A love of languages and different cultures is more than a hobby for Palmina M. Fava, who has leveraged that foundation to great benefit for her law practice focused on internal and government investigations and compliance strategies. The New York-based Vinson & Elkins partner has guided a vast range of global clients through their most complex matters arising in a similarly diverse mix of domestic and international business settings. Fava, a proud Fordham Law graduate and active alum, joined V&E in 2019 after a stint co-chairing the global compliance and disputes practice and serving on the compensation committee at Paul Hastings.
Lawdragon: Can you describe for our readers what your practice mix is like these days?
Palmina Fava: I lead internal and government investigations and conduct proactive risk assessments related to allegations of fraud, corruption, money laundering, bid rigging and unfair trade practices, misappropriation of trade secrets, off-label pharmaceutical marketing, and data breaches and cyber threats. I also develop and help clients implement comprehensive, global compliance programs tailored to their particular risks, conduct training of their employees and third parties, design risk-tiered due diligence, and conduct compliance due diligence in M&A and other transactions.
LD: How did you come to build this type of practice?
PF: I concentrated my undergraduate studies on international relations and studied multiple languages, including Italian, Spanish, Portuguese and French, so I sought to apply my knowledge of different countries' cultures and political and economic risks to my legal practice. I spent 10 years of my career as a trial lawyer, which gave me deep perspective on the weaknesses and risks within a company's business, and I wanted to help companies to strengthen their controls and to mitigate their risks before they found themselves in litigation or under investigation.
LD: What else do you find satisfying about it?
PF: I feel compelled to use my career in furtherance of the Jesuit values instilled in me at home, at Georgetown University and at Fordham Law School, namely to act in the service of others. I try to live those values by helping companies build and reinforce more ethical business environments and to curtail behavior, like corruption and money laundering, that disproportionately harms the citizens of developing nations and limits honest business.
LD: What would you say is the most interesting or memorable matter you’ve handled?
PF: I am very proud of my work on the team that exonerated former Deputy Director of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, William Baroni, in the “Bridgegate” case. Years of Bill’s life were spent proving that he did not commit a crime, and he spent over three months in prison before the U.S. Supreme Court granted cert in 2019. Ultimately, the U.S. Supreme Court unanimously vacated the convictions, and it was incredibly gratifying to me to be a part of the team that helped clarify this important area of the law and ensure Bill’s freedom. [The case involved allegations that he and others intentionally caused lane closures at the George Washington Bridge in 2013 for political purposes. The U.S. Supreme Court overturned his conviction in 2020. ]
Another interesting and memorable matter was a multi-week jury trial in federal court involving the theft of trade secrets by a large defense contractor – a real David vs. Goliath story. The witnesses were colorful characters, and some of their conduct was quite bold, making for interesting exhibits and video deposition testimony that we played for the jury. I represented the plaintiff, and the case was a tremendous professional and personal experience; I was the most junior of the lead counsels and worked tirelessly throughout discovery and during the trial to be sure I and my partner were fully prepared and deserving of our client’s trust. I felt so gratified by the compliments I received from the judge and the jurors at the end of the trial.
Two moments of the case particularly stand out: One, opposing counsel tried to “ice” me before a key cross-examination, and the CEO of my client – a highly decorated one star army general – called him out and essentially ran interference during the break so that I could take one more pass through my notes; and two, my client’s CFO had a heart attack during his deposition, and I went into early labor, but both of us hid our medical issues until after the deposition; we texted each other from our respective hospital emergency rooms that night! Thankfully, we were both fine, and my son held out for another couple of weeks so that we could finish depositions!
LD: Did you have any jobs between undergrad and law school? What were they and how did they contribute to going to law school?
PF: I worked for Senator Alfonse D'Amato and saw first-hand how Congress works – for better and for worse. That perspective has been invaluable in my career because I learned that we often do not appreciate the multiple ripple effects of a decision or the behind-the-scenes jockeying. And that insight is not particular to Congress. There are many factors that impact a company’s business and its employees’ adherence to compliance protocols. There are many factors that contribute to a regulator’s decision to pursue certain cases or resolutions. There are many reasons why certain countries do not enforce certain of their laws with the same rigor as the United States enforces its laws on a similar topic.
Congress is a constant negotiation – one side giving on one issue in order to garner support for another issue. Business is similar, and recognizing those nuances – trying to understand that which is not directly in front of you – is important in helping companies navigate multiple regulations and regulatory bodies, as well as cultures and competitors.
LD: Was there a course or professor at Fordham that was particularly memorable or important in what practice you chose?
PF: Professor Maria Marcus, who moderated Fordham Law School's moot court program and taught Federal Courts, was critical to my development as a trial lawyer and advocate. She taught me to find and use my own voice and to embrace that which was authentic to me, rather than try to adopt some else’s style.
LD: What do you do for fun when you’re outside the office?
PF: I travel, read, play tennis and enjoy time with my family, particularly my four children.
LD: Are you involved in any pro bono or public interest activities?
PF: I am an adjunct professor at Fordham Law School, teaching Global Corporate Compliance, and serve as the president of the Fordham Law Alumni Association. I also serve on the board of New Classrooms, an entity seeking to revolutionize math learning for middle and high school students and to make education more equitable. Additionally, I interview applicants to Georgetown as part of the Alumni Admissions Program, and am active in veteran’s affairs and organ donation advocacy efforts.
LD: Do you have a favorite book or movie about the justice system?
PF: “My Cousin Vinny”!
LD: If you weren’t a lawyer, what would you be doing now?
PF: I would either be a broadcast journalist or a politician.