported them, no matter what. For example, while Sean’s first exposure to the law was not his uncle. Instead, it was Uncle Phil from “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air.” But unlike a sitcom, it was Larry Sr.’s abiding support and mentorship that led Sean to follow in his uncle’s footsteps.
For instance, Larry Jr. obtained an economics degree in college. However, he understood that it was important to attend graduate school, in order to receive a complete education. As it turned out, the legal profession was the best way to have a flexible career path. His academic journey took him from northern California, where he attended high school and college, back home to Chicago, where he started his career as a law clerk at a plaintiff’s personal injury firm. It was there that he realized how much he liked fighting for the underdog and how much he loved litigation. Soon after graduating from Chicago-Kent, he joined the family firm, where he immediately began trying cases.
Carmen knew from a young age that she was different from her peers. When her friends asked each other whether they wanted to marry a doctor or lawyer, Carmen instead wanted to be the lawyer someone married. She also knew she wanted to go down a different path than her immediate family, who were in the military. While she didn’t understand what it meant to be a lawyer at first, she took advantage of every opportunity to watch her uncle in action.
Unlike Carmen and Larry Jr., Sean started his career in education and worked as a teacher. However, after the birth of his children, he moved into law enforcement, and ultimately, law school. He notes that there were struggles during his journey to become an attorney, including the death of both his parents during law school. However, he is grateful for the path he took, and uses that background as insight for any problems he faces in his legal career.
For Dom and Trevor, it felt natural to enter the legal profession. From a young age, they attended bar association meetings, networking events, and fundraisers with Larry Sr. and Larry Jr. No one patronized Dom and Trevor at these events. Instead, fellow attendees got to know them and encouraged them to pursue careers of their choosing, as did Larry Sr. and Larry Jr.
Finally, Frederic had a passion for the legal profession growing up. He had the chance to watch Larry Sr. and Larry Jr. in action several times when he worked at Power Rogers during the summer throughout high school and college. While the trial wins were thrilling, what inspired him more was their care and compassion for their clients. He shares this same passion for his clients that Larry Sr. and Larry Jr. do today.
While everyone’s paths to the legal profession differed, they all share a belief in the importance of character. Growing up, each of the Rogers worked hard to prepare themselves for the opportunity to attain success. While opportunities to succeed can be rare, according to Larry Sr., they are much easier to obtain when you demonstrate a strong character and work ethic. Larry Sr. believes others recognize a person who demonstrates good character and gravitate toward that person. That is why Dom in particular believes that showing others respect and avoiding making enemies is crucial.
But the Rogers are not just known for their work in the legal community. They have had a long background of public service, and a respect for the political process.
Larry Sr.’s father was a doctor who graduated from Northwestern’s medical school when few medical schools educated African Americans. Despite being denied opportunities on the basis of his race, Larry Sr.’s father made the best of things by working at hospitals that treated African American patients. Larry Sr., on the other hand, did not make do with fate, but challenged the inequalities facing African Americans like his father. He and the rest of the Rogers family began a long practice and legacy of activism, such as participating in the Civil Rights Movement and protests highlighting disparate treatment of African Americans.
Due to his family’s activism, Larry Jr. was always drawn to community service. In addition to the values instilled by his father Larry Sr and mother Judith, he developed an even greater respect for serving his community through his fraternity, Kappa Alpha Psi, a historically Black fraternity. He credits Kappa Alpha Psi for giving him the leadership abilities to succeed early in his career and become a lawyer, litigator, law firm partner, and elected official. After practicing law for ten years, he decided to run for office. His first campaign for office was in 2004, the same year that former President Barack Obama ran for the U.S. Senate. He also was not in for an easy campaign. His opponent was an entrenched incumbent with longstanding political relationships, when Larry Jr. had virtually none. Nonetheless, he was up for the challenge. In order to best help his community, he knew he needed to run for office. As a young lawyer with a family from Roseland, Larry Jr. worked incredibly hard to connect with constituents from Roseland’s Ninth Ward, where he grew up, and parts of the south and west sides of Chicago and Cook County. He found it rewarding to serve a traditionally forgotten community and be their voice for needed change. Larry Jr. also had another motivation to win: to represent, highlight and inspire future African American elected officials.
The most important person to inspire in Larry Jr.’s life at the time was none other than his son, Dom. Every election, Dom would accompany his parents to the voting booth. The election that Larry Jr. campaigned in was no exception. One of their favorite family pictures showing the importance of elections depicts Larry Jr. going into the voting booth with his wife Ralonda to vote for himself for the very first time in 2004. Dom can be seen in the photo only a few feet away with his parents, eager to participate. With this motivation, along with his poise and education, Larry Jr. won the election, and became a representative for District 3 at the Cook County Board of Review (“CCBR”). Larry Jr. still holds that position today.
The Rogers family have demonstrated their service to the community by serving meals to veterans and families on Thanksgiving and Christmas with Reverend Jackson, visiting inmates at the Cook County Jail on holidays, and participating in protests against inequality and injustice. With virtually every community activity, Larry Jr.’s children are in tow, including Larry Jr.’s son Dom, and daughters Erin, Sydney and Jordan.
The final pillar of the Rogers’ values includes a commitment to diversity and inclusion. This started before Carmen attended law school. Unsure of her plans, she went to her uncle for advice, and asked if he thought she could handle it. Larry Sr.’s answer was simple: “why not?” This response almost shocked Carmen. It seemed that the fact that she was a young woman of color never occurred to him. Even if it did, he still believed she could do it. This gave her the confidence to succeed in law school.
Over the years, Carmen has represented large, institutional clients throughout the Fortune 500. But she is an exception. There are almost no women of color who represent Fortune 500 clients in the defense bar. Whenever Carmen doubts whether she belongs, she thinks back to the words of her uncle, which allows her to push forward.
Carmen now makes it a point to pay it forward and mentor other African American women. She does so by serving on the Board of Advisors for Pepperdine’s law school, her alma mater. Through Pepperdine’s Board of Advisors, she created a task force to mentor, recruit, and develop a pipeline for African American women in the legal profession who work in private practice. Carmen does so because she is frequently asked if she wanted to pursue a career in government or at the Public Defender’s Office. While seemingly innocuous, she finds the question has undertones of implicit bias, because it implies that women of color cannot have successful careers in private practice. Carmen beat the overwhelming odds against her by both becoming partner and being at that firm for 19 years. While intellect is part of a successful career, Carmen notes that the rest is stamina, which she learned from her uncle, and teaches her mentees.
The other members of the Rogers family have served African American attorneys through bar associations. For example, both Larry Sr. and Larry Jr. have served as Presidents of the Cook County Bar Association (“CCBA”), the oldest and largest bar association for African American attorneys. The CCBA is a place that allows its members’ voices to be heard and to respond to community-based issues, such as police brutality.
Larry Jr. applies his experiences at the CCBA in his new role as 2020-2021 President of the Illinois Trial Lawyers Association. Now, more than ever, he is working to take action against injustice, as ITLA’s second African American President. The first was his father, Larry Sr. On the first day of Larry Jr.’s presidency, he unambiguously and definitively issued ITLA’s statement on George Floyd’s murder. Specifically, trial lawyers have taken on civil rights cases for decades and fought battles for individuals whose civil rights were attacked. As a result, the trial bar was incensed by one of the latest examples of racial injustice. While Larry Jr. recognizes that there is still much that can be done to increase diversity in ITLA, he is proud to one again follow in his father’s footsteps and provide opportunities for minorities to participate in influential bar associations. Larry Jr. encourages Black and other ethnic plaintiff’s personal injury lawyers to join ITLA and utilize its vast support network and resources to grow and strengthen their practices. He also recognizes the unique role and opportunities he has as an African American President of ITLA and works to honor his family’s legacy of activism and inclusion every day.
Similarly, Larry Sr. has served as a trustee on the boards of DePaul University, John Marshall Law School, and St. Xavier University. DePaul University College of Law also has an endowed scholarship named in his honor that provides tuition assistance for African American law students.
As a final takeaway, Trevor said that it takes a village to succeed. The importance of family cannot be understated, because they can uplift each other and help each other succeed. Larry Sr. emphasized the importance of education, because once it is obtained, it cannot be taken away. Carmen expanded on her uncle’s point by noting that once a person has achieved something with their education, it is no longer just for them. Rather, it is for the people that come after. Larry Jr. realizes this and tries to lead by example for his three daughters. The oldest, Erin, currently attends college at the University of Miami, while his second oldest daughter, Sydney, attends Howard University. Larry Jr.’s youngest, Jordan, attends the University of Chicago Laboratory School. The entire Rogers family, particularly the cadre of lawyers, look forward to seeing who will be next to join them and continue the legacy of lawyers in the family.