Sonia Sotomayor's first job out of Yale Law School was as a state prosecutor in Manhattan. For her second job, she said today that she purposefully avoided Big Law.
"Unlike some of my law school friends, I very much wanted to go into a small law firm," Sotomayor told senators today at Day Three of her confirmation hearing for the Supreme Court. She added, "I thought, when I left the District Attorney's Office, 'I don't think I can go to those firms where I would be the fifth guy on the totem pole.'"
As a result, she said, she had the chance to work with the partners at the firm, Pavia & Harcourt, more frequently than she would have at a larger firm. She also worked directly with some of the firm's biggest clients, including the car manufacturer Ferrari and the fashion designer Fendi, on litigation in areas including contracts and trademark law.
Sotomayor joined Pavia & Harcourt as an associate in April 1984 and became a partner in January 1988. She left in September 1992 to become a federal judge in the Southern District of New York. Click here for The National Law Journal's previous coverage of her time in private practice.
Under questioning from Sen. Ted Kaufman (D-Del.), she spoke in greater detail than she has before about her career as a commercial litigator. She said she learned the importance of predictability in business law when partners would revise the drafts of settlement agreements she had written. The partners, she said, replaced her plain language with what she considered "gobbledygook," in order to conform the agreements to court precedent.
"In business, the predictability of law may be the most necessary," she said, "in the sense that people organize their business relationships based on how they understand the courts interpret their contracts."
Sotomayor said she also learned the value of out-of-court settlements from her discussions with clients who pursued unnecessary litigation and later regretted it. "Settlements are generally, in the business world, economic decisions," she said.
Kaufman criticized recent Supreme Court rulings for upending business law, including the antitrust case Leegin Creative Leather Products v. PSKS in which the Court applied the rule of reason to vertical price fixing. The Court, he said, "too often seems to disregard settled law and congressional policy choices when it comes to business cases."