Student Prepares To Take On White-Collar Criminal Defense Work

Jessica Rennert ’20 Discusses How UVA Cultivated Her Interest in Law as an Undergrad
Jessica Rennert

“Once I had the opportunity to work on real cases and collaborate with the attorneys to solve problems on behalf of clients, I knew that this was what I wanted to do with my future,” Jessica Rennert said. Photo by Julia Davis

January 24, 2020

Before soon-to-be “Double Hoo” Jessica Rennert ’20 became a student at the University of Virginia School of Law, she wanted to afford high-schoolers the same educational opportunities she had as an undergrad — the same interests that sparked her legal career.

The Reston, Virginia, native earned a degree in foreign affairs from UVA. At the Law School, Rennert is a Peer Advisor, senior articles editor for the Virginia Law & Business Review, and a Virginia Law Ambassador, serving as a tour guide to visitors. She has also served as a Legal Writing Fellow, co-president of the Asian Pacific American Law Students Association and a research assistant for Professor A. E. Dick Howard ’61.

In our occasional series “Star Witness,” Rennert discusses how her time as a UVA undergrad cultivated an interest in the law.

What was your time as an undergraduate like?

Undergrad felt like a mini family reunion. I have two older brothers, and all three of us attended UVA for college. In fact, during my first year of college, we were all students at the same time. My oldest brother and I volunteered to coach a Charlottesville youth soccer team for two seasons before he graduated, and it remains one of my favorite UVA memories to this day. While both of my brothers opted to take the computer science route, I began to consider law school. The only problem was that I did not know anything about the realities of legal practice, and with no lawyers in my family to turn to for guidance, I wanted to know what I was signing up for before I made any decisions. So, I decided to take time off after graduation to gain experience in the legal field and decide if this was a career I wanted to pursue. 

Tell us something about yourself that most people don’t know.

One of the most meaningful experiences I have ever had — and one of the things that inspired me to become involved in the types of organizations that I did in law school — occurred during undergrad when I volunteered for a nonprofit organization dedicated to assisting high school students with college preparation. I am a firm believer in the idea that I would not be where I am today without the support of family, friends and mentors; and I have always tried to pay it forward by seeking out opportunities that allow me to be a support system for others. The organization was started by one of my hallmates from my first-year college dorm. It paired UVA college students with local high school students who did not have the resources or support systems at home to turn to for guidance during the college application process. I was paired with a high school junior student when I was a third-year college student, so we had the opportunity to work together for two years before we both graduated. I met with her periodically to help with anything and everything she needed to prepare for college — registering and studying for the ACT, staying on top of day-to-day school work, filling out college applications, reviewing essays for personal statements and scholarship applications, building her résumé by looking for opportunities for community involvement, etc. She was ultimately accepted to the junior college of her choice, with the intention to transfer to a four-year college later on, and I could not have been prouder of her.

Why law school?

I first became interested in law because of the intellectual challenge and the opportunity to advocate on behalf of others. I wanted a career in which I could grapple with complex issues and strategize to reach the best possible outcome for someone, and law school seemed like a natural next step. Additionally, two of my favorite college classes were law courses offered by UVA’s undergraduate business school — both of which gave an introduction to a number of areas of law, such as contracts, torts, agency, bankruptcy and intellectual property.

After college, I worked as a project assistant in a Washington, D.C., law firm. This not only gave me insight into the day-to-day operations of a law firm, but it also gave me an unfiltered look at both the demands and rewards of practicing law. It was my experience working in a law firm that solidified my decision to go to law school. Once I had the opportunity to work on real cases and collaborate with the attorneys to solve problems on behalf of clients, I knew that this was what I wanted to do with my future.

You’re interested specifically in white-collar criminal defense. How did that develop?

Shortly after I joined the firm as a project assistant, I was staffed on a federal criminal case heading to trial to defend a publicly traded company against charges of fraud and conspiracy. We ended up winning that trial, and despite the late nights and long hours it took to get there, working on this case was an incredible learning experience and a one-of-a-kind introduction to this area of law. One of the things I enjoy about white-collar cases is that they often implicate issues from different areas of law, so we then have an opportunity to collaborate with attorneys who specialize in those areas. I also enjoy fact-gathering and piecing together those facts to tell a story on behalf of our clients. An associate I worked with once described this aspect of his job as a treasure hunt and that description really stuck with me.

What’s next for you?

I will continue to work towards my goal of visiting every vineyard on the Monticello Wine Trail before graduation. After that, I will be heading to the D.C. office of King & Spalding. 

Founded in 1819, the University of Virginia School of Law is the second-oldest continuously operating law school in the nation. Consistently ranked among the top law schools, Virginia is a world-renowned training ground for distinguished lawyers and public servants, instilling in them a commitment to leadership, integrity and community service.

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