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Zellnor Myrie

Law Clerk, Litigation – New York, 2015 Summer Associate
Cornell Law School

Zell is currently a law clerk in the Litigation Department in the New York office. In 2015, he was a summer associate. 

Zell took four years off between college and law school. “The first thing I did after college was community service in South Africa, through a church program led by Malaak Rock, wife of comedian Chris Rock. I’m from Brooklyn so it was eye-opening for me. I went to Soweto, where I served as a mentor and helped build community gardens. I really wasn’t thinking about law school or becoming a lawyer someday. But I did know then, that I wanted to serve.”

“The firm embraces and encourages public service.”

When Zell got back from South Africa, he went to work for a councilman in The Bronx. “I got this great job supporting a member of the City Council. It was instructive, seeing how to pull the levers of government to help people. Of course, I noticed that most of the decision-makers had JDs. The more I worked in government, the more value I saw in mastering the law. And the more I got into the law, the more I enjoyed it.

When Zell started law school, he knew he wanted to be at a New York firm. “Cornell has a 1L winter pairing program, and I was fortunate to get a placement at Davis Polk. Seeing the firm from the inside sold me. It was my top pick for the 2L summer.

“I remember getting the call that I was accepted into the summer program at Davis Polk. I was in Midtown, and called my mom to tell her. I told her that I hoped I could be what the firm saw in me. There are no lawyers in my family. My parents are from Costa Rica. They worked their way up, working in factories. Eventually my dad became a teacher, and my mom owned her own business. It’s the American dream. My parents sacrificed for me. I owe them everything, particularly my mom who struggled so hard. I’m grateful for what they did. That’s why I want to give back.”

“The firm embraces and encourages public service. It’s a really important part of the firm’s ethos. It’s not enough to be the best lawyers in private practice, the firm wants us to use our skills for the greater good.”

“So I bring a public interest background to the firm. It’s a good place for that. A lot of people move from the firm into government and back again. One partner told me he chose the firm three times, once in law school, then after a clerkship, then after serving in the Department of Justice. That stuck with me.

Zell enjoyed the summer events sponsored by the firm’s affinity groups. “I’ll be a member of the Black and Hispanic/Latinx American affinity groups. One of the lawyers who recruited me is part of the Black Affinity Group. The groups provide a great network of support.

“It’s great to see that the firm is diverse. During my summer, a black counsel was promoted to partner. The numbers of people of color in this profession are small, but we’re working on that.”

As a summer associate, Zell volunteered for a good deal of pro bono work. “Pro bono is not just a recruiting tool, it’s deeply engrained in the firm. A highlight of my summer was working with Sanctuary for Families, to help with a temporary restraining order. I also took advantage of the firm’s two-week secondment program; so as a summer associate, I was seconded to Bronx Legal Services’s housing unit where I helped people facing eviction to stay in their homes.

“Sharon Katz, the partner in charge of pro bono, took a group of summer associates to a gala for Sanctuary for Families where they used texting to raise funds. There were summer associates from other firms there, and we got into a little competition to see who could out-raise the rest. We emailed and texted all the summer associates we knew and managed to pull together a substantial donation for this very good cause. It made me proud of my class.

During the summer program, Zell asked for white collar work. “I had spent my 1L summer at the U.S. Attorney’s office so I already had some exposure to that.

“There wasn’t any ‘busy work.’ For my first assignment I worked directly with my partner-mentor on a complex civil procedure. After the final of my civil procedure class at Cornell, I had said, ‘Never again!’ But I ended up really loving it, breaking it down, figuring it out. I got to work on documents that were submitted to the court, substantive work.

“It was great working directly with my mentor. He’s a brilliant guy, and always so professional. You can see why clients want to work with Davis Polk lawyers.

“I accepted immediately when the firm offered me a full time job at the end of the summer program. I was a little nervous, when my partner-mentor started going into my review, going over how I’d done as a summer associate. Then he said, ‘Oh wait, you have the offer, are you interested?’ I said yes before he could finish.

“Everyone says that the summer program is great and Davis Polk is a great firm, so I knew that going in. And still I can say the experience exceeded my expectations. I saw every aspect of the firm and its amazing breadth of practice areas − such a range of opportunity for building a career in the law. I also met great people in my summer class and in the firm. It was a tremendous experience.”

“I’m not sure where I’ll be in five years. I’m not focused on that. Five years ago, I would have said, in government. I can see myself at the firm for a long time. One thing is for sure, I’ll get the best preparation possible for whatever I want to do. The training here is unparalleled; the lawyers, unmatched. And the firm is committed to doing good work, and very supportive of going into public service, if that’s what you want to do.

“I’m very fortunate to have this open slate − this can take me anywhere.”

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