Rachel Shalev’s clerked for a Supreme Court justice, two circuit court judges, and got a coveted spot with Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe since graduating from Yale Law School five years ago.
But what really stands out are the three cases she’s argued in the federal courts of appeals, including a recent victory in which the New Orleans-based Fifth Circuit invalidated a debtors’ prison scheme.
Shalev and Easha Anand, who this month argued her second circuit court case of the year just before giving birth, reflect Orrick’s practice of giving mid-level associates the kind of appellate experience traditionally reserved for partners. This is doubly eye-catching in an era of shrinking appellate court arguments.
It’s all part of a “long-term strategy” at Orrick for building a pipeline of experienced appellate attorneys, said Orrick partner Kelsi Corkran. Orrick follows a constellation model where several bright stars take the lead on cases, rather than serving just one, the firm said.
For instance, Orrick sent four partners to the lectern during the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2017 term, which was the most of any firm in those arguments.
Big Law firms commonly look to one of their star attorneys for Supreme Court cases, and the same ones frequently appear in lower courts of appeal.
Orrick often takes pro-bono immigration and federal criminal appeals to get associates their first circuit court argument, Corkran said.
Shalev, who clerked for Justice Stephen Breyer, cut her teeth on a prisoner’s rights case at the California-based Ninth Circuit.
By the time Corkran and her co-counsel were determining who should argue the Louisiana debtors’ prison case, Shalev already had another circuit court argument completed.
So she had the experience to make everyone comfortable with her arguing the case, Corkran said.
In winning it, Shalev convinced the Fifth Circuit that the scheme violated due process because it gives the same judges who impose the fines control over how those funds are used. The ruling is part of a nationwide effort to undo so-called debtors’ prisons that disproportionately punish the poor.
It wasn’t just Shalev’s experience that helped her land the argument. She’d taken the lead briefs, Corkran said. And she’d proven to be an integral part of the team on calls with co-counsel.
It wasn’t uncommon for Shalev to receive “early morning emails” from Corkran telling her she expected her to lead in client calls with co-counsel, Corkran recalled.
You have to make sure the associate is exposed to everyone early on, so it’s not like they are “coming out of nowhere” when you suggest they handle the argument, she added.
“You’ve got to play the long game,” Corkran said.
Associates seeking circuit court arguments also should make pro bono work a “core of their practice,” Shalev said.
Just as important is actually telling people within the firm that you want to take on appellate arguments, she added.
She found that “good mentors will seek out these kinds of opportunities” for associates if they know that’s on their radar.
“They’ll work hard to create the space for you,” Shalev said.