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They’ve Got Next: The 40 Under 40 - Renee Zaytsev of Thompson Hine

July 28, 2022, 9:01 AM

Please describe two of your most substantial, recent wins in practice.
I recently won dismissals of multiple shareholder suits filed against Vaxart Inc. and its directors and officers. The suits alleged that Vaxart’s board breached its fiduciary duty by granting “spring-loaded” options and amending warrants with an institutional investor while allegedly in possession of material nonpublic information. I argued the motions and, working hand-in-hand with my securities litigation co-chair Riccardo DeBari, we persuaded the Delaware Court of Chancery and the California Superior Court that the shareholder-plaintiffs had not adequately pleaded demand futility and that the claims lacked merit.

I also recently litigated claims brought by Carl Icahn’s firm, Icahn Partners, in connection with a proxy contest against Southwest Gas. The litigation helped Icahn secure a settlement with the company in which Icahn gained board seats and succeeded in replacing Southwest’s CEO.

What is the most important lesson you learned as a first-year attorney and how does it inform your practice today?
Ignorance is bliss, but knowledge is power. As a first-year associate, I was blissfully unaware of law firm economics and power dynamics. I threw myself into my cases, believing that smarts and hard work were all it took to succeed. This approach served me well as a junior lawyer: I was a standout associate and took pride in the quality of my work and the praise I received for it. But as I rose through the ranks and looked to the future, I could not imagine continuing on a path that left me dependent on the success of others for the rest of my career. I wanted to take the reins of my future by honing my expertise in Delaware corporate litigation, building a brand, and developing my own clients. Looking back to my first year as an attorney, the lesson learned is that naïve contentment is not a substitute for deliberate career choices. In my practice today, I don’t let myself get complacent and instead strive to create opportunities for success—for myself and for my colleagues.

How do you define success in your practice?
As a litigator, it would be easy to measure success by wins or losses. But win or lose, success is when I do the best job I can do, when my clients feel confident in their representation, and when the people on my team feel supported and fulfilled. Success for me also means accomplishing these goals without sacrificing my values. I earn my clients’ trust by being forthright, not by being a yes woman. I earn the respect of the judges I appear before by being prepared and even keeled, not by being bombastic or indignant. I do my best to create opportunities for younger lawyers, rather than hoard work and experiences. And I try foster good relationships with my opposing counsel, rather than let our clients’ disputes get personal.

What are you most proud of as a lawyer?
I am very proud of the way that I have overcome adversity in the workplace and of my efforts to pay forward the lessons I have learned forward through active mentorship of younger attorneys. As a very junior lawyer, I was on the receiving end of inappropriate behavior from a male senior partner. Though I knew it would put my job at risk, I reported the issue and took back my dignity by confronting the senior partner directly. Later in my career, I spoke up when I witnessed certain race- and gender-related injustices inflicted upon others, even though these actions were not without consequences. These experiences have defined the kind of partner that I want to be and inspired me to want to help others—especially women and minorities—who may be facing similar issues. I have spoken about my experiences within the Women’s Excellence Network, and I strive to help younger lawyers navigate their own obstacles through my work as a mentor both within my firm and externally through the Legal Mentor Network.

Who is your greatest mentor in the law and what have they taught you?
After the birth of my daughter in 2017, I returned to work with a newfound drive. No longer content with just doing a job, I wanted to build a practice and take control of my career. But with this newfound drive also came new roadblocks from a firm that wasn’t equipped to support my ambitions. I overcame these challenges with the support of Ellen Holloman, then a partner at my former firm and now a partner in Cadwalader’s Global Litigation Group. Ellen led by example. As a Black woman, she dealt with adversity head-on, confronting injustice with grace and dignity and without ever doubting her own self-worth. Ellen gave me the confidence to lean into my ambition, overcome the obstacles put in my path, and ultimately embrace a new opportunity with a firm that aligns with my values and supports my vision.

Just for fun, tell us your two favorite songs on your summer music playlist.
Stevie Wonder, “Don’t You Worry ‘Bout a Thing"—I love Stevie Wonder, and thanks to “Sing” now so does my 5-year-old.

Beyoncé, “Love on Top"—It’s such a happy song, and it’s impossible not to move with the beat.

Renee Zaytsev has tried multiple cases to verdict in federal and state courts. She founded her firm’s securities and shareholder litigation group and currently serves as co-chair of the group. As the daughter of Ukrainian immigrants, Renee is especially proud to be involved in humanitarian relief efforts for Ukrainian refugees.

To contact the reporters on this story: Lisa Helem at lhelem@bloombergindustry.com; Kibkabe Araya in Washington at karaya@bloombergindustry.com