Los Angeles

Los Angeles

Los Angeles

The University of Virginia has a growing network of alumni in the greater Los Angeles area, working in diverse fields including entertainment, technology, nonprofits and more.

More than 300 alumni work in the LA area, according to LinkedIn. We talked to some of them about their experiences working on the West Coast and how UVA Law prepared them for their careers.

The UVA Law Network is an occasional series on the careers of graduates.

Advice from LA Alumni

Tim Burgett ’89Tim Burgett ’89

General Counsel, World Vision International

How did UVA Law prepare you for your practice or career choices?
Probably the best preparation UVA Law provided was constant emphasis that the practice of law rarely provides easy or obvious answers. Our classes forced us as students to work through how to approach a problem, think through what might we be missing, think if there is some new or unusual angle that can be applied, etc. This has proved invaluable in my career overall, particularly in my current role dealing with issues around the world, often in places with "interesting" legal systems. Also, I very much appreciated UVA Law making clear the broad range of career opportunities available to its graduates, including in nonprofit organizations, and providing resources to support students interested in such options.

Do you have any advice for new UVA Law grads wanting to work in Los Angeles, or in your area of law?
I'll let LA speak for itself, but for grads interested in nonprofit work, I would advise first spending some years in a law firm, getting as broad of an experience as you possibly can. Most nonprofits will want generalist lawyers and often are not in a position to employ and train a lawyer fresh out of school. So spend some time letting a law firm provide you with experience and training, develop your skills and judgment, and then seek out nonprofits of interest to you where you can put those attributes to work in furtherance of their mission.


Chris Chorba ’01Chris Chorba ’01

Partner, Gibson Dunn

How did UVA Law prepare you for your practice or career choices?
UVA Law equipped me not only with a first-rate legal education, but also the practical skills to tackle the many complex problems that our clients face and that no formal education can anticipate. That was the most valuable thing from law school. It wasn’t about memorizing specific laws, which change, but having the necessary tools to identify legal issues and analyze them in a way that allows our clients to operate and excel in a complex (but evolving) legal environment. The law faculty is first-rate and the very best in the nation, so UVA Law will give you the necessary academic training. But I found that the faculty went above and beyond that core level, and focused on practical skills that are essential for any lawyer. 

Do you have any advice for new UVA Law grads wanting to work in Los Angeles, or in your area of law?
My No. 1 piece of advice is to not be afraid to apply in any city — whether it’s Los Angeles or any other city. I’ve found that many applicants, students and law grads are afraid of applying outside of the Mid-Atlantic or East Coast, but UVA Law’s sterling reputation is global. In fact, there is probably more demand outside of the East Coast because there are fewer applicants in other cities and most every firm has had a great experience with a graduate from UVA Law. Part of it is the strong collaborative culture that is fostered at UVA Law — that is truly unique among lawyers and it’s something that you should value.


Lisa Steen Proctor ’89

Director of Sales, Lexolution

How did UVA Law prepare you for your practice or career choices?
Often you wonder if you had taken a different path in life, would things have been better. One decision that I have never questioned was my choice of UVA School of Law. Since graduating 30 years ago, I have had a varied career in the LA area, in and out of practicing law, work as a newspaper reporter, founder of a toy company and now director of sales for a legal staffing company. Whether practicing law or doing any other jobs outside of law, the cachet of a law degree from such a prestigious nationally ranked and recognized school opens doors and earns you a certain respect. This is just as true in California as it is in D.C. or other markets around the Virginia area.

Do you have any advice for new UVA Law grads wanting to work in Los Angeles, or in your area of law?
UVA Law has a surprising number of grads in California, grouped, of course, mostly in and around the LA and San Francisco areas. As the region co-manager for the UVA Law School Foundation, we recently held a series of Feb Club events for the first time — a happy hour each week in the LA and Orange County areas. We had a great time and I loved seeing the mix of all graduating years networking and comparing experiences. I believe that UVA Law attracts (and hence the graduates are) an interesting, intellectual and intellectually curious group. I recommend staying connected to your classmates and other UVA grads through alum groups or UVA-related events in your area — and if the group doesn’t exist, start it yourself! Even if you have the perfect job coming out of law school, maintaining and cultivating relationships with fellow alums will definitely benefit your career, whether in developing business or eventually changing jobs.


Suzelle Smith ’83Suzelle Smith ’83

Partner, Howarth & Smith

How did UVA Law prepare you for your practice or career choices?
I tell all bright college students interested in law that UVA and Charlottesville are the perfect places to study law and to live while doing so. My youngest son, Charles Smith, heeded my advice, following in his mother’s academic footsteps — first attending Oxford University and then graduating with a joint J.D.-MBA at UVA two years ago. 

UVA has exactly the right combination for maximizing a legal education — rigorous academic training, intellectual challenge and a respectful supportive faculty and student community, all located in a gorgeous physical and environmental setting. Simply put, it is unique. No other top-10 law school can claim all these characteristics. If you make the most of three years at UVA Law School, you have qualifications that will match or exceed any other lawyer anywhere.  

Do you have any advice for new UVA Law grads wanting to work in Los Angeles, or in your area of law?
Los Angeles is a hot market for law graduates. Lots of people want to live here. We have surfing on the ocean, hiking in the mountains, Hollywood stars and the Los Angeles County Court system, which is the largest unified court system in the world. Litigation here is a highly respected niche and can be both enjoyable and lucrative. And a UVA degree is recognized as a top-flight credential by the best law firms and the judges. 

In my boutique litigation firm, Howarth & Smith, we have had more than a dozen UVA law graduates with us over the years. Those who have moved on after training with us have become judges, general counsel and partners in other firms. All remain friends and alumni of Howarth & Smith, just as they are UVA law alumni. For those students who would like to be trial lawyers in a Los Angeles firm, study hard, hone your writing skills, get as much clinical trial experience as you can and take every speaking opportunity possible. Go for it!


Chad Trainer ’08Chad Trainer ’08

COO, Stealth Mode Startup

How did UVA Law prepare you for your practice or career choices?
Outside of extensive pro bono work I have done for low-income individuals and friends, I have not really practiced. Instead, I ended up working in sales and marketing and eventually landed in the startup world — specifically, the legal tech startup space. With that being said, my UVA Law education helped tremendously in honing my analytical and communication skills. These skills have, unsurprisingly, played a crucial role in sales and marketing, and entrepreneurship in general. Additionally, I feel that I have benefited from the prestige of UVA Law; people respect a UVA Law education.

Do you have any advice for new UVA Law grads wanting to work in Los Angeles (or in your area of law)?
Do as much pro bono work as you can! Not only will it give you the satisfaction of making a huge difference in people’s lives but it will make you a much, much better attorney. I did my first trial after only a couple months of doing pro bono work, with the assistance of a mentor. With pro bono work, you can greatly accelerate your development as an attorney. If you already have a job, this experience will only make you a more valuable asset at your work. Or, if you are employed but would like to explore other practice areas, pro bono is a useful entry point into those new areas of law. If you don’t have a job, pro bono experience will greatly enhance your candidacy for one. All the while, you will be improving the trajectory of your clients’ lives. Of course, if you are new to practicing or new to a particular practice area or type of case, then you could really benefit from a competent mentor. But there are ways to conveniently connect with both cases and mentors — such as through our nonprofit startup platform, Proboknow.com. Through pro bono mentorships, you can also very effectively network. There is arguably no better way to prove yourself than by doing great work on a pro bono case; your mentor will gain an understanding of your quality of work and work ethic through mentoring you on a case, and perhaps make introductions for you if you leave a big impression. Prior to doing pro bono work myself, I did not fully appreciate all of the benefits of doing pro bono; there are so many! 


Michael Whitlock ’02Michael Whitlock ’02

Assistant General Counsel, Sumitomo Electric U.S.A. Holdings Inc.

How did UVA Law prepare you for your practice or career choices?
I have had the good fortune to have practiced in both the public and private sectors, as well as several areas of the law throughout my career so far. I have served as a law clerk for two federal judges, a federal prosecutor, a partner in two major law firms, and now as in-house counsel focusing primarily on antitrust and legal compliance issues. I found that my education at UVA Law prepared me for life outside law school — not only by the excellent education I received in the technical aspects of the law but also by preparing me and my classmates to be leaders in the law and, broadly, leaders in society itself.

Do you have any advice for new UVA Law grads wanting to work in Los Angeles, or in your area of law?
I am a new transplant to Southern California, having moved here last year from the Washington, D.C., area. As such, I am learning the ins and outs of the LA legal community. However, I would generally advise new attorneys and law students to be open to learning and mastering new areas of the law that seem interesting. For instance, although one of my areas of expertise is antitrust law, I never took this course as a student at UVA. The federal district judge that I clerked for had a case that involved an issue of criminal antitrust law of first impression. The judge assigned me to assist him with this matter. Thus began an interest in antitrust law — particularly criminal antitrust law — that eventually led to a job with the Justice Department’s Antitrust Division prosecuting criminal antitrust offenses.

For law students and new attorneys who are interested in compliance law, I would highly recommend a background and an interest both in criminal law and in corporations.

Finally, as with anyone starting out in a new profession, you need to network. Find people who share your interests at all levels — both those who are your peers, whom you can go to for support and to trade ideas with, as well as senior attorneys, who can serve as trusted mentors and sponsors. You will find that the importance of a good network of peers and mentors will become only more valuable as you progress in your career. 

More in the UVA Law Network Series


300+ Alumni

Leaders in Los Angeles

Christopher D. Brearton ’98
Chief Operating Officer, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer

Timothy S. Burgett ’89
General Counsel, World Vision International

Chris Chorba ’01 
Partner, Gibson Dunn

Hilary Dessouky ’97
General Counsel, Patagonia

Jeffrey A. Evans ’97 
Senior Vice President, Legal Affairs, NBC Universal

Jonathan Gardner ’96
Partner, Cohen Gardner

Robin Gohlke ’91
Executive Counsel, The Walt Disney Company

Anna Graves ’85
Partner, Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman, Restaurant, Food & Beverage Industry Group Co-Leader

Ted Humphrey ’94
Film Writer, Producer and Director of “The Good Wife” and Other Shows

Bruce A. Karsh ’80 
Co-Founder, Co-Chairman, CIO, Oaktree Capital Management

Martha Lubin Karsh ’81
Karsh Family Foundation

Michael S. Kun ’88
Partner, National Chairperson, Epstein Becker & Green

Art Linnik ’06
Tax Counsel, Walt Disney Company

Julie Lynn ’92
Producer and Founder of Mockingbird Pictures

John Rogovin ’87
Executive Vice President and General Counsel, Warner Bros. Entertainment

Andrew Scheinman ’73
Partner, Castle Rock Entertainment

Suzelle Smith ’83
Partner, Howarth & Smith

Don Yee ’87
Founder, Partner, Yee & Dubin Sports

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