Alumni of the Advertising and Marketing practice have made great contributions to Kelley Drye and the legal community, and we are proud to applaud those accomplishments. Back in 2017, we caught up with Jennifer Ngai Lavallee, Supervising Attorney of the Consumer Law Unit at the Legal Aid Society of the District of Columbia, D.C.’s oldest and largest general civil legal services organization. As we start another summer campaign to support Legal Aid’s dogged advocacy on behalf of DC’s low-income communities, we checked in with her again:
Q: What areas does the Legal Aid Society help clients with?
Family law, public benefits, rental housing, and consumer law (including foreclosure prevention and debt collection defense) – and appellate advocacy in all of these areas.
Q: What are your daily duties?
Supervising a team of attorneys and staff advocating to protect the limited assets of low-income D.C. consumers through foreclosure prevention and debt collection defense; handling individual case work both in and out of litigation; working with other providers, our local courts, and the D.C. Council to push for systemic reforms to protect low-income consumers and increase access to justice for people living in poverty.
Day to day this means meeting with clients, participating in court proceedings, drafting and reviewing pleadings, brainstorming and strategizing about legal issues with other advocates, working with other stakeholders and the court on operational and access-to-justice initiatives, meeting with legislators to discuss substantive reform ideas, crunching numbers to assess clients' financial situations, and spending endless amounts of time on the phone with banks.
Q: What are some of the biggest differences between your day-to-day work as a Supervising Attorney at Legal Aid and your work at Kelley Drye?
The substantive work is obviously very different, but in terms of day-to-day differences, the main one is probably that my work now largely involves matters that are in litigation in D.C. Superior Court and that affect the lives of individual clients in a very tangible way. At Kelley Drye the bulk of my work was done in connection with providing counseling to corporate clients on regulatory matters, but now my focus is on representing and advising individual clients in their court cases and drawing from those experiences to also push for broader, systemic reforms that promote access to justice for our client community.
Q: How can people assist Legal Aid?
Get involved in the 2020 Making Justice Real Campaign (formerly the Generous Associates Campaign)! Take a few minutes to read Legal Aid's blog, MakingJusticeReal.org to get a better understanding of the needs within our client community and what Legal Aid attorneys are doing to try to address them. Try to break past thinking about legal aid work generically, and instead read about the specific legal issues and cases Legal Aid takes on for its clients - it can be very energizing and inspire new ideas about ways to support our work. Take a pro bono case and encourage others to do the same, to cultivate and nurture a firm culture that is supportive of attorneys spending their time on pro bono matters.
Q: Kelley Drye has been involved in the Making Justice Real, which is a fundraising drive run by associates at D.C. law firms each summer. What have you learned working on the other side of the Generous Associates Campaign?
I've learned how powerful a well-coordinated, high-participation, city-wide campaign can really be. The creativity and enthusiasm that staff and attorneys from our participating firms bring to the Making Justice Real Campaign is truly amazing. The campaign has historically raised about a quarter of Legal Aid's total operating budget, so firms should take a lot of pride in the role they play to help keep low-income District residents safe and secure in their homes, getting the public benefits they need to survive, protected from their abusers, and able to access a range of other high-quality legal services.
Q: What made you make a career change?
I went to law school wanting to develop skills that I could use to make a positive difference in people's lives. I made a career change to try to align my work and my energy (so much of which is spent at work!) with what had fueled me to become a lawyer in the first place.
Q: How did Kelley Drye help you to hone your legal skills?
Kelley Drye helped me develop and improve my client communication skills, legal research skills, and overall writing style. I had the opportunity to see models of great management and leadership within the firm. I handled a variety of interesting projects and got to work with many different people, which was valuable for my overall experience as a developing lawyer.
Q: What are your fondest memories of your years at Kelley Drye?
Forming bonds with wonderful, smart, and funny colleagues through shared work experiences, neighboring office spaces, waterfront happy hours, and walks to Baked & Wired.
Q: What do you miss, if anything, about Kelley Drye?
I miss the great friends and colleagues I met there and all the good humor that brought people together – though I thankfully still get to see them from time to time, often through Legal Aid-related events! I also miss the beautiful waterfront views.
Q: What do you do for fun/outside of the office?
I love to spend time outside and explore new places with my family. My kids have a great sense of adventure and help to keep me present - something that I’ve found to be especially challenging and necessary right now. Other than that – connecting with friends, eating good food, home dance parties, singing in the car, playing the violin, and trying to teach myself how to play the cello (hope springs eternal).
Q: What was the last book you read?
Answering this question literally: Zoey and Sassafrass: Merhorses and Bubbles, by Asia Citro. Books I'm actually reading for myself? The Goldfinch, by Donna Tartt, and So You Want to Talk About Race, by Ijeoma Oluo.
Q: What advice would you give for folks who want to follow in your footsteps?
Take a few moments whenever you can to reflect on the way you spend your time and energy, the kinds of things that cause you the most stress, and the things that bring you the most joy and pride. It might give you the courage to make a change - or in other cases, help you to appreciate what you already have.
July 8, 2020 | 12:00 - 1:00 PM Eastern
Cleaning Up From 2020: Guidance for Disinfectant, Germ and Virus Killing Claims
In addition to the webinars mentioned above, Kelley Drye is making the following COVID-19 resources available:
KELLEY DRYE'S COVID-19 RESPONSE
Kelley Drye’s COVID-19 Response Resource Center is a dedicated source that provides guidance and addresses questions about legal and business concerns arising from the Coronavirus outbreak. Our priority is to closely monitor and track developments to help you stay informed, so that you can respond to the shifting landscape. To receive Kelley Drye’s updates on COVID-19 legal issues, sign up here.
COVID-19 DAILY WASHINGTON UPDATE
The Washington Update is a daily synopsis of federal government actions related to the COVID-19 pandemic. The synopsis covers actions coming from Congress, the White House and various federal agencies, including the CDC, the Departments of Labor, Health and Human Services, Homeland Security and Treasury/IRS, the Food and Drug Administration and the Federal Trade Commission, among others. You can sign up to receive the daily Washington Update by subscribing to our COVID-19 interest area here. Archived editions of the Washington Update can be found here.
As the COVID-19 pandemic rapidly unfolds,the Labor Days blog provides commentary on the latest legal issues affecting employers, helping them manage their workforce and reduce risk. The Labor and Employment Practice Group is tracking the latest COVID-19 labor legislation, and analyzing in real time how it will affect you and your business operations.Click on the “COVID-19” blog category for previous updates. If you have any urgent questions, please contact your usual Kelley Drye attorney or any member of the Labor and Employment Practice.
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