Cynthia Cwik

Current Job: Litigation Partner, Jones Day
YLS year: J.D. 1987


What do you do and how did you get there?

I’m a litigation partner at Jones Day. After my clerkship, I started in Latham & Watkins in San Diego. I was open to different practice areas, but in San Diego, Latham had a very strong environmental practice. I started working with the practice and enjoyed the challenge of understanding science and explaining it to laypeople. It wasn’t pre-planned and I didn’t have a background in science—it was fortuitous.

How did you develop your practice in health, science, and technology?

I didn’t have a background in medical and scientific issues, but I had an interest.  Once I was assigned to these cases, I taught myself.  One of my first cases involved an immunologist at Harvard.  I researched the field, I found this expert who had invented a particular test, I contacted him and he agreed to work with us, and we found out the other side has been misusing a test he had invented.  It was a fascinating experience.


What was most valuable about your YLS experience?  What is the most important lesson you took away from your time at YLS?

I enjoyed the opportunity to interact with so many people who were intelligent and had a variety of different life experiences.  YLS is a very vibrant, academically stimulating community.

How did your journal and clerkship experience help your career?

Working on the Yale Law and Policy Review gave me research and writing experience—the more research and writing experience you can get in law school, the better.  It also helped me to get my clerkship.  My clerkship laid a foundation for fundamental skills that are helpful for lawyers at a law firm.  It gave me great exposure to litigation, to a variety of different law firms and lawyers and their writing styles.  Seeing them write and argue gave me insight into what works and what doesn’t work in front of judges.

What skills do you rely on now but that law school did not emphasize enough?

Interpersonal skills are very important to my job.  I need to be able to negotiate and see other people’s perspectives and work towards a resolution.  I figured that out on the job—through practice and watching others, seeing what did and didn’t work.


What do you view as your biggest accomplishment?

I’ve been able to combine different aspects of my life that are important to me.  I have a full-time practice that I enjoy as a litigation attorney, a strong family life—I’ve been married for 27 years with two children—and I’m active in bar activities.  At certain times certain areas have been emphasized more than others, but all three of those aspects have been very important and I’m glad I’ve been able to focus on all three.

How have you balanced work and life?

That becomes more challenging as your children get older. When they’re younger, you have more control over their schedules, but once they’re older, they have their own lives and it becomes a challenge.  It’s important to realize that you’ll never be perfect and you have to do the best you can at each stage. My husband has been very supportive. He’s a physician and self-employed and that helps, especially when I have to travel.

What is an important choice point you’ve faced in your career?

Choosing where to practice after my clerkship was very important.  I had been clerking for Judge Meskill in Connecticut.  My husband found a practice opportunity in San Diego.  I went to the law library and looked up the three biggest firms in San Diego, and interviewed with them.  I’m very fortunate to have ended up in San Diego—it makes it a lot easier to have balance.  I’m lucky to be able to balance the resources of a global firm with living in a family friendly city that I love.

What has been your career highlight?

I worked on a large case for Chevron involving students and others who claimed that they were exposed to chemicals from an oil well adjacent to Beverly Hills High School, and that those exposures harmed their health.  Erin Brockovitch was involved in the case on behalf of the plaintiffs.  I carefully scrutinized the plaintiffs’ expert testimony and developed an argument that there was not a reliable scientific foundation for the experts’ testimony.  The court granted our motion to exclude the plaintiffs’ expert testimony and to dismiss the claims of the trial plaintiffs.  The case was about to go to trial, so it was a very exciting win.


What advice would you give to law students?

Students should be open-minded: open to where they go, what practice area they choose, and what direction their careers take.  When circumstances are different than you expect, view it as an opportunity.  My first big environmental case had quite a bad reputation around the office and nobody wanted to work on it. When I was assigned, people apologized to me. But once I actually started working on it, it ended up being quite fascinating and a great opportunity.  I hadn’t taken any environmental law but I was open to the opportunity when it arose.

What traits impress you most in young lawyers?

I am impressed with young attorneys who exhibit initiative and have a take-charge attitude. I recommend that young attorneys speak up and voice your opinions. Your supervisors appreciate fresh points of view and attorneys who add value to the team.

In the next 5-10 years, what developments do you see in the status of women in the legal profession?

Many more men are focused on these issues than when I started out.  More men take paternity leave and feel pressure to try to balance different aspects of their lives.  And an older generation of men has daughters, and these men understand the challenges their daughters are facing.  More women are going in-house, and are in a position to refer business to other women.  Technology is helping to give more flexibility—you can be responsive to clients and do work from places other than the office.  Generally, things are getting better for women but there are still challenges navigating a demanding career and making time for other aspects of your life.

What’s your favorite activity outside of work?

I love to travel with my family.  I’ve been able to travel to some very interesting locations with them. I had one case involving issues in Peru, and I had to go to Lima to take depositions.  My family was able to travel to Peru with me, and we did some sight-seeing before I began taking my depositions.  That was a great example of balancing work and family, and I try to look for those opportunities!