Editors’ Note: As part of our ongoing Diversity and Inclusion Spotlight series, Keith Wetmore Fellow for the Los Angeles office Amanda Sadra and Fellow for the San Diego office Hannah Yin interviewed Los Angeles senior associate Niles Pierson and partner Dave Walsh, both members of our Litigation Practice Group, to discuss their mentor/mentee relationship and the impact of being a diverse lawyer.
Niles, can you tell us a little bit about yourself and why you chose MoFo?
Niles: In law school I had a little bit of an infatuation with MoFo, so when I graduated it was already at the top of my list. I was initially charmed by the quirky branding, but the more I read about the firm in publications like Chambers USA, the more impressed I became. I remember reading about MoFo’s culture and how happy the attorneys were. That was exactly what I experienced throughout my interview process and beyond. It was Dave who interviewed me and we just clicked from day one.
Was there something in particular that led you to your practice group?
Niles: To be honest, I’ve always leaned toward the liberal side and have an intellectual interest in labor law and trade unionism. As I went through law school, I became even more passionate about the fair representation of all sides in a dispute in order to ascertain the truth. Practicing labor and employment law allows me to get involved with more concrete, interpersonal conflicts as opposed to the often abstract and impersonal matters that arise in general commercial litigation. Nevertheless, I also like the idea of being a bit of a generalist by continuing to work on a wide range of commercial matters, while also being a subject matter expert in the specific area of labor and employment law.
Dave, can you tell us about your experience and what made you chose to become a partner?
Dave: I’ve been at MoFo for just over five years. As a partner in the Litigation Practice Group, I touch on a lot of different areas but my main focus is class actions. I have also been actively involved in the clerkship program for the University of Southern California for nearly 20 years. Clerking changed my perspective in the courtroom and gave me extremely valuable experience—all of which helped me progress in my path to partnership. I decided to pursue partnership because I really liked what I was doing—the legal work, the interactions with clients, the challenges and the opportunity to learn something new with every case.
Can you speak to the role mentorship played in your path to partnership?
Dave: Far and away, the most important aspect of my road to partnership and, indeed, my survival in the practice of law has been mentorship. It wasn’t only one person, but numerous people who helped me learn the business side of the field. That’s something you don’t really learn in law school. Starting with my first summer as a law clerk, my mentor really engaged me with me and allowed me to work on some terrific cases. I was completely unabashed in asking questions, which I think he appreciated and which made our connection even stronger. Having the confidence to ask for help and building relationships made all the difference in my career.
Would you say your mentor-mentee relationship developed formally, or did it grow more organically?
Niles: Dave’s reputation preceded him. Everyone at USC knows who he is because he runs the clerkship program. Perhaps it was our USC connection, but we really hit it off in our interview and were matched up as mentor/mentee. My first big pro bono assignment came from Dave. I took the lead in representing a nonprofit serving the disabled community during an administrative hearing before the California Unemployment Insurance Appeals Board—all thanks to Dave’s endorsement. We won the case, and the client has since asked me to join itsboard. Dave also put me in contact with people from the broader LGBTQ+ community in Los Angeles, such as Lambda Legal and Equality California, who have been tremendous resources. Even though we were formally paired as mentor-mentee, he really took the time to get to know me and find different ways for me to create organic connections that would help me grow.
Dave: The cool thing about Niles is that, if I had met him anywhere, I would have taken genuine interest in him. He’s articulate and he’s smarter than I am. Also, we have a certain candor in the way we communicate. He knows he can say just about anything to me and we’ll talk through it. He’s been persistent when it comes to getting time with me and he’s also really good about making the right professional connections inside and outside of the firm.
Niles, do you have any advice for other associates regarding mentorship and diversity?
Niles: It really comes down to being open and making sure you seize those opportunities to get to know your mentor. Be candid with others about your interests and find common ground and it becomes much easier to build trust. Any associate coming into a large firm like MoFo is going to feel a little bit of trepidation, but you have to realize that your mentor is there to help you through it. Also, embrace others who are willing to mentor you in different areas, whether that’s joining an affinity group or asking someone to lunch. As long as you make your goals known and you listen to others, there’s usually some very helpful advice waiting on the other side.
Dave, what do you think sets a good associate apart from a great associate?
Dave: A great associate is someone who takes ownership of the work they are doing. They know how to look at things from the clients’ perspective and do everything in their power to anticipate what should be done to reach the client’s goals. Great associates learn how to look at the entire operation rather than focus on one task at a time. As to the associate development side, the more frank you are about your goals and the more you add value to the firm, the more people are going to step up to help you get to where you want to be.