In 2016, just a few years out of law school, Amanda Klevorn joined Dallas and New Orleans-based complex litigation firm Burns Charest as an associate. Though she was young, the firm was, too; she joined just one year after the firm opened. The fit was perfect: Burns Charest’s motto is “Work hard, work smart,” and Klevorn shares that philosophy. “I’m so glad I had the opportunity to jump into several exciting cases right off the bat when I joined Burns Charest – I definitely think it’s true that you go a lot further a lot faster in your career if you get in the mix on as many cases as possible early on,” she says. Just a year after starting at Burns Charest she was managing a docket of more than 500 mass tort cases, working on a novel RICO/antitrust case, multiple environmental cases and still collaborating with the firm’s partners on new cases. It's no surprise that she quickly rose through the ranks to be made partner in December 2020.
Klevorn’s caseload has included an impressive number of hot-button and high-stakes consumer issues in the last few years. Those cases haven’t been limited to one practice area; instead, she has demonstrated mastery in mass torts, class actions, data privacy cases, antitrust law and more. Recently, she served on the Plaintiff Steering Committee for a consumer privacy litigation MDL against TikTok, Inc. She also represents hundreds of women who allege they developed ovarian cancer from using Johnson & Johnson’s talcum powder.
Burns Charest is noted for its hustle, and so is Klevorn. She is a Lawdragon 500 member for the second consecutive year this year.
Lawdragon: Can you describe for our readers the mix of work you do within your practice?
Amanda Klevorn: I am all over the place, and I love it that way! The general theme is plaintiff-side complex litigation, and areas of practice include mass torts, antitrust, consumer protection, data privacy violations and environmental contamination. I'm currently in the mix in the talcum and TDF mass tort litigations, EpiPen marketing, sales practices and antitrust MDL, Blue Cross Blue Shield antitrust litigation, and TikTok consumer privacy litigation, among others.
LD: That’s an impressive range! How did you first become interested in developing this type of practice?
AK: If I'm being honest, my main interest when I graduated from law school was to get a job and pay my bills. I didn't feel like I had the luxury of being picky. I was the first person in my family to go to law school, so I also didn't have a deep understanding of the different areas of practice and options that were out there. I randomly applied for a position with a plaintiff-side firm in New Orleans toward the end of 3L year after receiving a blast email about the opening from a toxic tort professor at Tulane (now a friend and co-counsel on environmental contamination cases). I loved the work right off the bat and I can't imagine doing anything else. I get to work on high impact and high value cases, and I also feel good about the work I'm doing and the real people I'm helping.
LD: Now that you’ve been practicing for about a decade, what keeps you excited about your work?
AK: I'm fortunate to be at a firm that (gently) pushes young attorneys into the deep end of the pool, while also standing nearby with a life jacket in case we really need it. I got to write briefs, take and defend depositions, and argue at hearings very early in my career. The variety of work we have constantly keeps me on my toes, and I find that very professionally satisfying. There is never a dull moment.
LD: Going back to law school for a moment, why did you choose to attend Tulane?
AK: I truly enjoyed my experience at Tulane University School of Law. I started there in the fall of 2010, five years after Hurricane Katrina, and the city was really starting to blossom again. I figured that the kind of people who were drawn to New Orleans for law school like me were probably also looking for some fun and friendship to counter the work and stress, and I wasn't disappointed. I made lifelong friends there. I think the same holds true for practicing law – this job is a lot more pleasant if you're surrounded by decent people who know how to balance work and play.
LD: Was there a course, professor or experience that particularly impacted you in your time there?
AK: I think there were two primary experiences that pushed me toward plaintiff-side civil litigation, even if I didn't realize it at the time. First, I clerked for a nonprofit that provides legal services to victims of domestic violence during my 1L summer. That experience really planted the seeds of wanting to represent people and use the law to improve their lives in concrete ways. Second, I was a student attorney for Tulane's Civil Law Clinic (now called the Civil Rights & Federal Practice Clinic) during my 3L year. That was definitely the best exposure I had in law school to the nuts and bolts of working on a real case. I was hooked!
LD: When you were in law school, did you know you’d want to build a plaintiff-side complex litigation practice?
AK: Not at all. I was convinced at various points in law school that I would do tax law (that lasted for about a week), family law, international law (I had no idea what that meant but figured I might get to travel a lot), employment law and criminal law defense. I don't think that plaintiff-side complex work was even on my radar. I only knew about Big Law defense firms, nonprofits, prosecutors, public defenders, etc. Again, that partly reflects the fact that I don't come from a family of lawyers, but I also think there is a general lack of awareness among young lawyers about plaintiff-side class action, consumer protection and mass tort work. I feel very fortunate to have stumbled into it right out of the gate, and I tell law school students not to sweat it if they don't know exactly what they want to do when they graduate.
LD: That’s great advice. Do you have any other advice you’d give to current law school students?
AK: Push yourself in law school to build up a resume that demonstrates you have hustle and aren't afraid to take on a variety of challenges. Grades are important, but the majority of people won't make law review. That's okay. You have to be smart enough to do the job, but there are many other skills and attributes that can be just as, if not more, important for a successful career in the long run: work ethic, oral advocacy, leadership, interpersonal communication, emotional intelligence, adaptability, good humor, etc.
I did not think of myself as a good public speaker heading into law school. I had never done debate or mock trials. I decided to try out for Tulane's moot court trial team anyway, just so I could say that I tried, and I ended up making the team (shout out to the 2012 Louisiana State Bar Association Trial Competition champions!). Moot court ended up being my favorite experience in law school, and it helped me conquer my fear of public speaking before I started practicing. Push yourself in law school to get your feet wet in different ways (journals, moot court, clinics, volunteering) and you'll already be ahead of the game when you graduate.
LD: What did your path look like after you graduated? How did you join Burns Charest?
AK: I joined Burns Charest as an associate in 2016, only one year after it opened, and made partner at the end of 2020. I was lucky to be one of the first associates because it meant I got to jump into the fray on a lot of different cases right away: environmental contamination cases, various mass torts and antitrust cases. I'm incredibly grateful to the three founding partners, Warren Burns, Dan Charest and Korey Nelson, who gave me every opportunity to succeed and run with cases. We have a great culture that is very much focused on cultivating talent and pushing young attorneys to develop as quickly as possible.
The best advice I can give to other young attorneys is grab every opportunity your firm presents, even if you think it will be a lot to juggle. The more cases you work and the more attorneys you interact with (including co-counsel and opposing counsel at other firms) the more you learn.
LD: Tell me a bit about being made partner in 2020. Were there any challenges stepping into that role?
AK: It can be difficult to navigate the transition from associate to partner, particularly with respect to taking on more supervisory and mentoring roles. We're all so busy, it can be challenging to make the time to check in with people. It's also sometimes challenging to remember that we're all different, and strategies that have worked well for me might not be the right fit for another attorney.
Above all, I try to make it known that I'm always willing to lend an ear and share any pertinent advice or experience I have to the extent it's helpful. People often just need to talk something through with a sympathetic audience, and I'm grateful that other attorneys have done that for me throughout my career.
LD: What do you find most enjoyable and unique about practicing at Burns Charest?
AK: I participate in the recruiting and interview process in our New Orleans office with founding partner Korey Nelson. I think we end up talking more than the candidates sometimes because we both genuinely like our jobs so much!
Our main selling point is that new associates at Burns Charest will get the chance to work in meaningful ways on some of the most exciting, cutting-edge cases in the country. We encourage and expect associates to take charge of cases, not sit in the background waiting to be assigned individual tasks. We are also very honest about the travel, hours and commitment that this type of practice requires so folks aren't coming in blind. It's not for everyone, but it's incredibly rewarding and a lot of fun. I also always say that we have a "no jerks" policy. I think we try to be honest with people if they've dropped the ball on something or aren't operating in ways that will make them successful here, but we are also a good group of people who genuinely care about and are rooting for each other.
LD: How would you describe your style as a lawyer?
AK: I like to think I do a good job of taking my cases and clients very seriously without taking myself too seriously. A sense of humor is critical to handling the stress that comes along with this work. A sense of perspective is important too. My favorite attorneys (colleagues, co-counsel and opposing counsel) are those who have a good handle on what really matters and is worth getting fired up about and what does not. Not everything is a five-alarm fire. I think I'm someone who people like to be in the trenches with because I'm dependable, willing to dig in and do the work, and I bring the jokes!
LD: Speaking of jokes, what do you do for fun when you’re outside the office?
AK: My husband and I love to travel, and we took full advantage of the slowdown over the last few years to squeeze in as many trips as possible. We are now official national park geeks after visiting Yellowstone and Glacier, and hope to keep adding to the list in the coming years. I also live in one of the best food cities in the country, so I'm constantly trying new restaurants and revisiting old classics in New Orleans.
LD: If you weren’t a lawyer, what would you be doing now?
AK: I think I would be a literature professor. Nothing sounds like more fun to me than forcing a group of people to read a book I like and then talk to me about it in excruciating detail. Ask my younger sister – she has fond childhood memories of me trying to do just that!