Desde la Perspectiva . . . Alejandro L. Sarria

How the son of Cuban exiles found a voice in the business of truth-seeking

Alejandro L. Sarria, Associate, McKenna Long & Aldridge

My family fled to the United States in the 1960s shortly after the revolution in Cuba. Being political exiles, my parents and grandparents emphasized the importance of standing up for my beliefs and making sure that I had a voice, particularly in the democratic process. Without that, there was always a risk that someone else could determine how my life would turn out. The practice of government contracts is where I found my voice.

Jesuit priests and educators who had been exiled from Cuba founded my high school in Miami. Those exceptional men and women instilled in me a passion for making sure that the truth surfaces in all situations. More importantly, they taught me the skills I needed to do so. During my junior year of high school, one of my teachers encouraged me to join the school newspaper. That simple gesture had a profound impact on me and has influenced every educational and career choice I have made since. I majored in journalism in college. Along the way, I spent a great deal of time gathering facts and talking to people with incredibly diverse backgrounds. Those experiences taught me how to assess situations for what they really are. About halfway through college at the University of Florida, I started to think about how I could translate those lessons into a legal career.

After graduating from The George Washington University Law School in 2008, I joined McKenna Long & Aldridge because of their stellar reputation in the field of government contracts—a fascinating area of the law for many reasons. Last year, I was fortunate to be one of the lead attorneys in a trial that involved a contract dispute between one of our clients and the US Army.

Under the contract, our client provided the military with a wide range of logistical services during the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, but that doesn’t even begin to describe the extent and complexity of the support this company provided our soldiers. It provided everything needed to feed the troops, waste disposal, electricity, maintenance, and clean water at military bases that were scattered throughout the battlefield—basically, anything you would need to build and run a small city in the middle of the desert and in the middle of a war.

To an outside observer, the case may have appeared to be just another dispute over money. But when we dug into the facts of the case and eventually took it to trial, it became clear that our client had done tremendous work for the military under unthinkable wartime conditions. Our trial team took that to heart, and we did our best to make sure that the court understood that point of view. I am very proud to have represented that company and to help tell the real story of what happened during the war in Iraq. It was a career-changing case. It taught me to never forget the human aspects of what we do. I try to use that lesson in every case I work on, and I’m hopeful it will make me a better advocate in the long run.

In addition to my government contracts practice, I am also the outside general counsel for the Congressional Hispanic Leadership Institute, or CHLI, a nonprofit that helps promote the interests of Hispanic Americans in both business and government. The organization does a lot of wonderful work in the Hispanic community, but my favorite is the internship program it sponsors for promising college students each year. The program brings the students to Washington, DC and arranges internships for them in congressional offices and in various private companies, including some Fortune 500 companies.

It’s really a remarkable experience for these kids because it forces them to think big about their futures. As a person who has been very lucky to have great mentors over the years, I know the impact that kind of a message can have on a young person’s life. I feel incredibly honored and privileged to be working with an organization that truly lives its mission.