When Vanessa A. Lavely ’08 was promoted to partner at Cravath, Swaine & Moore LLP on Jan. 1, 2018, she became the first UCLA School of Law graduate to rise to that position at the powerhouse New York firm.
A litigation generalist, Lavely represents corporate clients in major cases. She began doing depositions during her first year at the firm and has tried several cases in federal and state court to date. “There’s nothing quite like the experience of standing in a courtroom before a judge or jury and persuading them of the merits of your client’s case,” she says.
Between her demanding work schedule and walks in Riverside Park with Bea, her black lab/beagle rescue, Lavely took time to reflect on her journey from UCLA Law student to Cravath partner. “UCLA Law,” she says, “provided a great foundation for my legal career.”
What about your UCLA Law experience was especially important to your success?
I took as many seminars and clinics as possible. Although the black-letter courses are important, I benefited most from smaller courses in which I could actually test my skills — whether through a presentation or mock deposition. Also, compared to other top-ranked law schools, UCLA Law is relatively young, and it uses that youth to its advantage. UCLA Law is always improving and growing; the school is willing to try new approaches to teaching law, even if it is not how things are typically done.
Do the lessons of any professors still resonate in your work and life today?
Absolutely. I had the good fortune of taking Con Law with Professor Karst. One of the most important lessons I learned from his course was an unspoken one that he modeled every day: You can be a great lawyer and still be a good person. The best lawyers pick smart fights and don’t break the rules. Rather, they figure out how to use the rules to their advantage. They treat others with respect — that includes junior associates, assistants, courtroom deputies and custodial staff. Professor Winkler was another favorite. He taught me a lot about great legal writing — in particular, how to explain complex ideas in a clear, understandable way.
Have you maintained connections with people in the UCLA Law community?
My classmates have enriched my life personally and professionally. I’m going to one classmate’s wedding in July, and I’m planning a trip to Florida to visit another. I also have met alums through UCLA Law Women LEAD, a great initiative that I hope to see grow. Whenever possible, I attend UCLA Law events in NYC. I appreciate that Dean Mnookin not only encourages UCLA Law students to consider New York but also frequently visits to tell people here about the school.
UCLA Law also figured into your clerkship, right?
Yes, after graduating, I clerked for Judge Kim Wardlaw, another UCLA alum, in the Ninth Circuit. Getting to see how things work behind the curtain is invaluable for any litigator. Clerks have to manage a large number of cases and present information to the judge in an organized way. Clerking is also legal-writing boot camp. Without question, though, the best part of my clerkship is the relationship I developed with Judge Wardlaw, who has been a mentor throughout my career.
What advice would you give to UCLA Law graduates looking to practice in New York?
Come visit! And talk to alums who work in New York, ideally at the firm you are considering. Being on the East Coast makes it harder to see many classmates and attend school events. But NYC is an amazing place to call home. I hope we can continue to grow the number of UCLA Law alums here.
What do you miss about Los Angeles or UCLA Law?
It is currently 5 degrees here … does that answer your question?!