In spring 2017, as the outgoing president of the UCI School of Law’s Student Bar Association, I addressed a group of young people during Admitted Students Weekend and attempted to capture the unique spirit of the UCI Law community and explain the immeasurable value of a UCI Law education, should they decide to attend. I talked of the incredible opportunities I had been given to advocate for clients even while a student and how those hands-on experiences had shaped my character and lawyering skills. I spoke about the privilege of representing clients in need and the profound fulfillment that comes from succeeding on behalf of individuals and causes worth fighting for.
More than five years since that speech, I am struck by the ways in which my time at UCI’s School of Law influenced my legal practice and how the values I learned as a student have been borne out. As any good lawyer worth their salt should, I have three main points to make:
Strive for excellence in all that you commit to. I came to UCI Law in 2014 with unrefined talent and raw ambition. I was smart and motivated, but I had a shortage of self-discipline and attention to detail for someone with work experience and another advanced degree. I remember feeling shocked when my first graded paper came back from my legal research and writing professor, and I hadn’t gotten an A. It was a short internal memo to a hypothetical supervisor, and I had made some silly grammatical and technical errors – ones easily solved with a little more time and focus. I could have done better, and my professor told me so.
Criticism, even the most productive kind, can be hard to accept. I am so thankful that I took my professor’s feedback and submitted myself to the process of learning to think and write like a lawyer. I succeeded in her class, she became one of my closest mentors from law school, and I learned a great deal as her student and, eventually, as one of her research fellows.
Today, my clients can thank professors like her for instilling in me this standard of excellence. Since graduating law school, I’ve had the opportunity to go to trial twice, both times ending in victories; I’ve won dispositive motions for clients; and I’ve even had the privilege of successfully representing the University of California and UCI in important internal and government investigations.
Say yes as often as you can. Looking back on nearly every meaningful experience in my legal career thus far, I can point to a moment somewhere along the line when I said yes to something that at the time could not possibly have seemed connected to something rewarding in the future. For example, I was asked to join the most recent trial team I was a member of because a few weeks prior I had agreed to work with a partner on an unrelated new business pitch. New business pitches are sort of a difficult commitment to make as an associate because they often require a lot of nonbillable hours of work.
I was asked to join the trial team as a result of participating in the new business pitch and succeeding. I led the examination of a witness, was a key strategist in drafting our opening argument and was a primary writer of our post-trial briefing. Trial is exhilarating, and it was an honor to have such a meaningful role on the team.
“Looking back on nearly every meaningful experience in my legal career thus far, I can point to a moment somewhere along the line when I said yes to something that at the time could not possibly have seemed connected to something rewarding in the future.”
There is a throughline from this experience back to a moment the first week of law school when our pro bono coordinator opened up some volunteer slots on a naturalization project for first-year students. We were encouraged to sign up if we had capacity but also gently reminded of the three years of law school we had ahead of us and the need to balance our classwork and personal lives with opportunities like this. I signed up and will never forget the surge of energy I felt walking out of the naturalization fair after helping people with their citizenship applications and documents. I am still learning the art of saying no when it really is necessary, but I’m grateful for a law school that inspired me from the very beginning to want to say yes.
Dedicate yourself to the service of others and to causes worth fighting for. Most recently, I had the privilege of saying yes to joining an all-women team of lawyers, led by former acting U.S. Attorney General Sally Yates, that conducted a yearlong independent investigation into allegations of abuse and misconduct in women’s professional soccer. It turned out to be some of the most meaningful work I’ve ever had the chance to do. The resultant report detailed systemic abuse in women’s professional and youth soccer and proposed concrete reforms to prevent misconduct, address the institutional failures that allowed it to occur, and foster accountability. I am very proud of our work, am inspired by the players who came forward to tell us their stories, and appreciate having learned so much as a member of this investigative team. Ultimately, I’m deeply grateful to have attended UCI’s School of Law, which instilled in me the importance of doing work you can believe in.
I said five years ago that UCI Law presents the model for the next generation of lawyers – that it comprises a diverse group of students and faculty who are passionate about innovating legal education and the profession itself and who make public service a priority. I am committed to being one piece of the tapestry of students, alumni, faculty and administrators making that a reality every day.
Lively, J.D. ’17, is a lawyer with Morrison Foerster in Los Angeles. She was previously an associate at King & Spalding in Los Angeles and, before that, clerked for Chief Judge Sidney R. Thomas of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.