Janet Levine, Partner, Crowell & Moring LLP
How long have you been working for your current company?
I was a name partner in the Los Angeles-based white collar law firm Lightfoot Vandevelde Sadowsky Crouchley Rutherford & Levine when we joined with Crowell & Moring in October 2008, launching its Los Angeles office. I have been here ever since.
Briefly explain your career history and what led you to your current position.
After graduating from law school, I served as a law clerk to the Honourable Arthur L. Alarcon, United States Circuit Judge, Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, and as a Deputy Federal Public Defender, where I represented indigent defendants charged with a variety of federal crimes. From the Public Defender’s office I joined a small, two-person firm, and then moved on to the white collar boutique Lightfoot Vandevelde, and finally Crowell & Moring.
During my 30-year career, I have successfully defended governmental accusations of wrongdoing for countless clients, including publicly-traded companies, government entities, licensed professionals, politicians, judges, and business owners in myriad industries. All of that hard work prepared me for two of the most significant white collar cases in my career. In 2011, I became one of only a few lawyers ever to try a Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) case. After a trial lasting over five weeks, I successfully vindicated Lindsey Manufacturing Chief Financial Officer by vacating previous convictions and winning complete dismissal of the indictment based on prosecutorial misconduct. (United States v. Aguilar, 10-1031(A)-AHM, U.S. District Court, Central District of California.) It was a thrilling victory. Most recently, I represented a Chief Financial Officer in a $50 million securities fraud case. That matter is currently before the jury.
What is your proudest professional achievement and why?
The successful verdict in the high-profile Lindsey Manufacturing case was significant for me because it was one of the first FCPA cases ever tried, and we won on prosecutorial misconduct, one of the most difficult and challenging motions to prove. Another victory I’m quite proud of is my representation of Katrina Leung, who was accused of being a "double-agent" for the Chinese government while working as a “spy” for the FBI. The matter was also high-profile and covered extensively on the front page of major newspapers and magazines, and the subject of a PBS "Frontline" broadcast. In this case too, we ultimately obtained a dismissal of all charges based on prosecutorial misconduct, which allowed us to negotiate a global resolution of all criminal and tax matters, no additional time in custody, and the return of most of our client's seized assets — a huge victory for Ms. Leung.
What are the greatest challenges that you face in your current role and what do you do to overcome them?
My challenges are similar to those of any male attorney with a family. I am fortunate to have a husband who is also a trial lawyer and understands the schedule. My children are fully grown now—one a senior in college and the other is in graduate school—so balancing work and family has become a bit easier. I also realized early on that there will be certain peaks in your career and in your personal life. The key is making sure those intense moments are not happening at the same time. There will be times when family takes priority and other times when work comes first.
How difficult is it for you personally to attain work-life balance and how do you endeavour to do this?
I am lucky to have some of the most talented people around me both at home and at work. But what truly helps me create balance in my life is access to technology. I can be anywhere in the world and still stay connected to my clients, whose lives in some cases literally hang in the balance. In December 2011, I was able to take a relaxing and fun ski vacation with my family even though I had a trial starting in January. With my laptop and cell phone, I spent an hour in the morning keeping projects on track and the rest of the day enjoying the snow.
Did you have a mentor or role model in your career or while you were studying law? Who were they and how did they help you?
While I was a law clerk to the Honourable Arthur Alarcon in the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, I learned quickly how to treat the people with whom you work. He also instilled in me important life lessons that stay with me through today. I also admire my partner John Vandevelde. We have been working together for about 20 years and he is the type of attorney who is a role model and one to learn from. I am thankful to be surrounded by such amazing people like John who is not only a talented lawyer, but a great person.
How effective do you think corporate diversity initiatives are? What methods do you think are most effective and why?
Corporate diversity initiatives can be very effective when they are, at their core, focused on maximizing the development of a firm's talent and human capital. This means not narrowly focusing on numbers, or merely getting people in the door, but much more broadly on ensuring that professional and personal development opportunities are available to all, and that the environment in which those opportunities arise is a fully inclusive one, embracing people from various backgrounds, and with various outlooks and perspectives. Mentoring and sponsorship across differences are critical components to creating such opportunities, and require active involvement and engagement from those at the top. These efforts must also be continuous - there is no point in the career of diverse or female attorneys when a firm can consider its job done. These efforts have to be focused, with active dialogue and participation across all stakeholders. I believe that the leadership roles that I have held, including chair of the firm’s White Collar Group, member of the firm’s Management Board, and chair of the American Bar Association's Criminal Justice Section, allow me to actively participate in these efforts both on a firm and industry level.
Were there any points in your career when you felt you were at a disadvantage or at an advantage because you were female?
I always felt as though I had a slight advantage. I was coming up through the ranks at a time when leaders were noticing the lack of diversity in the bar and began to take action. When it came time to round out a panel or a committee, for example, I felt that I had a slight edge because I was female.
What do you think have been the most significant changes for women in the legal industry over the past five years?
There is a great concern focused on the lack of women entering the legal field. But, in the last five years or so, that attention has really honed in on the small number of women in leadership, business development and other client-oriented roles. There have been significant efforts to develop women’s initiative programs to prepare female attorneys for these traditionally male roles, and I think that is a step in the right direction with more work to be done.