“Sometimes, it takes leaving to realize how much you love it.”
That’s how attorney David Choi explains his departure and subsequent return to V&E. Choi, who began his legal career in V&E’s New York office in 2012, left the firm in 2016 to take an opportunity with a nonprofit organization. He learned a great deal, but ultimately decided that his heart lay in the work he was doing at V&E … and at V&E itself. “I missed corporate law and I loved the people that I worked with and the relationships we had,” he said.
Choi, an associate in M&A and Capital Markets, isn’t alone. He’s one of many “boomerangs” at V&E: attorneys who left the firm to pursue other opportunities but later returned. In 2018 alone, V&E saw 11 attorneys return to the fold. Firm chairman Mark Kelly says that when you hire bright, ambitious people, it’s inevitable that some will seek to expand their horizons outside the firm. But the fact that former V&E attorneys make their way back to the firm is a testament to V&E’s unique culture, one in which lawyers and staff truly care about each other and enjoy working together on exciting, challenging matters. “The people who rejoin our ranks become the firm’s most enthusiastic advocates,” he said. “They know how special the firm really is.”
Stephanie Noble, now an associate in Commercial and Business Litigation, said that her experiences working with law clerks from other firms validated her feelings about V&E. Noble joined V&E’s Houston office in 2013, but left in 2017 to do a clerkship for a U.S. district court judge in California. Noble took the clerkship to get an insider’s view on the inner workings of a court, but she quickly learned that her fellow clerks had additional motives.
“The people who rejoin our ranks become the firm’s most enthusiastic advocates,” he said. “They know how special the firm really is.”
“For a lot of people, a clerkship is an exit option from their firms,” she explained. “They go to a clerkship, and then they decide that they’re going to go somewhere else after that.” Noble said other clerks told her that they weren’t getting the types of experiences they wanted at their original firms, or they didn’t see paths for advancement. “I realized I didn’t have any of those complaints. The partners I was working with before I left were interested in my advancement as a litigator. I was getting good experiences, taking depositions and arguing in court,” Noble said.
“The type of work that I was getting was what I wanted to be getting at that point in my career,” she said. “It just reaffirmed for me, ‘Okay, yeah, I definitely want to go back.'”
For V&E, welcoming back talented lawyers is a no-brainer, because their experiences outside the firm often bolster their skill sets. Doug Smith left his post as a V&E associate in M&A and Capital Markets to take an in-house counsel position at a telecommunications firm. He said that in his year at the company, he honed his negotiation skills and learned more about technology. “I was constantly negotiating out of the box,” he said. “I wasn’t an expert on how 5G wireless technology works, but I got on the phone and talked with the other side’s lawyer, engineer and business person to figure out how we were going to structure the solution we were going to offer them.”
Zach Rider, a finance associate at V&E, also worked at a telecommunications firm before “boomeranging” back to V&E. He found the experience tremendously helpful in informing his approach to client service. “I got to see a completely different side of the legal practice, specifically a corporate transactional practice,” he said. “It gave me a great sense of perspective on what our clients see every day and what their real concerns are working for a company as in-house counsel.”
Through her clerkship, Stephanie Noble gained her own new perspective: on how different judges approach cases. “The court that I was clerking in, the Central District of California, is a very large district and there are a lot of judges who sit on that court,” she said. “I got to know the other clerks and their judges. So, not only did I learn about my judge and how he makes decisions, but I got insights into other judges and how they go about handling their caseloads.”
For David Choi, his time at a nonprofit gave him a depth of knowledge about government regulations. The nonprofit group specialized in government reform. “They don’t focus on just one area of government regulation, so I was doing research on everything from nursing home regulations to foster care to special education to infrastructure,” he said. “I learned just a tremendous amount.”
The intellectual benefits notwithstanding, a little over two years into his work with the nonprofit, he realized he missed V&E and was ready to come back. His time away, he said, “invigorated me to really recommit myself to the job and practice.”
Returning to the practice was made easier, Choi said, by the efforts of V&E staff. On his first day back, his old office was ready for him, with a desk arranged at just the right height without Choi even asking for it. (Desk height is a detail important to Choi, who has a physical disability and uses a wheelchair.)
“It’s the little things that are just a testament of how great the people are at Vinson & Elkins,” he said. “They really support one another and really try to be like a family.”
Noble also found herself receiving a warm welcome upon her return. She happened to be about six months pregnant at the time. Her colleagues, she said, were as supportive as ever. And though parental leave was right around the corner, Noble threw herself into her work.”I was really excited to get back and start fighting the good fight for our clients again,” she said, “and working with the people who made me want to join V&E in the first place.”