August 12, 2016 Articles

Q&A with Tucker Ellis Attorney Amanda Villalobos

Recently promoted to counsel, the University of San Diego Law School grad shares her insights as an attorney in a private law firm.

By Robert K. Dixon

Amanda Villalobos is an attorney with Tucker Ellis LLP, which is a full-service, nationwide law firm. At Tucker Ellis, Villalobos is a civil litigator who primarily represents pharmaceutical and medical device companies in product liability cases. She also represents a variety corporate entities in consumer class actions. She was elevated to the position of counsel at her firm in January 2016.

Recently, Villalobos shared her perspective on the following questions:

How did you decide to become an attorney?
As I was growing up, my dad discouraged me from attending law school, so I never really thought about becoming an attorney until I was a junior in college. During my junior year, a close family friend was falsely accused of a crime. He retained a defense attorney, and ultimately I had to testify at the trial. It was rather a traumatic ordeal for my entire family. But at the end of the day, he was acquitted, and he and my family were so grateful to this attorney. I thought it was remarkable that an attorney, who didn’t know my family friend or anyone in my family, nevertheless came in, advocated on my friend’s behalf, and saved the day. Since this attorney had such a powerful impact on everyone involved in the case, I thought the legal profession must be a worthwhile endeavor because it gives you so much power to help people. So against my dad’s fatherly advice, I enrolled at University of San Diego Law School and never looked back.

What accomplishments as an attorney are you most proud of?
I’ve done a lot legal work and work in the community that I’m proud of, but I’m probably most proud of the work I did on a pro bono asylum case. I represented an individual from Somalia who was seeking asylum in the United States because he was a member of a persecuted group. During the case, I was able to secure his asylum so that he could stay in the United States. Being his advocate was a very personally rewarding experience.

What about being an attorney do you like the most?
My favorite part about being an attorney is being in the courtroom because that’s when an attorney’s advocacy skills really shine—or are found lacking. Since being in court requires you to answer the judge’s questions and think on your feet, your analysis and argument skills are really tested. When you’re writing a brief, you have forever to think about your arguments, how to articulate them, how to draft them precisely, but when you’re in the courtroom you’re pressed for time, so you’re often forced to come up with cogent arguments on the spot. It definitely separates the real litigators from the fake ones.

What about being an attorney do you like the least?
One element of the practice of law that I particularly dislike is that the wheels of justice move too slowly to resolve disputes, especially now due to the lack of funding for the state courts. So if you encounter a legitimate discovery dispute or some other problem that you want to resolve for your client, the resolution will likely be delayed because there are too many cases and not enough judges and judicial staff to process the volume.

What was the biggest challenge associated with the change from being an associate to becoming a counsel?
The biggest challenge is developing my management style. I’ve had a lot of managers over the years. Some were good and some were not so good, so I’m currently developing a style that I hope will incorporate the good traits and eliminate the bad ones. Another challenge is finding time to mentor as well as to figure out the best way to mentor junior attorneys.

What do you believe are the biggest obstacles for law firms in terms of delivering on the promise to build a diverse and inclusive work environment?
The biggest obstacle is retention of diverse attorneys. While firms’ diversity numbers for new hires seem to be improving, many of these attorneys do not stay long term for one reason or another. There’s so many factors that contribute to the lack of retention. But for firms to improve their retention numbers, they probably need to assess why diverse attorneys are leaving and determine if there are areas in which they can intercede to reverse this trend.

What is the most important advice that you have for a first-year attorney?
Work hard, and if you think you’re working hard, work harder. As a first year, you probably don’t [have much] to bring to the table. But if you show that you’re diligent and you’re willing to put in the time on even the most mundane assignments, then the people you work with will recognize these traits and will want to give you work.

What are three things you wish you knew as a junior associate that you know now?
I wish I knew that it was my responsibility to guide my own career from the outset. Even as a junior associate, you’re the one in charge of your career and you really have to take ownership of it. So, if you’re practicing in an area of law you don’t like or working in a group that you do not particularly care for, it’s OK to go to your practice group chair or superior and talk with him or her about ways in which you can expand into other areas of law or other practice groups.

I also wish I knew it was OK for me to share my opinions, especially if I thought something was wrong or if there was a better approach. As I’ve gotten more senior, I’ve realized that the more junior attorneys are the ones doing the research or they’re the ones reviewing numerous documents, and for that reason, junior attorneys have valuable insights as they lived with the research or analyzed more of the facts than the senior attorney who is handling this case in addition to 10 more. So even if you’re the junior attorney on file, remember that you might be in the best position to give insights about certain facts or advice about a specific course of action.

I also wish I knew not to worry so much. If something doesn’t go exactly according to plan, don’t stress out. The law is all about being flexible, so if a mistake is made or something unforeseen happens, remember the law is fluid and there a solution to whatever the problem is, because there’s almost always a solution.

What are the biggest challenges facing law firms in the next 10 years?
The biggest challenge is being competitive in the market with regard to legal fees and billing rates as well as being a profitable firm. There’s so much downward pressure on the fees, as outside firms are being retained to analyze legal bills. And this type of oversight is probably going to be more and more common. So firms will have to find the right balance between economically litigating the case and ensuring all of the necessary work is done to defend the case.

Keywords: litigation, diversity, inclusion, Tucker Ellis, career advice, tips for young lawyers

Copyright © 2016, American Bar Association. All rights reserved. This information or any portion thereof may not be copied or disseminated in any form or by any means or downloaded or stored in an electronic database or retrieval system without the express written consent of the American Bar Association. The views expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the positions or policies of the American Bar Association, the Section of Litigation, this committee, or the employer(s) of the author(s).