When Ankur N. Patel ’10 traded his pharmacist scripts for law school casebooks, he intended to pursue a successful corporate legal career. Along the way to achieving his goal, Patel took a post-graduation step somewhat unusual among his Big Law peers doing transactional work.
Patel clerked for the Hon. Jaynee LaVecchia, an associate justice on the New Jersey Supreme Court, between 2010 and 2011 before leaving to work as an associate at Cravath, Swaine & Moore LLP from 2011 to 2017. Today, Patel is senior counsel for business development for Johnson & Johnson.
Patel’s clerkship, he notes, made him a minority among his corporate law colleagues at Cravath, the majority of whom entered the firm right out of law school. He pursued an appellate court experience, he says, because it provided an opportunity to shape the law rather than merely apply it. In Justice LaVecchia he found a mentor eager to provide direct writing feedback and to listen to clerks’ suggestions on questions she should ask during oral arguments.
“Justice LaVecchia taught me that there are always opportunities, even at her level, to learn,” Patel says. “It was eye-opening to be in that type of position.”
Patel’s clerkship forced him to prioritize his time to get up to speed quickly on new areas of the law—a skill he put to good use at Cravath, where lawyers rotate every 12 to 18 months among di erent areas of the law, such as securities, banking, and mergers and acquisitions.
The experience also strengthened his willingness to accept and deliver criticism, another element he views as advancing his career.
“Everyone recognizes that whatever I produce for the justice or for the court is my first stab and is not going to be perfect,” Patel explains. “You develop relationships where your peers criticize your work and you criticize theirs. It’s a two-way street—the same traffic pattern you have as an associate.”
“I graduated number one at Fordham, but sometimes that isn’t enough,” Patel says. “You have to have someone look at your résumé, and you also need the judge to know you’re a good person with good character. Forming connections with professors who will go to bat for you is a phenomenal asset.”
So, too, is a judicial clerkship—even if it’s uncommon among corporate lawyers.
“If you’ve just graduated law school, the fact you want to spend one year clerking before your corporate career is not going to hinder your career,” Patel advises. “It’s an extra year to develop skills that, when you go to a firm, will make them see you as a more functional associate.”