Robert L. McKenna III is a founding partner at Kjar, McKenna & Stockalper LLP, a Huntington Beach, California-based law firm specializing in multijurisdictional representation for professional, general, and product liability defense in individual and class action legal cases.
McKenna received his Bachelor of Arts from the University of California, Los Angeles, followed by a Juris Doctorate from Loyola Law School, and is licensed to practice law in California and Nevada. Previously a partner at Carroll, Kelly, Trotter, Franzen, McKenna & Peabody, and a lawyer with Girardi & Keese, Robert McKenna has extensive trial experience in both state and federal courts.
Named Super Lawyer, Rising Star in 2004, and Super Lawyer from 2005 through 2019, by Los Angeles Magazine, McKenna’s professional affiliations include the American Board of Trial Advocates’ committee on diversity, American Society for Healthcare Risk Management, Association of Southern California Defense Counsel, California Hospital Association, California Medical-Legal Committee, California Medical Malpractice Defense Professionals, California State Bar Association, Clark County Bar Association, DRI (Drug and Medical Device Committee, Medical Liability and Healthcare Law Committee, and Product Liability Committee), Joseph A. Ball & Clarence S. Hunt Inn of Court program, Long Beach Bar Association, Los Angeles County Bar Association, Nevada Hospital Association, Nevada State Bar Association, and Southern California Association for Healthcare Risk Management PR/Marketing Committee.
As a dedicated community member, McKenna’s outreach includes work with St. Mary Medical Center’s ethics committee, the Long Beach Community Medical Center Foundation, Long Beach Junior Chamber of Commerce, the Stags Committee Benefit of the Stramski Children’s Developmental Center, and the Miller Children’s and Women’s Hospital Long Beach.
Robert McKenna, a single father of two, raised his son, Matthew, and daughter, Katie, while working full time as an attorney. He continues to serve as assistant scoutmaster for Troop 105 of the Boy Scouts of America, in which his son was a member. (He also logged extensive hours as the only dad in a leadership role for his daughter’s Girl Scout troop.) In addition to his love of travel with his family, McKenna is a member of the Alamitos Bay Yacht Club and the Long Beach Yacht Club, and is National Association of Underwater Instructors (NAUI) certified as an advanced open water diver.
Where did the idea for your career come from?
Jim (Kjar) and Pat (Stockalper) were colleagues at another defense firm for over two decades. We’d gone through various professional societies, conferences, and meetings, and developed a really strong friendship over the years … The three of us had a vision for a younger, more contemporary, modern law firm that was more reflective of where society is today.
Law firms tend to be far more on the conservative side of things in terms of what an office looks like. My joke used to be: “It’s crown molding and blue carpet with statues of Lady Justice and pictures of gladiators and boxing gloves.”
That wasn’t the impression we wanted to make. We wanted a modern, contemporary place where we could attract young legal talent to come work in an atmosphere that didn’t feel antiquated — that was a more hip, enjoyable place to be. We all had a shared interest in that, and that’s what brought us together.
What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?
My typical day starts anywhere between 4 and 5 in the morning. After I wake up, I peruse emails from the night before and put out any fires and answer any urgent questions. Then I have a cup of coffee, go to the gym, come back home and have breakfast. After that, most of the time since the pandemic, I head into the office and work from there.
One of the keys to being productive is just time management. When it comes time to actually pay attention to something in the office, I turn off all the little pings and buzzers on my phone and on my computer that let me know when an email or a text message is coming, because, literally, you can’t get more than three minutes into reviewing or reading something without getting that, “Hey, you got something!” And the natural human impulse is to look because it might be important — because they are important occasionally — but you’ll never get through reading a pleading or a report or a deposition if you don’t turn these things off and commit yourself to doing it.
I also have a list of things that, no matter what happens today, I’m going to get those two or three things done. These are the priorities. If I can get to more, great, but at the very least, I need to get to these. And then those three things are prioritized into:
1. No matter what, these have to be done before business hours.
2. No matter what, this has to be done before sunrise.
3. Or, OK, reevaluating in the context of what came up during the day, this can get kicked over to my 4 a.m. to 5 a.m. routine and I’ll try to sneak it in there.
What’s one trend that excites you?
During the pandemic, we found that in our industry, a 100% remote workforce was the exception to the rule. A lot of legal folks took the position that they were an essential service, and an essential service was always exempt from shutting down the business — but we decided not to go that route, and we were lucky because we’d actually started as a cloud-based business.
As a cloud-based business, you don’t have any servers, so you don’t have to have people coming in to work on them. The beauty of being cloud-based is even when you’re at the office, you’re working remotely … You can be anywhere and sign in anytime and do anything and it all works.
What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?
For me, just trying to grind everything out for two, three, four, five hours straight is just not productive because as time wears on, my mind wanders … Once you’ve accomplished a goal you’ve set for the day, take a break. Reward yourself by taking a look at your text messages and your email. Go ahead and take a look at your social media. Go get some water, walk around the office.
What advice would you give your younger self?
Whatever you think is your most burning personal or professional crisis will pass, and the things that you thought were incredibly important and nonnegotiable in your teens and early 20s are far more nuanced and subjective than you’ll ever believe.
Just be more empathetic and understanding toward people. You don’t really know what anyone else is going through at any given point in time, so don’t immediately assume the worst. If someone acts with anger or hostility or standoffishness, it could be due to circumstances you know nothing about.
Tell us something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on.
It’s something I take from a page of Kurt Vonnegut’s but I believe it. He said something like: You don’t have to be good at any of the things you like doing. You don’t need to be the best. You don’t even need to be good. You might be the absolute worst, but there’s an intrinsic joy in just doing those things because they make you happy … The real goal is to participate and enjoy yourself for the other things you get out of an activity, not just a feeling of winning or success.
What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?
During the pandemic there were a lot of people who wanted to change jobs because of a family member with a significant health condition that put them at an increased risk of a bad outcome with COVID. They wanted to work at a place that respected their health and the health of their loved ones. Thanks to our hybrid model, we actually grew quite a bit during the pandemic. We hired a lot of people, and we found that the experienced people could manage their time and their work. In an effort to retain these folks, we decided to go to three days from home, two days in the office, and it’s been working well.
What is one failure you had, and how did you overcome it?
Losing a trial is a failure on one level, but I’ve learned far more from my trial losses than from my victories. And especially early on, you find out what works and what doesn’t work.
You might believe you have the best approach for a trial, but when you talk to jurors after losing a case, you can find there were things you did that not only didn’t resonate with them, but caused them to question what you were telling them.
It takes a lot for any lawyer who’s just suffered a defeat to then ask the jurors to talk to you about how the trial went — to ask them what you could have done better, what your experts could have done better, what your witnesses could have done better, what your clients could have done better — and you have to be willing to listen to what they have to say.
What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?
There’s a butcher shop in Huntington Beach called the Beef Palace. My son was coming home unexpectedly … He’d been away at college for the past year, so I haven’t seen him a whole lot, and he’s very sort of particular about the food he eats — not that it’s healthy; it’s just that he’s picky. So I went and bought 6 pounds of corned beef, 2 pounds of pastrami, and 2 pounds of pepperoni, all cut fresh, and it was like $100 … OK, it was $99 but it’s going to feed him for the next three weeks, and I get to eat it with him.
What is one piece of software or a web service that helps you be productive?
ProLaw is the software application we use for our law firm. I really like it. I never used to enter my own hours on a computer. I wrote my time out on a piece of paper and gave it to somebody else to input. When we started the firm five years ago, my partners — who’d already been entering their own time — were like, “McKenna, you’ve got to learn how to do this. You’re not that old. You don’t have to write it down so somebody can type it in.”
ProLaw is very user friendly for inputting billing and keeping track of your files. I can look things up very quickly and find documents. Before, you’d have to go through paper.
What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?
That depends on the person, really, but I got On the Road by Jack Kerouac and J.D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye for my kids and my nieces, nephews, and cousins. They’re both “great coming-of-age” books.
I think we have so much conformity in the way we approach education these days. It used to be a little more “loosey-goosey” in the 1970s, when I was growing up. I got to read cool books. High school isn’t the same as when I went, so I just wanted to open their eyes to different ideas and different points of view — even though those points of view might be considered subversive in the sense that they’re not for everybody.
I don’t really want my son to spend his life traveling around the country, getting high, and playing jazz … but that’s there, and it’s kind of a cool thing to be exposed to.
What is your favorite quote?
Oh, that changes over time, but right now it’s: “The universe is indifferent to your happiness.” It’s incumbent on you to find purpose and meaning in life. It’s not a religious argument; it’s just that nature, the universe, doesn’t have a personal investment in your happiness and your joy. It’s you. You need to invest in that. You need to decide what happiness and joy is.
And the best philosopher on this is Viktor Frankl. Frankl’s basic principle was that you, and you alone, can control how you respond to things in this world … even some of the most horrible things. You truly control far more than you know, because between what’s happening and how you respond, you can control the response.
Frankl’s second guiding principle was that happiness, in and of itself, is not something to pursue. Instead, Frankl believed we need meaning in our lives, and we need a purpose. Even if you have them, you’ll struggle and work hard but along the way, but you’ll gain a very, very deep sense of happiness from what you’ve accomplished.
I’m lucky. I have all the meaning and all the purpose I could possibly want. Am I happy all the time? Of course not. But do I have things I’m happy about and that I’m proud of that bring joy? Yes. And if you have joy, you have meaning and you have purpose, so you’re two-thirds of the way there.
One of the keys to being productive at work is time management. Turn off email and social media notifications when you’re concentrating on a project, and only turn them back on when you take a break.
Be empathetic and understanding toward people. You don’t really know what anyone else is going through at any given point in time, so don’t immediately assume the worst.
Put together a list of two or three high-priority tasks that must be completed for each work day and, unless an emergency arises, stick to it.
Be willing to learn from your failures. When a lawyer loses a case, they need to pay close attention to jury feedback to find out where they came up short so they can better prepare and revise their strategy for next time.
You are responsible for your own happiness. It’s up to each individual to find the meaning and purpose in their lives.
- One of the keys to being productive is time management
- Be more empathetic and understanding toward people.
- You can control how you respond to things in this world.
Steve (Stefan) Junge hails from Germany and helps with the day-to-day publishing of interviews on IdeaMensch. While he and Mario don’t share a favorite soccer club, their enthusiasm to help entrepreneurs is a shared passion.