Lori Alvino McGill
What initially brought you to Wilkinson Walsh & Eskovitz?
I was initially drawn to the firm by Beth Wilkinson and Alex Walsh’s reputation. They were launching WW+E just as I was looking to make a change, so the timing was really fortuitous. And it was the exceptional talent, the exceptional pipeline of work, and the innovative aspects of the firm that sealed the deal for me. I have had the good fortune in my career to have worked with terrific colleagues and mentors, like my former Latham partners Maureen Mahoney and Greg Garre, who are leading lights of the Supreme Court bar. But WW+E presented a really unique opportunity, with the combination of a steady stream of trial and appellate opportunities in the most high-profile and interesting cases, the energy of a new venture, and the cultural benefits that go along with a much smaller firm. Before WW+E launched, I couldn’t have imagined that this environment existed—because it really didn’t. And I could not be happier with my decision to join this exceptional group of lawyers.
As an appellate specialist, are you often brought in as a fresh set of eyes at the trial level?
Yes, we are pitching the package deal to our clients from the outset. We make it clear to clients and prospective clients that they will have me as a resource on thorny legal issues and appellate strategy. Clients love this; they often hire another firm to do what I’m doing at the trial level and for any appeal, and so with me on board that’s one fewer law firm they have to employ. Our alternative billing arrangements allow us to be nimble in that respect, without upsetting client expectations about fees. It is a win-win for us and for the clients.
As an appellate specialist at a larger firm, I found it was rare that my partners could get me in on the ground floor, to preserve issues, to make sure the legal issues are explored at the early stages. Some of that has to do with the traditional billing structure used by most firms. There is nothing worse than taking on an appeal and then identifying issues that could have been identified and explored earlier had appellate counsel been on hand.
With a specialty in appeals, would you be considered the one “specialist” at your otherwise generalist trial firm?
Yes and no. I am an appellate specialist, but that really refers to a fairly broad set of analytic and writing skills, coupled with some very specific expertise in the mechanics of preparing and filing briefs in the appellate courts and in the U.S. Supreme Court. But I am a generalist, too. The appellate space is the one area in which you can still pull off being a generalist—in terms of substantive areas of the law. My docket covers a really diverse array of areas of law, and always has. That is one of the things that drew me to appellate work. I am constantly learning, and sometimes my best asset is having a fresh set of eyes on a problem or issue in an area of law that is new to me.
Have you always been focused on appeals? Have you always wanted to pursue this area or did you grow into it organically?
I always had a notion—going back to my days as a law student—that I wanted to do appellate work. I enjoy the process and pace of analyzing legal issues and crafting persuasive briefs. I had a series of fellowships and clerkships after law school, including a year clerking at the Supreme Court for Justice Ginsburg. When I finally landed at a law firm, I was a mid-level associate, and I had charted a path that made it possible to pursue a career as an appellate lawyer. I chose Latham & Watkins at that time, because of its excellent appellate practice, then headed by Maureen Mahoney. And it was really a combination of luck, and having the right mentors and opportunities during those years that allowed me to develop this expertise. I feel fortunate that, as it turns out, I also enjoy appellate practice immensely.
As a younger lawyer mining such a specific niche, do you see there being opportunities opening up for more lawyers of your vintage to make their mark through taking the lead on work, or is this still a challenge, especially for a woman?
Things have certainly improved for women in law since I graduated from law school. In the appellate space, one major pipeline of lead appellate lawyers is the Solicitor General’s Office—and that office has done a much better job of late hiring women and people with families. I think less has changed for women trying to come up through the ranks in private practice without that type of government experience. It is still true that clients often (understandably) demand that the most senior people, with the most argument experience, stand up and argue the appeal—especially when the case is being heard by the Supreme Court. But we’re also seeing the faces of clients change. The clients we answer to, increasingly, are younger and more broadly diverse than they were a generation ago—especially clients in high-tech and other cutting edge industries. With that comes a willingness to entrust younger talent with a high-profile appeal. My job is to work to develop a mastery of the case, and a relationship with the client, that allows me and my partners to say with confidence that I am the right person to stand up and persuade the court of appeal that we should win.