Law360’s Appellate A-List regularly profiles leading appellate litigators in the United States. The magazine recently showcased Morrison & Foerster’s Deanne Maynard. Ms. Maynard has argued 13 cases before the U.S. Supreme Court and, as chair of our Appellate & Supreme Court Practice, expanded the firm’s appellate practice beyond the Supreme Court to create a strong presence in the federal courts of appeal.

MoFo's High Court Maven: Deanne Maynard

Before making her first oral argument at the U.S. Supreme Court, Deanne Maynard decided that, having broken into a world that has always been something of a boys club, she ought to be allowed to wear the clubhouse uniform.

In the solicitor general’s office, that meant a traditional gray morning suit for men, with women often wearing “modified” morning suits with skirts. Maynard, however, was determined to wear the pants in her court debut — even if those pants would have to be generously tailored to account for the fact she was eight months pregnant.

The daughter of a radiologist father and a stay-at-home mother — who was valedictorian at Wake Forest University and “could have done anything she wanted if she’d been born in a different era” — Maynard recognized the generational change her appearance before the nation’s highest judicial body represented, a symbolism that was neatly summed up that evening by her own daughter.

“My three-and-a-half-year-old had never seen a morning suit before, and when I went off to argue I explained that it was what I was wearing to court,” the Morrison & Foerster LLP appellate chair recalls. “That night we went out to celebrate, and on our way home we passed a tuxedo store with a bride and groom mannequin. She pointed out that the groom was in a morning suit and said, ‘Look mommy, it’s your suit — they let men wear them, too!’”

Standing on the Shoulders of Giants

Maynard says the most important lesson she has learned is that the people who find success are usually the ones who surround themselves with a constellation of dedicated mentors.

“My advice for women advocates is the same as it is for men: No successful lawyer has ever succeeded on their own,” she says. “We are all standing on the shoulders of people who came before us, and you need to reach out and surround yourself with mentors.”

Though she didn’t know any women lawyers personally during her childhood in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, she credits one famous attorney with turning her onto the idea of a career in law: Atticus Finch, the principled protagonist of Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird.

It wasn’t until she was a sophomore at the University of Virginia that Maynard would meet her first real-world legal mentor in notable economist Kenneth Elzinga, who was notorious for his unrelenting, rapid-fire Socratic approach and who initially asked Maynard to drop the course and re-enroll as a junior.

“There was talk he was going into government, and being a college sophomore I rather boldly said: OK, I’ll drop, but only if you promise me you’re not going to go off and join the FTC,” she recalls with a laugh. “So he let me stay, but I got very prepared for the first day because I just knew he was going to grill me.”

Maynard aced that interrogation, and after attending Harvard Law School scored a remarkable string of clerkships that began with D.C. District Court Judge Stanley Harris and went on to include three different Supreme Court justices.

In her first year clerking at the high court, Maynard split time between retired Justice Lewis Powell — who regularly sat on the Fourth Circuit after stepping down — and Justice John Paul Stevens. The following year, she was asked to join the chambers of newly minted Justice Stephen Breyer.

Despite her high-profile clerkships, it was not until she left the courts for private practice with Jenner & Block LLP that she worked with her true guru in the form of current Solicitor General Donald Verrilli Jr., whose lessons in leadership have guided Maynard since she took the helm of MoFo’s appellate litigation practice group in 2009.

“Don is someone I’ve tried to emulate in a lot of ways, particularly in the way he was always looking for opportunities to push down responsibility to those working for him,” Maynard says. “He’s someone who gave a lot of us our first chance to really step up and show what we could do.”

Keeping Cool on the High Court Hot Seat

Under Verrilli’s tutelage, Maynard mounted her first appellate argument at the D.C. Circuit, and was part of a team that in 1995 had the unusual task of trying to explain to the Supreme Court a newfangled invention people were calling the Internet.

The case, Reno v. American Civil Liberties Union, would eventually become a landmark 9-0 ruling in which the high court offered its first major guidance on how First Amendment protections apply to online content, though Maynard first got involved in the early stages, when the constitutional challenge went before a panel of district court judges.

Maynard says the process was a vital, early-career lesson in the importance of building a case not just on law but on the facts, noting that her firm’s bird’s-eye view legal strategy ensured the nine justices had all they needed when they received the closed record on appeal to make a decision that would have monumental import in the Internet-driven era to come.

It would be another decade, however, before Maynard would have the opportunity to mount her first argument before the Supreme Court as a morning-suited assistant solicitor general.

The government was serving as amici in the case, and before she could even get her papers in order at the podium that morning and greet the justices with the customary “may it please the court,” she was thrown a curveball by none other than her former mentor, Justice Stevens, who had been unsuccessfully pressing the previous advocate to locate an important piece of information in the factual record.

“I’d been told by senior attorneys not to look up until you were ready to go, but while I was still collecting my stuff I heard Justice Stevens ask me if I could point him to the relevant information, and I just froze,” she recalls with amusement. “What do I do? Do I say, ‘May it please the court’? Will it look like I’m being evasive? Do I just answer?”

Soon enough, the lessons she learned on the hot seat in professor Elzinga’s classroom kicked in, and she fired off the answer, settled in and brought the argument home.

A dozen Supreme Court arguments later, Maynard says she rarely feels the same nerves, noting that the anxiety one feels arguing before the Supreme Court is in many ways a sign of respect for the immensity of the court and the process it represents.

“The first time up, you’re nervous both substantively and in the sense of: What if I stand up and no sound comes out?” she says. “I certainly don’t get nervous like that anymore, but I do think that if I ever stop getting nervous, it’ll be time to stop doing this job.”

Being the Change

Maynard managed to keep her air of courthouse cool intact even when the circus came to town a few years later in a highly technical bankruptcy case styled Marshall v. Marshall, which the SG’s office opted to weigh in on over tax concerns but which was notable to the larger world primarily for the involvement of former Playboy playmate Anna Nicole Smith.

“Often when you’re with the government, the court sees you as neither fish nor fowl in terms of caring about who wins, and this was certainly one of those situations,” she says. “But I remember feeling like the justices were really looking to me to give them our objective view, and I remember Justice [Ruth Bader] Ginsburg — who authored the decision — taking a lot of notes.”

Although Maynard says she would’ve been happy remaining in government work, her reputation had made her a highly sought advocate in the private sector, and in 2009 MoFo made her an offer she couldn’t refuse, asking her to step in as chair of the firm’s appellate practice group.

Among other factors, Maynard says, she relished the opportunity to interact with a wide network of attorneys, noting that working in the solicitor general’s office can occasionally be a solitary experience.

“I heard someone once describe working at the solicitor general’s office as like a relay race, where you have your turn with something and then pass the brief up the ladder,” she says. “Whereas in private practice you have clients who have problems that require creative thinking, and you get to work with a team of experts to gather everybody’s best thinking and put it together in one coherent package.”

One prime example of the cooperation Maynard says is a key to MoFo’s success came in her successful handling of RadLAX Gateway Hotel v. Amalgamated Bank, an important bankruptcy case concerning whether banks can bid on collateral using credit they are already owed.

Although Maynard relied on the input of a host of subject matter specialists, she jokes that some of her partners were more helpful than others. 

“Right before the argument I was standing in the Supreme Court, waiting to go upstairs, when one of our partners came up and said, ‘I hope you realize how incredibly important this is to the financial markets,’” Maynard recalls with a laugh. “So no pressure, right?”

As appellate practice chair, Maynard has successfully pushed over the last five years to expand MoFo’s appellate practice beyond the Supreme Court to create a strong presence in the nation’s circuit courts, and she has made it a personal priority to follow Verrilli’s early example and push work downward to create opportunities for the next generation of appellate stars.

The significance of the practice chair title on her business card is also often on Maynard’s mind these days in the wake of her mother’s recent death following a brief battle with cancer, and as she watches her own two daughters grow up in a world where the emblems of previously unimaginable opportunities extend well beyond a pair of suit pants.

“Growing up, I didn’t know any professional women, but my parents — and my mom in particular — always encouraged me that I could be whatever I wanted to be,” she says. “And now my daughters see a very different world.”

Reprinted with permission. © 2003-2014, Portfolio Media, Inc.

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