How Thomas Dunlap and Daniel Grubb started a firm while serving their country
Published in 2009 Virginia Rising Stars magazine
By Nyssa Gesch on June 22, 2009
For Thomas M. Dunlap and Daniel L. Grubb, law is not only their second career—it’s their second duty. As active National Guardsmen, these two lawyers at Dunlap, Grubb & Weaver in Leesburg serve both their clients and their country, a task that requires balancing deployment, a growing client list and keeping up with ever-changing domestic laws.
“I always told myself that if my country ever went to war, that I was going to enlist,” says Grubb, who spent more than a decade in journalism—from 1983 to 1995—before turning to law. He was working as a television reporter for an ABC affiliate in Anchorage, Alaska, when the Persian Gulf War began, and, true to his word, he enlisted, but he didn’t get to basic training until after the war ended. Nonetheless, he remained committed to the National Guard. “I didn’t join the Army because I like war. I joined because I believed that all men should devote some time to the protection of their country.”
At Washington and Lee University School of Law, Grubb met Dunlap, a former New York stockbroker who was also starting a new career. The two clicked and would later work at the same commercial litigation firm. Dunlap soon took a leave of absence to attend infantry school. He then enrolled in Officer Candidate School, as Grubb had done years prior, where he learned the value of self-reliance. “The idea behind an American military officer, at least in that school, is that you pull yourself up,” says Dunlap. “I think one of the only reasons I was able to strike out on my own, have the confidence to start a firm, is because I was an officer in the Army.”
In January 2002, the two created Dunlap & Grubb. “We were both going through transitions in training where we had to become qualified in our specialties,” says Grubb. “In the Army, that takes quite a few months.”
It was almost like a tag-team match. Grubb left for five months and returned in time for Dunlap to leave for six. “When I showed up,” Dunlap remembers, “[Dan] was like, ‘OK, well, I’m going to Afghanistan in a week. I’ll see ya!'”
For 18 months, Grubb estimates, they were never at the firm at the same time. “It was tough,” he says.
Dunlap spent three weeks in Kosovo and has been stationed throughout the U.S.; Grubb spent 33 months in Afghanistan. As an embedded trainer with the Afghan security forces, he learned both official languages of Afghanistan—Dari and Pashto—and put his legal skills to work. “I had to negotiate with tribal leaders [and] Afghan contractors, whether it was just for money, for war projects or for cease-fires or tribal disputes, or trying to convince people to come over to our side,” says Grubb. “I put a lot of my skills that I learned negotiating as a lawyer to good use in Afghanistan.”
But using those skills abroad can’t make up for time not spent in the homeland. “The law changes while you’re gone,” Grubb says. “And while I did my continuing legal education when I came home on leave, it’s not the same as practicing law.
“Also, there’s just an adjustment to make coming out of combat and working in an office again.” He adds: “The biggest adjustment is coming back to a country that doesn’t care about the war anymore. America’s economic problems now overshadow everything else.”
Still, when either Grubb or Dunlap returns to the firm, he knows someone is waiting who comprehends his responsibilities. “Employers for the most part really try to accommodate Guard and Reserve members, but it’s hard for them to understand why you have to do certain things,” says Grubb. “It’s nice when the other guy is in the military, too, so he understands, ‘Yeah, I know you have to do that.'”
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