In a milestone year, two Pepperdine School of Law alumnae were appointed to the federal court in their individual districts.
Both Jennifer Dorsey (JD '97), who now presides over the U.S. District Court for the District of Nevada, and Beverly O'Connell (JD '90), U.S. district judge for the Central District of California, were highly recommended by two of the most prominent figures in politics--President Barack Obama and Senator Barbara Boxer, respectively.
“We are so proud of their distinguished careers and accomplishments,” says School of Law dean Deanell Reece Tacha, of the appointees. “Both of these judges are models of the highest ideals of this law school and of the legal profession. They will be dedicated public servants and bring continuing credit to the School of Law at Pepperdine.”
Here, Dorsey and O’Connell share how they live out the lessons they learned on their way to the federal bench.
Jennifer Popick Dorsey began her legal career with Kemp, Jones & Coulthard LLP in 1997, securing the role of partner in 2004. Her work focuses on a wide variety of matters including appeals, class actions, and complex commercial litigation.
Dorsey has been a coauthor of the Nevada section of the treatise Survey of State Class Action Law since 1999, and is a member of the University of Nevada, Las Vegas Foundation’s advisory board. She has remained involved with her alma mater as a member of the Pepperdine Law Board of Visitors, and has hosted several Pepperdine Law alumni events in her home state of Nevada.
Q: What were your first thoughts when you learned President Obama nominated you to serve as a U.S. district judge?
A: I felt profoundly honored and humbled that the president of the United States had placed such confidence in my character and legal ability. And I was hoping that I may finally get to live out a Pepperdine law-nerd dream of mine—sitting on the final-round bench of Pepperdine’s Vincent S. Dalsimer Moot Court Competition. Spoiler alert: I did.
Q: What would you tell a current law student hoping to break into the federal realm?
A: Extern for a federal judge during law school, and then seek a position as a judicial law clerk for the first year or two years after graduation. Those experiences will provide insight into the judicial process and help develop skills and knowledge that will be valuable to future legal employers.
Q: Though you are about to embark on a new career path, what do you think your next steps will be beyond this point?
A: As this is a lifetime appointment, I expect that my next steps will be part of this same journey, not headed toward a new destination. I also intend to remain close to my Pepperdine family, which has been immensely supportive during this nomination and confirmation process just as it was throughout my law school experience.
Beverly O’Connell’s legal career began in civil litigation in 1990, as an associate with Morrison & Foerster. In 1995, she became the assistant United States attorney for the Central District of California before an appointment to her most recent role as a Superior Court judge for Los Angeles County, a position she’s held since 2005.
From 2010 to 2011, O’Connell sat by designation on the California Court of Appeals for the Second District, Division 8. She has also served as assistant supervising judge of the North Valley District of the Superior Court. O’Connell has remained active in the School of Law community, serving as an adjunct faculty member since 1998.
Q: What are your goals as a judge with the U.S. District Court?
A: One of my goals as a federal judge is to continue to dispense justice fairly and expeditiously on a daily basis. I want to create a courtroom where all litigants are treated with respect and leave feeling that they have received the highest consideration, regardless of whether they win or lose the dispute. Another one of my goals is to proudly represent Pepperdine as its first federal judge.
Q: What lessons from your years as a law student have you carried with you throughout your career?
A: Throughout my time at Pepperdine, I learned that preparation is the bedrock to a successful legal career. There are no shortcuts in litigation, and hard work pays off. I also learned that one’s reputation is of paramount importance, earned by practicing with integrity and civility.
Q: You have kept close ties with Pepperdine, serving as an adjunct professor and regularly participating in events hosted by the School of Law. What has kept you so closely bonded with the University?
A: Pepperdine gave me the gift of an education. Pepperdine exhibited its faith in my skills by awarding me a scholarship. This generous gift made the decision to enter public service much easier. Unlike many of my colleagues, I did not spend years paying off student loans. I am very grateful for the opportunity Pepperdine gave me, and, as a result, I am loyal to the School of Law and want to participate in its events. I was mentored by many of the fine professors at Pepperdine and seek to give back to Pepperdine by mentoring law students.