They’ve Got Next: The 40 Under 40 - Daniela Paez of Ulmer & Berne

July 14, 2021, 8:46 AM

Please describe two of your most substantial, recent wins in practice.
I was the lead associate on a team representing a school district in successfully challenging an Ohio statute that allowed residents of certain communities to more easily change their assigned school district, eliminating preexisting statutory safeguards to guard against racial and socioeconomic segregation. I was the primary drafter of key filings, including winning summary judgement briefs, and I argued discovery motions and took and defended key depositions. I also helped represent a self-directed IRA custodian against a class action complaint involving a purported Ponzi scheme and claims against the custodian for aiding and participating in the sale of unregistered securities. When the plaintiffs appealed after we obtained dismissal with prejudice of all claims against our client, I was the primary drafter of successful appellate briefs in the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals and the Supreme Court of Ohio.

What is the most important lesson you learned as a first-year attorney and how does it inform your practice today?
Understanding why I’m being asked to analyze a legal issue is at least as important as understanding what I’m being asked to analyze. If I only know what they’re asking me to research, then I’m going to come back with a “sorry, it’s not going to work” and make them go back to the drawing board. If I understand why they wanted to make the argument or, better yet, the client’s goals, I’m in a position to recommend alternative arguments to get us there. This continues to inform my practice today in that I understand my job as working to achieve the best result for my client as opposed to the “best result” in a vacuum. To that end, I make it a point to understand my clients’ goals and circumstances. I may see a slam dunk breach of contract claim or a defense that will be hard to defeat at summary judgment, but if my client wants to avoid litigation, my focus needs to be on how we can get there. I’m most useful when I work to help each client succeed as they want/need to, not when I’m simply looking to achieve the best possible litigation outcome.

How do you define success in your practice?
Early on in my practice, the Chair of our Litigation Department introduced me to a book called “The Essential Little Book of Great Lawyering” by James A. Durham. On p. 27 it says: “There should be a note on every lawyer’s desk that says ‘What have I done today to make the people I am dealing with more successful and more comfortable?’ Great lawyers appreciate the incredible level of communication needed to answer this question.” I’ve had that note on my bulletin board ever since and, in my view, I’ve had a successful day if I leave the office knowing that at least most of what I did was intended to make the people around me more successful and more comfortable.

What are you most proud of as a lawyer?
That I’ve been fortunate enough to get to pay it forward. I don’t know that I could have survived my first week, much less my first years, as a lawyer without the many, many mentors who were constantly there to teach me how to effectively communicate with senior attorneys, write better, project confidence, think strategically and creatively, manage my workload, and do everything I can to help a client succeed. And, I’m sure I wouldn’t have the career I have without the many senior attorneys (and clients) who went out of their way to “sponsor” and champion me. Over the years, I’ve had the opportunity to pay it forward and to see it yield results in the careers of more junior attorneys. I’m incredibly proud of and humbled by that.

Who is your greatest mentor in the law and what have they taught you?
I’m lucky enough to have too many “greatest mentors” to pick just one. Matt Wholey taught me how to write a great brief and effectively convey my client’s position to the court; Fran Goins taught me how to litigate to win and stand my ground, and to appreciate the value of what each person brings to the table; Mike Ungar taught me that being a great lawyer means truly owning my clients’ problems and doing everything I can to help them succeed; Paul Harris taught me you can be a great litigator and lead a team where every person feels heard and valued; Jim Goldsmith taught me that being a good person and helping people are more important than winning cases; and Amanda Martinsek taught me how to think and act strategically, how to respond instead of reacting, and how what looks like an obstacle is often an opportunity.

Just for fun, tell us your two favorite songs on your summer music playlist.
“You Need to Calm Down” – Taylor Swift
“Super Bass” – Nicki Minaj

Both make me smile and think “great summer day” whenever they come on.

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