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They’ve Got Next: The 40 Under 40 - Mel Bostwick of Orrick

July 14, 2021, 8:46 AM

Please describe two of your most substantial, recent wins in practice.
My most significant win is my en banc Federal Circuit victory in Procopio v. Wilkie, where I convinced the court to reverse its precedent and hold that Blue Water Navy veterans who served in Vietnam’s territorial seas are presumptively entitled to disability benefits for the effects of Agent Orange exposure. Mr. Procopio passed away recently, two years after finally receiving benefits, but he left behind 90,000 fellow veterans grateful for his persistence.

Another significant win came last year, when I secured a writ of mandamus for one of the world’s biggest tech companies. The Federal Circuit took the unusual steps of holding oral argument and issuing a precedential ruling on mandamus, providing important clarity on the law governing venue transfer in patent cases.

What is the most important lesson you learned as a first-year attorney and how does it inform your practice today?
In my first year as an associate, I learned how essential it is to think about each problem and each interaction from the client’s perspective. You can be a very smart lawyer and make great legal arguments, but that doesn’t matter if those arguments don’t actually advance your client’s broader interests. This mindset informs basically every moment of my day as a practicing lawyer. It starts with listening to your clients, asking questions, and doing the research to understand their needs—whether that’s the business interests of a multinational tech company or the individual interests of a disabled veteran. And it culminates in setting your own ego aside and focusing relentlessly on pursuing those interests in your briefing and arguments. But it involves so many smaller actions in between—respecting their time, and writing emails that clearly and concisely communicate what they need to know to make a decision; working hard to hash out any disagreements with co-counsel and present your best collective advice to your mutual client; anticipating how other legal developments will affect them and keeping them apprised. In each interaction, I try to show my clients that I am here to make their lives easier.

How do you define success in your practice?
The easiest (and truthful) answer is that success means achieving the client’s goals, whether that’s winning an appeal or positioning for a favorable settlement or incrementally advancing the law. But I’m not satisfied with just that. I consider a project a success if I’ve been able to cultivate a true team atmosphere where everyone participating has their contributions valued and recognized. It’s important to me to make sure that each person feels ownership in our successes.

What are you most proud of as a lawyer?
I’m most proud of the pro bono work I have been able to do on behalf of our nation’s veterans. Like many other Federal Circuit law clerks, I witnessed at the beginning of my legal career how disadvantaged these veterans are in a legal system that is meant to benefit them, and what a difference a lawyer can make. I came out of my clerkship with a sincere desire to be part of the solution. I am so grateful to have been able to build a significant pro bono practice representing both individual veterans and groups aligned with pro-veteran interests to advocate for a legal regime that properly recognizes the debt we as a nation owe to these men and women and affords them the assistance they need to pursue their claims. The single proudest moment of my legal career was stepping up to the podium to argue the Procopio en banc case, knowing that the benches behind me were filled with Blue Water Navy sailors who were there both relying on me and cheering me on as their advocate. Their sacrifices and their support meant everything.

Who is your greatest mentor in the law and what have they taught you?
I had the privilege of starting my legal career by clerking for two incredible mentors, Judge Timothy Dyk of the Federal Circuit and Judge Thomas Griffith of the D.C. Circuit. In their own unique ways, each taught me the value of working hard to get to the right result and of approaching each case with care and thoughtfulness. And both were phenomenal role models, demonstrating through their actions how to be a respectful colleague to one’s peers and a generous mentor to those following on the path behind you.

Just for fun, tell us your two favorite songs on your summer music playlist.
Is it dodging the question to just say I will happily listen to whatever’s playing on Radio Margaritaville? Because that’s the truth.

To contact the reporter on this story: Lisa Helem at