Some might find it daunting to practice in the high-stakes world of antitrust class action litigation, where defendants face complex, long-running, bet-the-company cases. Not Lindsey Vaala.
“I love it, it’s never boring,” said Vaala, a counsel in V&E’s Antitrust practice. “I’m interested in the details, even if they seem mundane. I’m curious and I think that has been a huge benefit for my career.”
In fact, Vaala’s curiosity, coupled with her diligence, relationship-building skills, and involvement in a number of large antitrust class action cases, have helped make her a notable up and comer in the antitrust litigation bar.
Practicing for just ten years, Vaala is a key member of V&E’s global antitrust litigation practice in Washington D.C. where she focuses on defending clients in multijurisdictional cartel and price-fixing civil and class action litigation related to federal criminal investigations.
“I’ve had terrific clients with complicated problems. I’m excited to take what I’ve learned working on cartel cases and become an even more well-rounded antitrust lawyer.”
Vaala often serves as the day-to-day point of contact with the multiple parties involved in sprawling antitrust class action matters. She communicates with clients, lawyers representing co-defendants, and opposing counsel, all the while keeping her finger on the pulse of the case.
“I keep the trains running,” Vaala said.
Among her high-profile matters, Vaala is a senior member of the V&E team defending Japanese manufacturer Hitachi Automotive Systems Americas, Inc. in a massive, six-year-long, antitrust class action litigation emanating from a federal criminal investigation of the auto parts industry. Thanks to V&E’s efforts, Hitachi has so far settled for a fraction of the more than $1 billion in liability that it was facing.
In addition, Vaala led V&E’s successful attempt to join a select panel of law firms approved by a major tech company. She subsequently conducted an internal investigation looking into certain sales practices by the company’s Asia-based unit.
Now Vaala is helping V&E diversify its antitrust litigation practice. She’s representing a group of companies that recently filed a lawsuit alleging that four of the largest railroads in the U.S. have conspired to impose fuel surcharges. The work is a departure for the firm which traditionally defends companies in antitrust matters.
“We’re excited about entering this arena,” Vaala said. “We’re well positioned to do it really well because we’ve been on the other side of the aisle in so many huge cases.”
Gaining recognition outside of the firm
Peers have taken note of Vaala’s work. Last year she was named co-chair of the American Bar Association’s flagship Cartel and Criminal Practice Committee, a rare appointment for a lawyer so early in her career.
Vaala was recently invited by the Department of Justice to speak about the Antitrust Criminal Penalty Enhancement & Reform Act, along with a venerable panel of antitrust experts including Judge Douglas Ginsburg of the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia and Makan Delrahim, the Assistant Attorney General in charge of DOJ’s Antitrust Division.
“I looked to my left and looked to my right and noticed I was the youngest on the panel and the only woman,” Vaala said. “It was one of those, ‘Is this really happening?’ moments.”
A would-be doctor chooses law instead
Vaala has come a long way from her childhood days growing up in Rochester, N.Y. where becoming a lawyer was the last thing on her mind. Instead, she envisioned a career in pediatrics, and she took a heavy load of chemistry classes while studying at Davidson College.
But a chance job opportunity would set Vaala on an entirely different course. After graduating from Davidson and spending a year earning a master’s degree in Hispanic Language and Culture at New York University’s campus in Madrid, she decided medicine wasn’t the right fit for her. She moved to D.C. and took a job as a paralegal at a prominent law firm where she worked on interesting cases and was handed a fair amount of responsibility.
“I was at the table where major decisions were being discussed because I was the keeper of the facts,” Vaala recalled. “I thought ‘if this is what it’s like to be a lawyer, count me in.’”
After graduating from William & Mary Law School, Vaala clerked for Judge Theresa Carroll Buchanan of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, and then headed for V&E where she worked on white collar and fraud investigation matters.
Moving from white collar work to antitrust litigation
But her career path would shift once again when renowned antitrust lawyer Craig Seebald joined V&E’s D.C. office as a partner, helping catapult the firm’s burgeoning antitrust investigations practice. Seebald arrived at V&E with a busy caseload of DOJ criminal antitrust work.
“I jumped over to help him and it turned out to be a terrific fit,” Vaala said.
One of Vaala’s strengths is her ability to forge relationships with a broad cast of characters, whether it’s lawyers for co-defendants or adversaries.
“Having really good relationships with opposing counsel who trust your integrity is important when you’re trying to reach a compromise on a discovery dispute, or you’re trying to negotiate a settlement,” Vaala said. “You can take a tough or even aggressive legal position, but the tone doesn’t have to be aggressive.”
Vaala put her relationship skills to good use in the Hitachi case. She made a significant effort to connect with the Hitachi employees who were in charge of selling the auto parts at the heart of the litigation. Vaala took the time to learn about their business and to get to know them personally. Having those kinds of connections made it that much easier to access key documents and information relevant to the defense.
A passion for pro bono, mentoring – and art
While Vaala is firmly entrenched in her work, she makes time for a wide array of outside interests. Within V&E, she mentors junior lawyers, takes on pro bono cases, and was a co-founder of the D.C. office’s Community Involvement Task Force.
Passionate about supporting up and coming artists, she was chosen by The Phillips Collection, a D.C.-based art museum, to serve as Co-Chair for Programming. The volunteer position involves meeting emerging artists and helping them get discovered by a wider audience.
As Vaala looks back on her own career to date she considers herself fortunate to have had the opportunity to work on cutting edge cases. While she has achieved much in just ten years of practice, she’s eager to keep learning and advancing.
“I’ve had terrific clients with complicated problems,” she said. “I’m excited to take what I’ve learned working on cartel cases and become an even more well-rounded antitrust lawyer.”