Alumni - Jennifer Ngai Lavallee
February 14, 2017

Introducing the Alumni Spotlight. 

Alumni of the Advertising and Marketing practice have made great contributions to Kelley Drye and the legal community. We would like to share these contributions with you through profiles of select AdLaw alumni.

For our inaugural spotlight, we are catching up with Jennifer Ngai Lavallee, Supervising Attorney for the Legal Aid Society of the District of Columbia, D.C.’s oldest and largest general civil legal services organization.

Q: What areas does the Legal Aid Society help clients with?
Family law, pubic benefits, rental housing, and consumer law (including foreclosure prevention and debt collection defense).

Q: What are your daily duties?
Supervising a team of attorneys 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 the local courts and legislators to push for systemic reform to increase access to justice for low-income consumers.

Day to day this means meeting with clients, appearing in court, drafting and reviewing pleadings, brainstorming and strategizing about cases and legal issues with other advocates, meeting with legislators and judges to discuss 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 entails 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 Generous Associates Campaign! Take a few minutes to read Legal Aid's blog, MakingJusticeReal.org to get a better understanding of the needs of 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 for attorneys and inspire new ideas about ways to support our work. Take a pro bono case, and encourage others to do the same, cultivating a firm culture that is supportive of attorneys spending their time on pro bono matters.

Q: Kelley Drye has been involved in the Generous Associates Campaign, 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, associate-led, city-wide campaign can really be. The creativity and enthusiasm that our participating firms bring to the Generous Associates Campaign is truly amazing. The campaign raises 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 in their housing, 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 handled a variety of interesting projects and got to work with many different people, which was a great experience.

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. 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. Going for a run without being tethered to a dog leash or stroller is a rare treat. Other than that -- seeing friends, eating good food, singing in the car, and playing the violin.

Q: What was the last book you read?
Answering this question literally: The Belly Button Book, by Sandra Boynton. Books I'm actually reading for myself? Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking, by Susan Cain, and A Man Called Ove, by Fredrik Backman.

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.

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Learn more about the Legal Aid Society of the District of Columbia and how you can get involved at their website http://www.legalaiddc.org/who-we-are/.