Listen to Best Lawyers interview Camille Vasquez
Before her name was a trending Twitter search and showcased in headlines across the globe, Camille Vasquez was already a young talented lawyer making cracks in the glass ceiling above her. With just over a decade of practice, Vasquez, associate at Brown Rudnick, was a success long before she was an overnight celebrity.
A Southwestern Law School class of 2010 Juris Doctorate holder, Vasquez was already showcasing her legal acumen ahead of the spotlight in which she was recently plunged. Her fearless representation of high-profile clients, her level-headed courtroom prowess and her associateship at a nationally recognized law firm positioned Vasquez as a pivotal player in the legal arena. Her accreditations were stacking up, and her peers were already recognizing her excellence for her work in commercial litigation, voting her into the inaugural edition of Best Lawyers: Ones to Watch in America in 2021 and again for 2022.
Vasquez was not simply on a road to success; she was paving it herself. And now, on the other side of a trial that captivated millions online, through television and on social media, she is just beginning to navigate the world’s discovery of what her peers and clients already knew: she is an industry industrialist and a frontier for women, Latinas and future lawyers everywhere. And she’s just getting started.
Best Lawyers CEO Phillip Greer sat down with Camille Vasquez to talk about what led her to the legal field, her illustrious career, recently being named partner at Brown Rudnick, her meteoric rise to fame in the last few months and what’s next for her career.
Greer: First off, congratulations for your recent courtroom victory and being named partner at Brown Rudnick. I’ve had the privilege to interview a lot of talented lawyers like yourself over the years. I’m always interested to know: how did you find your path to law?
Vasquez: First of all, thank you so much, Phillip. There are no lawyers in my family, so it was a new profession for my family, for me to enter into. I joke often that my parents being Hispanic—my mother is from Cuba and my father is from Colombia—that they instilled in my sister and me from a very young age that they weren't leaving us with much, but they were leaving us with our educations. They instilled in us a good work ethic and that hard work pays off. I was quite mouthy as a child, advocating for whatever I believed in. I was really quite principled, and I still believe I am. So, it was a natural, I think, fit for me to get into law. I was obviously encouraged by my parents, and some mentors and teachers growing up.
Greer: Did you find yourself in high school knowing you were going this direction, or did you get into college and then the path was starting to unveil itself?
Vasquez: I think it probably started in high school. I was a member of the mock trial team. I did mock trial, I think it was all four years of high school, and I remember my senior year, our school advanced to, I think it was the semi-finals, and we were invited to an awards lunch. So, the whole team was there with our teachers and coaches, and my parents were invited, and I thought that was sort of strange. I didn't understand that any other parents were invited. At the end of the lunch, they announced the Outstanding Orator Award, which was one student chosen that competed in the entirety of the competition. I was awarded that, and then it made sense why my parents were there, but I think it was probably from that experience that I realized I enjoyed trial work. I enjoyed being an advocate, and I seemed to have been recognized by peers or people in the profession that it was something that I was somewhat good at.
Greer: I know that [to have your parents there] probably had to feel very special. To have that experience, I would imagine, was very warming.
Vasquez: It is. I'm really close to my parents, too. I was interviewed yesterday by Mario Lopez for Access Hollywood, and I brought my mom with me. I think he made her year. I told him after. [Laughs]
Greer: During your interview with [Savannah Guthrie] on Good Morning, America, you said, "If I can be an inspiration to young women that want to go to law school, and study, and work hard, then it was all worth it." Can you speak more to your own experience, not only as a woman in the industry, but more specifically as a Latina early in your career?
Vasquez: Yeah, I remember that throughout stages of my career, I almost didn't have enough confidence, because I didn't know anyone else that looked like me or had a similar sounding last name that had done it before. Other people had made me question some of the strategies or ideas that I had, and I just learned quite early in my career that I had to work that much harder and be that much more prepared to feel confident in a room or a courtroom. I think my confidence just grew when I realized that attorneys much more senior to me were responding to my ideas in a positive way. I think, specifically as a Latina woman, we're a minority in the legal field, and so there's a bond that we share, a bond of shared experiences. So again, we just have to be that much more prepared, and with that preparation comes the confidence to speak clearly and directly.
Greer: You mentioned earlier about mentors and mentees, and I know your parents have been huge influences. Who else have been mentors and mentees in your life that have helped get you here and that you're appreciative of?
Vasquez: I think almost everyone in my life has provided some magic, some nugget of confidence, and has aided in my development. I go back to obviously my father. He worked really hard. He came to this country and put himself through school and ended up becoming an executive with Hilton Hotels. I always admired his perseverance. He is a man with an accent, and I remember he one time said something to someone when they were questioning him in my presence. He said, "I may speak with an accent, but I don't think with one."
Greer: Oh, that’s brilliant.
Vasquez: I just remember what an impact that had on me as a young woman, that despite what you feel are shortcomings or disadvantages that you may have, you can overcome them, again with preparation, hard work and perseverance. I've been really lucky. I worked for Robert Shapiro, who's obviously one of the most famous and brilliant trial lawyers of, definitely, my lifetime. I watched the O.J. Simpson trial, and then years later when I was in college, I was the president of an organization, and we were looking for a charity to donate to. Robert and his wife Linell had recently lost their son, who was a student at USC, from drugs and alcohol, and they had started a foundation. My mom saw Bob and Linell being interviewed on Larry King. As I'm very close to my parents, I was brainstorming ideas of different charities we could donate to, and my mom said, "Camille, why don't you reach out to Robert Shapiro the attorney, and see if he'll accept a donation and maybe come and speak at your conference?" I remember saying to my mom, "Right Mom, because Robert Shapiro is going to take my call." Who am I? As moms tend to be, she was right. I did. I called and he returned my call that same day. We were the first organization to make a donation to the Brent Shapiro Foundation. He came down to La Jolla in California and spoke at our conference. It was the first speech he gave, and we became really close. When I was in law school, he offered me a summer internship, and I worked on the last murder case that he ever worked on, with him.
Greer: How wonderful to have two strong parents who not only worked hard to build a life here for you and your sister, but also were guiding lights saying, “Reach out to Robert,” and go for the stars. Right now, you are playing that role for so many people, and so many young girls, women and professionals. You’ve proven to the world that you're highly skilled in defamation litigation. Was it always your plan to be in this specialized plaintiff side defamation case work?
Vasquez: No. It definitely was not, but I definitely work on cases, and I've been really adamant about this early on in my career, that I feel passionate about. And to that end, I don't agree with the advice that I maybe received throughout the years. People have said, you shouldn't get too close to your clients. I do cases because I believe in my clients, and I make myself available at any time. I do whatever is necessary to protect them and advocate for them because that's what we are. We're service providers. Our clients are our focus, and I'm their voice, after all.
CREDIT: EVELYN HOCKSTEIN/POOL/AFP VIA GETTY IMAGES
Greer: Let's talk about your performance in trial. Some would say your performance was a masterclass in courtroom strategy. It was thrilling to see you work from your confidence and objections, your nonverbal cues. You mentioned preparation and hard work. What goes into preparation to execute on that level? Is it all planned out, or do you have to be ready at every moment to do and say the right thing?
Vasquez: I think obviously the preparation makes you reactionary to whatever you're receiving, whether it's testimony or an objection that you have to argue against, or the questions that opposing counsel is asking that you have to respond to in an objection. I think knowing the case first and foremost, that's the most important thing. You have to know your case. You have to know the facts. You have to know the evidence. Overpreparation—that is what makes me an effective advocate. And I think observing different attorneys and their styles, whether it's in depositions or observing them in court, arguing a motion or with a witness. I think it's picking up on all of the things that work, but it has to feel genuine to you. I can't just copy or mimic another attorney that I think is brilliant. I have to be able to adapt their style and what works for me in the courtroom and adapting that to the particular case and the particular witness that you're dealing with.
Greer: It really sounds like you bring a human element to your work, and it clearly shows. And it's probably one of the reasons people are so fascinated with you. It's like, “this is not what I thought a lawyer was supposed to be,” by the books.
Talking about lawyers and general public who know you now, congratulations on your inclusion for Best Lawyers: Ones to Watch in America, which is obviously a peer-review based award that you've been ranked in for the last few years. Now you have the general public saying, “oh my gosh, Camille is the best.” But for the last few years, you have also had the legal industry saying, “oh, peer wise? Camille is the best.” How do you differentiate those two? How is it knowing that general public loves you, and your peers are saying wonderful things about you? How do you view those two things?
Vasquez: They're both such an honor, and I'm so grateful. I'm so grateful to publications like yours and to the public. For me, I was just doing my job. At the end of the day, that's what I was focused on is doing my job and doing an excellent job for my client, who again, I think everyone can see I care very deeply for, and I felt very passionate about the work we were doing for him and continue to do for him. And I'm honored, and I'm so grateful to my peers and to the public that they recognized the advocacy.
And I think what's really important for me is to recognize also the team that supported me throughout this. I often told them, especially when it came to Ms. Heard's cross examination, that yes, I was the attorney that was tasked with doing it, but this was our cross examination. This was Mr. Depp's cross examination. This was the team's cross examination. And that I think to give people on your team that sense of ownership is so important because you get the best work product when you give team members, especially more junior attorneys, a sense of ownership over a question or a set of questions in a cross examination, as an example. Or you give them a section to write for an opening statement or closing statement, both of which I delivered in this trial. And of course, it's going to be edited, and it's going to be put into my voice or the attorney that's delivering it, but the collaboration and the strategic thinking and the excellence that I got from my team, I think, was nourished because both Ben and I really encouraged them to take ownership of it, that this was their case. This was their client, just as much as he was mine.
Our clients are our focus, and I'm their voice, after all."
Greer: That actually leads me into a question. You mentioned you were taking ownership with the cross examination and also the closing arguments. What led to that progression of events for this case?
Vasquez: So, I've worked on this case from the beginning. I've worked for Johnny [Depp] for four and a half years. I've handled all his litigation that Brown Rudnick has handled for him. I obviously built a personal relationship with him, and he entrusted me with doing half of the opening statement, delivering the majority of the closing statement, including the rebuttal and Amber's [Heard] cross-examination. And again, I'm so grateful to him for having the faith in me to do those things and to be his voice. I think it progressed quite naturally. I work with a wonderful partner, Ben Chew, who gave young attorneys, not just me, but a lot of us such a runway and an opportunity to show what we could do. And Johnny, Ben and I tried to put the best people to do the job, irrespective of years of experience, irrespective of our place in the hierarchy of a trial team. It was about putting the best lawyer with the right witnesses or to deliver the opening statement or the closing statements for the job. That was it. That was the focus.
Greer: It’s about the client and what’s best for the case. That's a great way to practice. So, talk about new cases. When you take on a new high-profile client, what legal advice do you offer from the outset?
Vasquez: I think that irrespective of whether it's a high-profile client or not, I think it's about building trust. And so, it's about establishing that rapport and building out that relationship with the client so that they trust you and they give you the nuggets of information that you need to be the best advocate for them. And it doesn't usually happen in the initial meeting or when you're even discussing case strategy, it happens when you get to know the client, and you get to know what is important to him or her. And irrespective of whether it's a high-profile client or not, that is key, I think, to success. Getting to know your clients on a personal level. Obviously, when it's somebody high profile like Johnny Depp, you have to work harder because they're naturally more private and feel like they can't trust everyone, let alone a lawyer that is being paid to do a job for them. It's again about establishing that trust and building that relationship.
STEVE HELBER/POOL/AFP via Getty Images
Greer: For your high-profile clients that will get the media attention, what advice do you give them if a case starts to get this media attention? Do you advise to avoid it? Do you utilize it? What do you suggest?
Vasquez: I think that you can absolutely utilize it, right? It's just another tool in our tool shed that we should use. It's important to be cautious of how you utilize it, but it's absolutely, I think, a benefit to be represented by lawyers that people know and respect or because the client is high profile, or the case is high profile, because it touches on things that are happening in the world or in society. Litigation is about messaging, right? Whether it's to the court or to the jury or to the public. It's about messaging and how you advocate for your clients and for the general message that the case is bringing to light.
Greer: It makes sense. So, let's go back to your publicity recently. How has all of this publicity affected your personal and professional life? Everybody wants to know.
Vasquez: [Laughs] Obviously, as I've said before, it's been overwhelming and surreal. Of course, I don't dwell on it, and I think that maybe comes with a bit of age. I just get on with my work and my life. And if I can turn the spotlight into something that shines a light on what's important in this world, in society, causes that are important to me and that benefit my clients, all the better.
Greer: Everybody's talking about you on social media. I know you know this. You can't miss it. How far do you venture down that rabbit hole? Do you stay away? Do you look some?
Vasquez: I don't go down the rabbit hole. I was so grateful that we were incredibly busy really until the last day that we delivered closing arguments. I was in a bubble, and I was blissfully unaware really to what was happening out there. The team kind of was. I called it our nest. We were hunkered down in the trenches working really hard, really late. We didn't have time to go down the rabbit hole. I think obviously after closing arguments, we were recognized that long weekend. And yeah, life, it changed.
I definitely have looked at some of the social media posts and videos that have been created. I've been sent a lot of them, and they're so funny and creative and really touching. Again, to the extent that I can be an inspiration to young women or really anyone to work hard and go to school and become a professional and follow that dream and be an advocate, then it was all worth it.
Greer: Has this celebrity—? I'll use that word. And I mean only in the positive sense.
Vasquez: Yeah. [Laughs]
Greer: Has this celebrity helped you or changed the way you relate to your high-profile clients like Johnny Depp, who are always in the media's attention? Do you now have a better understanding; has that changed any?
Vasquez: Oh, yes. I mean there's now a greater level of empathy, right, that we share. I remember during the trial towards the end, there was a piece written and a bit of an invasion to my privacy, my families’, my parents’ specifically. I was quite upset about the article. Johnny and I happened to be meeting that evening. And he said to me something that I'll never forget. which was, "You've just got to laugh about it, kid." [Laughs] And he's right. I mean, you can't dwell on it. You just have to laugh about it, and you just need to get on with it, get on with your life, get on with your work.
Greer: I like that advice. I'm going to take that. I'm going to tell people a friend of mine said that Johnny says just laugh at it.
Vasquez: Yeah. He is a friend.
Greer: How do you feel this will impact the trajectory of your career over the next several years? You have been named partner. It's not because of one incident, it's because of all the work. It's not because of this attention on this case, it's all the work you've been doing. If you look back to what your peers have been saying for years now, “Camille is one to watch; she's going places.” But how do you feel that the impact of everything you have experienced recently will affect what you do professionally for several years to come?
Vasquez: It’s such an honor to have this platform. But with great honor and privilege comes responsibility. And I think that to the extent it could be an added benefit to my clients in the future, that's wonderful. I think it gives me a platform to advocate and shine a light on things that are important and important to me personally, but also to my clients. And again, those two are not mutually exclusive, right? I tend to work for people on causes and cases that matter to me. And that's when I can be the most effective advocate. It’s an honor. It's a privilege. And I don't take it lightly. I know that there's a lot of responsibility that comes with it. I hope just to be able to utilize it to benefit my clients and benefit things that are happening in this world that need attention.
If I can turn the spotlight into something that shines a light on what's important in this world, in society, causes that are important to me and that benefit my clients, all the better."
Greer: In the haste of your daily life, you're working nonstop, you're preparing all hours of the day, but something grounds you. There're some things that have to ground you. What do you find inspirational?
Vasquez: I find reading stories of people excelling in their careers and in their lives and living authentic purpose-driven lives really inspirational. I think that there's so much to learn from experiences, whether they're your own or they're others. That's how you become a full individual is by learning and sharing those experiences.
Greer: And maybe the answer is you haven't yet, but let me ask, what is the first thing you did to decompress after this high-pressure trial?
Vasquez: I spoke with my family. I had not had a debrief or really an in-depth conversation with my family in months. And the one thing I was really looking forward to was just sitting down, taking a deep breath and just talking through what had just transpired. Then I slept.
Greer: So many people during the pandemic picked up a lot of quarantine hobbies. What hobbies did you pick up during the quarantine?
Vasquez: I've always enjoyed cooking, but I definitely had a lot more time to do that. Because I was home all the time, and I feel like cooking is a nice use of the other side of my brain. I think as a friend of mine, who's actually part of this trial, Dr. Curry said to me, "Food is your love language." I love ordering food for people. I love dinner parties and being the one to recommend dishes or restaurants. Food is a huge part of my life, and I think it's a beautiful expression of love.
Greer: Let me put you on the spot for a second here. What's your favorite dish to cook?
Vasquez: It's a Cuban dish, that's an easy one. It's a Cuban dish, and it's called picadillo. It's essentially like a Cuban Bolognese, but instead of pasta as the base, it's white rice and then they put black beans on the side or on top. I just think it's comforting and delicious. It has all the, what we call in Spanish “sazón,” the flavors that are unmistakably Hispanic, and I think they're just delicious.
Greer: Final question here, and your opportunity to address your peers in the legal community. Is there anything we didn't talk about that you feel is important we should discuss today?
Vasquez: I think the one thing I would say is thank you. I have such an immense amount of gratitude for the legal community, and for supporting us, and supporting me specifically, and for championing a young Latina woman on such a high-profile case. I have felt and seen and read and heard such immense amount of praise and support, and I'm just so incredibly grateful.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.