LEADERSHIP IN LAW 2016: Vanessa A. Davis

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Vanessa Davis is passionate about community involvement and helping those who lack access to legal services. The product liability attorney is chair of her office’s Quarles Cares initiative, encouraging colleagues to contribute to and help improve Indianapolis. She has dedicated nearly 200 hours pro bono on a case representing an indigent prisoner convicted of first-degree murder in his appeal for habeas relief. Vanessa’s success lies in her ability to bring everyone together toward common goals — whether for the benefit of her clients or the community.

davis-1col.jpg (IL photo/Eric Learned)

Why did you help to form the Women in Law Committee of DTCI?

I am a member of the DRI Women in Law Networking Subcommittee and saw this as a natural offshoot. Our goal for this committee is to increase promotion, retention and satisfaction of female lawyers by providing informational sessions and educational and networking opportunities.

Why did you take the 7th Circuit prisoner case pro bono?

I decided to take a pro bono appeal both to gain more experience with the federal appellate process and to help an individual fight for his or her constitutional rights. This case involved issues with an incompetent attorney and judicial bias resulting in a failure of our judicial system as it pertained to our client. Unfortunately, without attorneys to take pro bono cases, individuals like our client have difficulty getting their issues before the court.

What can be done to encourage lawyers to take more pro bono cases?

It took me way too long to take my first case due to concerns about billing pressure and a feeling that I lacked the relevant experience. I think others may have similar concerns which act as a barrier to entry. Upon joining Quarles & Brady, those barriers fell away due to a culture that promotes pro bono work and the provision of great resources including a pro bono mentor and great credit recognition.

What will the legal profession look like in 15 years?

I hope that it looks more like the population of our communities. I look forward to a time when we no longer need to talk about diversity or inclusion and instead our companies, firms and agencies are all benefitting from the kind of sound decision-making which only occurs through consideration of all perspectives.

What do you like the most about being an attorney? What do you like least?

I love helping people and learning new things and I get to do both in my practice. While I understand the need for accessibility, I do not always enjoy the stress and pressures of being constantly available.

If you couldn’t be a lawyer, what would you do for a living?

I would try to join an organization that is working to improve our community. I am fortunate to get to do that in my current role as the Indianapolis Office Chair of our Quarles Cares program and it is one of my favorite parts of my job.

Where do you see yourself in 20 years?

I have two children under the age of three. I am just trying to get through this week!

What was the most memorable job you had prior to becoming an attorney?

I served as a governor’s fellow, which involved rotating assignments in various executive branch agencies and provided direct interaction with Indiana’s leaders and decision-makers. Every day brought a new challenge and a new learning opportunity!

What is the most important lesson you learned from your mentor?

The importance of mentoring despite differences in opinion. My mentors have supported me even if they disagreed with my decision or my decision was actually contrary to their own personal interests. This true form of mentoring is essential for the development of future leaders, and I hope to pass the torch to others as I continue to move forward in my career.

Why practice in the area of law that you do?

I fell in love with litigation the moment I stepped into a courtroom. I am fairly competitive and I like the opportunity to advocate for my client’s interests and to seek a resolution that best aligns with those interests.

What civic cause is the most important to you?

I am passionate about positive impact — regardless of the cause. In my personal time and as the chair of our firm’s community outreach program in Indianapolis, Quarles Cares, I have had the privilege of working with a number of amazing organizations in the Indianapolis area supporting a number of important causes. Indianapolis is doing some amazing things!

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