Nominee: Christy Dunn, Class of 2019
Christy Dunn is a 2019 magna cum laude graduate of Campbell University School of Law. Prior to attending Campbell, Dunn earned her Bachelors of Science in Business Administration from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and spent 13 years working as a sales engineer consulting with end users, engineers, and contractors to help design, sell, and install power protection and precision cooling solutions for data centers and industrial applications.
While at Campbell, Dunn interned in the office of the Solicitor General of North Carolina and for The Honorable Douglas McCullough at the North Carolina Court of Appeals. After graduation, she clerked for The Honorable Allegra Collins at the North Carolina Court of Appeals.
She is currently an associate attorney at Young Moore and Henderson, P.A. representing insurers and businesses in a variety of civil litigation matters including insurance coverage, employment, electric, and long-term care claims.
Q: Prior to practicing law you were a sales engineer for 13 years. What inspired you to go to law school?
A: For as far back as I can remember, I always planned to be a lawyer or a teacher. Perhaps I knew from a young age that I wanted to be someone people could depend on for good advice and answers. And I have always enjoyed a healthy debate! I was fortunate to attend Providence Day School in Charlotte for high school, where writing, leadership, and service were among the school’s top priorities. I had the luxury of spending my first two years in Chapel Hill immersed in the liberal arts, taking mostly writing, English literature, and French language and literature courses. Then, heeding my father’s good advice to “major in something marketable, just in case you decide not to go to law school,” I earned a degree in business. I loved the exciting world of business with its fast pace of problem solving, communicating, and competing. After launching my sales career with P&G, I seized the opportunity to join a small company, where I enjoyed 13 years in technical sales, representing the leading manufacturer of power protection and cooling systems for data centers. Selling complex solutions for mission-critical applications to end users, engineers, and contractors proved to be a fascinating arena for finding the right answers, taking care of the customer, solving problems, giving good counsel, competing, and building relationships. I left behind my work in the Piedmont Triad to get fully engaged in our son’s education and sports, our church, and the community in Raleigh. I enjoyed being a stay-at-home mom for several years, which allowed me to build new relationships and to engage in various leadership and service roles in the community. When I decided to embark on a new career at age 44, I committed to fulfilling my childhood dream of earning my law degree. Not only was it the most exhilarating intellectual challenge I have experienced, but my law degree is allowing me to extend my business experience through the practice of law, representing businesses. I love being a civil litigator, because every single day I get to solve problems, help give good counsel, compete, and build relationships (just a few of my favorite things).
Q: What advice do you have for law students interested in representing insurers and businesses? Are there any classes or extracurricular activities that helped further your understanding of insurance and business litigation?
A: I have only been in private practice for eight months, so I am sharing what I have learned from seasoned attorneys and from my own experiences so far. Surely this is true about any area of the practice of law, but to represent insurers in coverage matters and defend businesses in civil litigation, one must be patient, focused, and steadfast in paying attention to the details. There are many layers and nuances to insurance coverage and many moving parts in civil litigation. While I find these practice areas to be fascinating and fun, I approach them with fear and respect. It is quite sobering to consider how much there is that I don’t know yet! But in my view, every law student and young attorney should possess a healthy degree of fear and respect and channel it positively into dogged persistence and hard work. I have found in my previous career, during law school, in my clerkship, and now in private practice, that this approach is a powerful tool that almost guarantees you’ll be the most prepared person in the room. This was my experience when I argued my first motion to dismiss several weeks after I started private practice. Only by examining the case law very carefully, taking time to write a good brief, and being completely prepared to make my argument at the hearing, was I able to persuade the judge to dismiss the lawsuit. My opposing counsel had not filed a brief and was not as familiar with the case law as I was, so he had little ammunition against me in court!
Electives I took in law school that I think are helpful to me now in civil litigation include Advanced Legal Research, Federal Courts, Antitrust, Real Estate Finance & Transactions, Conflict of Laws, Client Counseling, Administrative Law, and International Business Arbitration & Litigation. Also, I encourage law students to seek out and to seize any opportunity to improve your writing skills. I was fortunate in law school to do a lot of substantive legal writing as a research assistant for Campbell’s Practitioner in Residence, Matt Sawchak; as an extern at the Solicitor General’s Office; and in my work for The Honorable J. Douglas McCullough as a summer intern at the North Carolina Court of Appeals and then as a writer of content he presented to bankruptcy practitioners at an annual CLE. After law school, I clerked for The Honorable Allegra Collins at the Court of Appeals. My clerkship was invaluable for many reasons, including three that are especially helpful in civil litigation. First, clerking at the Court of Appeals gave me insight into the mechanics and flow of litigation. The intermediate appellate court is primarily an error-correcting court whose job is to look back at what happened in the trial court and to review its rulings. A clerk examines the record on appeal, which presents a timeline of the litigation, and the appellate briefs, which tell each side’s story and argue the legal issues. Second, clerking gave me lots of practice doing legal research! The most important part of a clerk’s job is to study the law related to the issues presented in the case and to present it to the judge clearly and accurately. This prepared me for civil litigation, because one of the keys to a successful outcome for the client is knowing the controlling law, particularly the factual and procedural details that distinguish one case from another. Finally, during my clerkship I became much more comfortable with legal writing, partly due to the sheer volume of opinions we drafted, but mostly because my judge is an excellent writing teacher who gives much of herself to help her clerks become better writers. Since there is a lot of writing involved in private practice and civil litigation, I am thankful that I entered this arena as one who enjoys the process of legal writing. Indeed, this might be my favorite part!
Q: Share a memory or experience that has had a lasting impact on your career.
A: This is a short story about knowing when to say “yes” and being faithful in the small things. Toward the end of the fall semester of my 2L year, as my Antitrust class was wrapping up, my professor, Matt Sawchak, reached out and made me two offers. First, he invited me to join his small team of research assistants who assisted him in his professional capacities as Campbell Law’s Practitioner in Residence, as a member of the editorial board of the Antitrust Law Journal, as a member of several bar and professional committees including the Appellate Rules Committee for the North Carolina Bar Association and the Rules Committee for the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina, and as the Solicitor General of the State of North Carolina. I know a good offer when I see one, so without hesitation I said “yes.” Second, he encouraged me to apply for a spring 2018 externship in the Solicitor General’s Office. He explained that his staff would review the applications and make the decision, but that he thought I was a viable candidate. After giving it a lot of thought and putting my best foot forward in submitting my application materials, I was disappointed to soon receive a polite letter thanking me for my application but declining to interview me for an externship position. I was not surprised, however, because I had heard about how stiff the competition was for externships in the SG’s office. Indeed, when I overheard other students buzzing about it, it sounded quite glamorous (and a bit scary). But having been a career salesperson, I didn’t dwell for a minute on rejection (plus, I knew that things always work out the way they are supposed to).
Meanwhile, I was busy learning the ropes in my new role as a research assistant, trying to do my best on every task and to pay attention so I would learn a lot. Just before the winter break, Matt sent our team a request, that he needed one of us to do a rather large secondary-source research project during the holidays, due January 2. I was thrilled that the more senior members of the team weren’t interested, and I raised my hand and said “yes.” While this was no small task when measured by the time it took to do it well, it ranked low on the glamour scale, compared to competing in a national mock trial or publishing a law review article. But low and behold, weeks later I learned that Matt had shared my finished product with his team at the SG’s office, because it related to a legal issue in an appeal they were working on, and that his team found my research to be very helpful to them in their case. The icing on the cake was that they invited me to join them the next semester as an extern in the SG’s office! The externship was an excellent experience. And, they gave me the opportunity to volunteer during my last semester of law school as a helper on a fascinating trust taxation case that Matt argued at the United States Supreme Court. I fondly remember waiting in line in Washington, D.C. at the Supreme Court, in the wee morning hours on the day of the argument. Although I had played the smallest role in the case, I was beaming with pride and was thankful for having said “yes” all along the way.
I tell this story because it is a great illustration of why it is important to be faithful in the small things. I encourage law students to—instead of focusing on prestige or things that will look great on your resume—just give 100% to every task before you, no matter how small. I promise if you do that, then you won’t need to worry too much about getting a job. Through these experiences, I learned a lot about analyzing the law, practicing law, and legal writing—all of which certainly have had a major impact on my career already. But these experiences had a profound impact on my career, in that I gained a real mentor in Matt Sawchak, whose reputation as an outstanding lawyer with integrity, exceptional advocacy skills, and keen intellect precedes him. And he is a true servant leader, which I have always aspired to be.
Q: How did Campbell Law prepare you for your career?
A: How do I love Campbell Law? Let me count the ways! There isn’t enough space here to list every way in which Campbell equipped me to be a good lawyer. I hope I deliver to my clients, my law firm, and the legal community all that the professors devote themselves to teach Campbell law students about practicing law well with excellence and integrity. I have been blessed to go to some great schools and learn from great teachers—and I put the Campbell Law professors at the top of the heap. Many of them impacted my career and my life in ways they will never know. The law librarians are invaluable, too, always willing to help every student get comfortable with the law library. They came to my rescue countless times to help me locate and obtain obscure resources for my work as a research assistant and as a spader for the Antitrust Law Journal. The administration and staff at Campbell Law know the students by name and work feverishly from the first day of 1L year until the donning of the hoods, and across the finish line that is the bar exam, to ensure every student’s success. I know that investing my time, energy, and money into my Campbell Law degree was an excellent choice.
Q: What does Campbell University’s motto “leading with purpose” mean to you?
A: “Leading with purpose” means deciding what is important to you, living it, and being willing to invest in others by sharing it. I don’t think this necessarily requires shouting it with a megaphone from a big stage or being the person at the helm of an organization. I think that by championing the communities we are part of and being willing to serve in whatever way is needed, we can all be tremendous leaders. As I reflect on my own experiences in leadership, they have morphed over time, from higher-profile officer positions when I was younger, to smaller and more behind-the-scenes roles in recent years. I do enjoy being in the small group that sets the vision and strategy. And no doubt, I believe that every time I have answered the call to do this, it has been with a purpose. But as I reflect on how I might have made a real impact by leading with purpose, it would have to be in the small moments and one-on-one encounters and relationships. For example, one of my favorite things in law school was being a Contracts teaching scholar for three professors over the course of several semesters. Since I always wanted to be a teacher, I got a charge out of preparing for review sessions, setting up my PowerPoint slides, standing at the podium at the front of the classroom, and presenting my take-aways and practice questions to the takers. Growing up a competitive clogger, I am no stranger to the stage! Hopefully, my review sessions were helpful to the students in their efforts to learn Contracts. Or maybe they got a good laugh at my eagerness and enthusiasm. If so, that’s okay, because I found my real purpose in the one-on-one meetings with students, usually early in the morning in a small study room or the library, when we’d be together to review a particular concept or do practice questions or whatever the student requested. My real purpose was to encourage, to exhort, and to challenge them in any way I could. Perhaps I would be in a position to say something to help a person who needed it, to press through fear and forge ahead to their own personal or professional victory. Or, perhaps I might run into someone in the Commons or the law library who was just about to give up on law school, and I could try to stop them in their tracks and help them get turned around. I enjoyed taking this purpose with me to the Court of Appeals, where I relished the opportunity to work with law students who served as externs in our chambers. And now at my law firm, I once again gravitate toward encouraging and exhorting people in whatever way I can. Since I am a baby lawyer, I am not qualified to offer sage wisdom on the practice of law. But what I can do is impart my enthusiasm, encourage others to be great, and keep smiling. In this way, maybe I am leading with purpose.
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