Lawyer Limelight: Diane Cafferata

When she's not in a courtroom tackling any number of complex commercial cases, Diane Cafferata can be found behind the wheel of a Porsche zipping around a race track, a pastime she took up after a brush with death several years back. Cafferata is also an active mentor to associates at Quinn Emanuel, where she is a partner and Co-Chair of the firm’s Sexual Harassment and Employment Discrimination Practice. She has a JD and MBA from Stanford, and is based in Los Angeles and Chicago.

Lawdragon: Can you describe for our readers the mix of work you do within your practice?

Diane Cafferata: A wide variety of complex commercial litigations in federal and state courts, where I represent both plaintiffs and defendants. I have substantial experience in patent, trademark, trade secret, and other intellectual property matters, privacy issues, class actions, derivatives and other financial matters, construction and real estate disputes, and contract and business tort cases. Much of my work is in high-stakes, bet-the-company and complex cases, and include forensic science, foreign laws, probate law, or other challenging elements.

LD: What led you to develop such a varied practice?

DC: I was always in love with litigation generally and enjoy the cross-pollination that happens when doing different types of cases.

LD: What do you like the most about what you do?

DC: I enjoy coming up with creative approaches to litigation problems, reading the dynamics of cases to figure out where the pressure points are, and working with associates to create an environment that is conducive to doing their best work and to learning.

Also I enjoy the quality of the litigation issues I've dealt with. I've represented Samsung and Qualcomm in cases against Apple, the Lehman Brothers estate in cases against Citibank, JP Morgan and Credit Suisse, and won a $128-million verdict for a four-person company against the wireless industry. It is a challenge every day.

LD: Out of all the work you’ve done in your career, what would you say is the most interesting matter you’ve handled?

DC: I represent Alcor Life Extension Foundation, a cryonics organization, in a dispute with one of their client’s sons over the cryopreserved head of his father. The Daily Beast wrote a good piece about the twists and turns of that case. But there is at least some drama in all my cases.

LD: Have you had any professional developments or achievements recently?

DC: This fall, I launched the firm's new Sexual Harassment and Employment Discrimination practice area. I also recently became a member of the Illinois bar. Although I have practiced nationally throughout my career, it is exciting to be barred in both California and Illinois now. I grew up in Illinois and am looking forward to having more of my practice based in Chicago.

LD: What challenges do you face in heading up this new practice area?

DC: Co-chairing the Sexual Harassment and Employment Discrimination practice is challenging because of all the new legislation, and because it is a new practice area for our firm. Also because it covers a really vast area, including everything from plaintiffs' cases to monitorships to securities cases, and every kind of harassment and related claim. It's not limited to the employment sector either. But we think our ability to win really challenging cases in other areas will translate well to this area and change it up for our clients.

LD: Are there any trends you are seeing in your practice in terms of the types of matters keeping you busy these days?

DC: I anticipate seeing plenty of high-stakes and other challenging cases coming through the pipeline. The personalities that drive these cases are always out there and they bring a lot of business to us. Also, with all the recent legislative changes around the #MeToo movement, I am looking forward to litigating more cases for plaintiffs in sexual harassment and assault cases.

LD: Did any experience from your undergraduate work push you towards a career in the law?

DC: No. I had planned to be a Sovietologist. I have a B.A. in Russian Languages and Literatures, two degrees in Russian and East European Studies and I also studied at the Plekhanov Institute in Moscow in 1988.

LD: How and when did you pivot toward law?

DC: I had applied to the FBI after getting my degrees in Russian language and Russian and East European Studies and got almost all the way through the process when there was a hiring freeze. So I went to law school.

LD: How did you choose your law school?

DC: I thought a Stanford JD/MBA was unbeatable.

LD: Do you have the type of practice you imagined for yourself while in law school?

DC: Yes, although I loved business school, I had the temperament and competitive nature of a litigator.

LD: What did you enjoy most about law school? 

DC: I was a civil procedure geek, and I also loved mediation and negotiation and trial advocacy and all the hands-on experience I could get. I was a Fellow at the Stanford Center on Conflict and Negotiation and wrote a thesis on harnessing the diversity of the jury, which was a highlight.

LD: Any advice for current law school students?

DC: Be true to yourself. Do what you love.

LD: How has your practice changed since the early part of your career?

DC: I have mellowed perhaps a bit over time, but not much. And it's just made me more dangerous!

LD: How would you describe your style as a lawyer?

DC: I do not suffer fools. I set my opponents up by giving them every fair opportunity to back down and if they don't, by revealing their unreasonableness using the facts. My word means something and I expect others' word to mean something also. It's all about the merits. I am also extremely loyal. I am a good friend to my clients. I am a (small) pitbull.

LD: What are some things you like about the culture or structure at Quinn Emanuel? 

DC: I came to Quinn because I wanted to learn how to try cases, and I was also convinced that it had a superior business model in doing all litigation, all the time, at the highest level of the profession. I have not been disappointed. I also love Quinn because it is a crucible of incredible talent with an informality of culture that permits us to come up with magical solutions for our clients.

LD: What do you think is particularly attractive about the firm to potential new recruits?

DC:We were recently voted "the Most Feared Law Firm In the World." That is well earned because we are extraordinarily good at what we do. We win about 90% of our cases. Our ability to try and win cases also permits us to get better settlements for our clients. I have the joy of working on high-stakes, complex matters all the time and the discipline I've gotten from this type of practice helps me come up with innovative, clever solutions for my clients.

The firm is also unique because it stimulates and nurtures and rewards the creativity and team dynamic that give us those great results and this makes it more fun for all of us. Sometimes our co-counsel wants to expand their work with us because it was so stimulating to work at this level. That is really neat.

LD: What do you do for fun when you’re outside the office?

DC: I race Porsches, hike, run, cook, and write.

LD: That’s one you don’t hear every day! Can you tell us more about racing Porsches?

DC: I am on a racetrack about six to eight weekends per year. I've been fairly serious about motorsports as a hobby for about five years, and participated in a lot of autocross and time trialing. I am now going to be doing more wheel-to-wheel racing. I also teach high-performance driving.

I am drawn to this sport for several reasons. I've always been a car girl, and I went through a difficult illness about ten years ago, where I thought I might not make it, and when I survived, I figured I'd better do some things in life that I was really passionate about instead of working all the time. I tried a bunch of things but the motorsports and the people in it are amazing. It is also a great "antidote" to law practice because you can only think of driving when on the track. It is both exhausting and exhilarating.

LD: Are you involved in any pro bono or public interest activities?

DC: I serve as counsel for the Rose Bowl Legacy Foundation, which is the fundraising arm of the Rose Bowl. They are an amazing organization and do so much for the Pasadena and LA community. I also run a Women's Business Development group at my firm which permits me to act as a mentor and source and educator, which is really significant to me.

LD: If you weren’t a lawyer, what would you be doing now?

DC: There is a part of me that would love to have been an architect.