Elisa D’Amico partner at K&L Gates technology lawyer
K&L Gates partner Elisa D’Amico loves marketing. She is fascinated by visual arts and the creativity of a successful guerrilla marketing campaign. If not for the recession that hit right before she graduated from Cornell University as a marketing major, she would have taken a job at a marketing firm and would never have gone to law school.
Instead, she’s found a way to leverage her knack for promotion throughout her law career as she climbed from a night-school law student to a Big Law partner. She commands a strong presence on social media, which she uses to advocate for her firm and practice as well as for a myriad social justice issues. She takes up the megaphone frequently as president of the Miami-Dade chapter of the Florida Association for Women Lawyers.
Her digital crisis communications practice — created after she and Chicago partner Desiree Moore pitched the idea to K&L management — is a hybrid that combines public relations, advising and litigation.
“To bring it all home, marketing gives me that ‘fire in the belly’ and frankly it always has,” D’Amico said.
Lawyers say there has never been a better time to have a skill set like D’Amico’s. Lockstep models are under fire. Equity partnerships are shrinking. And business development chops and strong personal branding are becoming increasingly important to the careers of young attorneys.
D’Amico began taking classes at Fordham University School of Law in New York City immediately after graduating from Cornell in 2003. She took night classes and worked for the Jesuit university to help cover the cost of tuition.
In one of her lectures, D’Amico met fellow student Phyllis Malgieri — a “funny, abrasive” woman who worked as a paralegal for veteran trial attorney Ron Fischetti. The two hit it off and Malgieri introduced D’Amico to Fischetti, who hired her as a paralegal in 2003.
D’Amico has a deep reverence for Fischetti, who took her under his wing and imparted many lessons she carries with her to this day. To D’Amico, mentorship is crucial to a successful law career, and she often makes it a point to mention her mentors by name.
“I’m not ashamed that people have held open doors for me when I needed it. As Fischetti would say, ‘I’ll hold open the door but you have to walk through it,’ ” D’Amico said. ”I think people shouldn’t be ashamed to rely on other people and then talk about it. You don’t have to pretend like you’ve done everything on your own. Nobody has.”
D’Amico graduated from law school in 2006 and landed an associate position at Weil, Gotshal & Manges in New York. She followed Fischetti’s advice of “ making myself useful” and found a niche as the resident e-discovery expert. In time, she would manage a team of associates and work closely with senior partners.
D’Amico moved to Miami in 2009 with her husband Brian, whom she met while working a case in Dallas. She got hired by K&L Gates restructuring partner Jeffrey Kucera, who liked her New York firm credentials. She began doing bankruptcy litigation and continued with e-discovery work.
D’Amico’s dive into the intersection of the internet and law, which would later develop into her practice, came when she began representing a company that was the target of an attorney general investigation. D’Amico took a particular interest in her client’s affiliate marketing subsidiary and the implications it carried both in internet law and marketing.
K&L partner Dave Bateman, an internet law expert based in Seattle, later taught D’Amico everything he knew about internet law, and she consumed the knowledge eagerly, filling up countless notebooks with notes from their meetings.
The two would work again as co-founders of the Cyber Civil Rights Legal Project, a pro bono project providing legal assistance to victims of nonconsensual pornography, also known as “revenge porn.”
“I learned the business, developed good connections and was able to focus on internet and tech,” D’Amico said. “I realized that this is actually a thing.”
Today, D’Amico primarily works with business and nonprofits to craft public relations and legal strategies to respond to digital crises that pose a threat to a company’s online brand, such as impostor accounts and astroturfing campaigns. The practice marries the roles of business adviser and legal counsel — a hybrid function D’Amico said clients are increasingly asking for.
“Clients want somebody that speaks their language and really comprehends them and becomes a real confidant,” D’Amico said. “Rather than some lawyer on the other side of the phone.”
Technology, she admits, has its downsides, and young lawyers are facing the brunt of it. Branding has become essential to success in many ways, she said. Carefully curated online personas can be deceiving and exhausting.