Danielle L. Hickman
Pepperdine School of Law | 1997
Trial Attorney, US Department of Justice, Criminal Division, Human Rights and Special Prosecutions Section
What does being an honoree of this campaign mean to you?
It is an incredible honor to be recognized. I am humbled to be considered an honoree for Outstanding Alumni | Women in Leadership.
Describe your success story.
My personal success story comprises a career of many amazing experiences I have had helping others using my legal education. After graduating Pepperdine Law School and completing my international law LLM in London, I worked with United Nations High Commission for Refugees to assist refugees from the Middle East and North Africa, including Kurdish refugees fleeing genocide in Iraq in the late 1990s. In 1999, I was able to document war crimes in Kosovo through work with International Crisis Group. The work was personally very dangerous, but it was the first time these victims of ethnic cleansing were afforded the chance to tell their stories. In the years that followed, I worked as a prosecutor with a focus on crimes against women, children, and other vulnerable members of our community who are too often victimized by those closest to them. My success story is having been afforded the opportunities to make a difference in the lives of survivors, and sometimes on behalf of those who didn't survive.
How has Pepperdine played a role in your success?
Pepperdine has played a significant role in my success both professionally and personally. Professionally, Pepperdine Law School provided me with the skills and legal foundation on which to build my career. Personally, the mentorship, guidance, and training I received from such outstanding professors, particularly Peter Wendel, the Honorable Bruce Einhorn, the Honorable Armand Arabian, and Harry Caldwell, were instrumental in developing my confidence and advocacy skills and influenced the choice I made to pursue a career as a prosecutor, focused on advocating for justice for vulnerable people and victims of crime.
Describe a lesson you've learned from a challenging time in your career or life.
In 1999 as the civil war in Kosovo came to an end following NATO military intervention, I worked for the International Crisis Group documenting war crimes. I spent months in the countryside around Gjakova and Prizren interviewing survivors and documenting ethnic cleansing and other war crimes. I interviewed Ramush Haradinaj, a future Kosovo prime minister, and Ekrem Rexha, whose nom de guerre was Commander Drini. Rexha spent hours using hand-drawn maps to show me how the war unfolded on the ground in pointed detail. Sadly, he was assassinated months later on his doorstep in Prizren. On one occasion, while driving around in an old Russian jeep, we found ourselves stuck in a minefield. On another occasion, masked men with AK-47s came to our home in the middle of the night threatening violence and demanding we turn over our Albanian coworkers. Although there were moments of terror, I learned from my experiences in Kosovo that I'm tougher than I thought and that great things are only accomplished with persistence, courage, and the help of others.
How would you describe your leadership style?
I prefer a collaborative/democratic leadership style, but have also found success in coaching and visionary styles.
"Pepperdine Law School provided me with the skills and legal foundation on which to build my career. Personally, the mentorship, guidance, and training I received from such outstanding professors...were instrumental in developing my confidence and advocacy skills and influenced the choice I made to pursue a career as a prosecutor, focused on advocating for justice for vulnerable people and victims of crime."
Danielle Hickman (JD '97)
Who has helped you achieve success in your career?
I have been blessed with many opportunities that were only possible because of others in the legal profession and my community. My life has been touched by so many individuals who generously gave me their support, sponsorship, and mentorship. Pepperdine professors Peter Wendel, the Honorable Bruce Einhorn, the Honorable. Armand Arabian, and Harry Caldwell; my father, John Hickman, Jr., my stepmother, Jeri Hickman, who introduced me to members of the local bench and legal community when I was starting law school; Louis Gentile who supervised me at UNCHR London and later worked with me in Kosovo; the Honorable Casey Gwinn, who hired me as a deputy city attorney; the Honorable Bonnie Dumanis, who gave me the privilege of serving as a deputy district attorney in San Diego and who gave me many leadership opportunities within the office; the Honorable Daniel Lamborn, Victor Nunez and Lilia Garcia; the Honorable. Summer Stephen, David Greenberg, the Honorable Tamila Ipema, the Honorable Desire Bruce-Lyle, the Honorable Robert and Nancy Amador, the Honorable H. Ronald Domnitz, the Honorable Laura Parsky, the Honorable Charles Ervin, the Honorable Katy Bacal,the Honorable. John Thompson, the Honorable Rachel Cano, Jean Jordan Ferguson, Stacy Rodriguez, Pat McGrath, Bill Mitchell, Dana Greisen, Dwain Woodley, Jerri Malana, Heather Rosing, Anthony Solare, Tracy Prior, Kurt Mechals, Teresa McHenry, Matt Stiglitz, and Hope Olds; my dear friends Erika Hiramatsu, Chantal De Mauregne, Trisha Amador, and Patty Herian; and of course, my husband, William Gentry, and our children, Liam, Kate, Olivia, and Amelia.
What's next for you?
I very much enjoy my work with the Department of Justice, and look forward to continuing my work on international criminal matters.
What was your first job?
My first job was as a video store clerk at age 15.
What profession other than your own would you like to attempt?
It's a tie: film production or Egyptologist.
What historical or modern-day leader do you admire and why?
The Dalai Lama and Mother Teresa because each freely gave of themselves and invested their lives in public service, dedicated to helping others.
What is your mantra or favorite quote?
"Consult not your fears but your hopes and your dreams. Think not about your frustrations, but about your unfulfilled potential. Concern yourself not with what you tried and failed in, but with what it is still possible for you to do." —Pope John XXIII
How do you prepare for a busy day?
The day before, I take some time to review my calendar, take stock of what I need for the following day, and double check all materials are prepared and ready to go.
What is one of your favorite hobbies?
I am the proud mother of two sets of twins, Liam and Kate (age 7) and Olivia and Amelia (age 5). Spending time with them is my favorite hobby. I also enjoy teaching trial advocacy and training new prosecutors.