John Rowley III
John Rowley III ()

It was Friday rush hour on May 12th and John Rowley III, a partner at Baker McKenzie in Washington, D.C., was disembarking from a Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority train on his way to meet with a friend at his office near the Gallery Place-Chinatown station in the nation’s capital.

At the end of the Metro platform stood a group of people. As Rowley walked passed them to exit the station, a shoulder hit him square in the chest.

“The person clearly tried to knock me down,” Rowley said. “What happened from that point on is still very fuzzy to me.”

Witnesses said that a group of five or six juveniles attacked Rowley, pushed him to the ground and kicked him in the face. As the train from which Rowley had just stepped off began pulling out of the station, his attackers pushed him towards it. Rowley held his hand out to avoid hitting the accelerating train, cutting and breaking it.

Lying on the ground, the attack continued, and then suddenly, it stopped. Andrew Miller, a 23-year-old law student at George Washington University, had been walking some yards behind Rowley and jumped in to assist him.

“I could see that [Rowley] was in a bad position and unable to defend himself and that if left to their own devices the assault would continue,” said Miller, who was heading home that evening. “So when I stepped forward, the perpetrators took the attention off of [Rowley] and towards me.”

The attackers threw two punches at Miller before fleeing. Rowley and Miller made their way to the station’s entrance and waited for police to arrive. While awaiting the authorities, Rowley noticed that Miller was carrying a legal book titled “The Law,” written by French philosopher and economist Frédéric Bastiat.

“I asked him if he was a lawyer and he said he was a law student,” Rowley recalled.

The Baker McKenzie litigator, a former federal prosecutor who joined the firm in 2010 from Holland & Knight, gave Miller his email address and a few days later began corresponding with him. Then, exactly a week after the assault, Rowley called Miller and offered him a position as a summer associate in the firm’s Washington, D.C., office. Miller, pictured right, started at the firm on June 12.

“I practiced law for quite a while now and, frankly, natural leaders are hard to find,” Rowley said. “When I met [Miller] and I got to know him a little bit, reflecting back on the courage of jumping in, he was the kind of person that we wanted to have here at the firm this summer.”

Miller, who suffered a slight concussion in the attack, said that he was surprised when Rowley initially offered him the summer associate position. But Miller has since been struck by the nature of a firm, particularly a global legal giant like Baker McKenzie, being willing to take a chance on someone as a result of their character.

“I’m sure I’ll tell my grandkids about it,” Miller said of the experience.

Police eventually were able to capture two of the assailants and a trial is set for July 11th. For his part, Rowley is using this brutal attack to shine a light on issues within the Metro system, which last year retained Jones Day restructuring partner Kevyn Orr to help get its finances in order. (Ray LaHood, a former secretary of the U.S. Department of Transportation and now a senior policy adviser at DLA Piper, was tapped in March to lead an independent panel studying Metro reforms.)

Last week, Rowley submitted witness testimony to the U.S. Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Transportation, asking the congressional body to allocate the resources necessary to make the subway system better and safer in the nation’s capital.

“Frankly, I’d like to find a way to have some good come out of this very disturbing incident,” Rowley said.

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