John Edwards, Musical Chairs, Plaintiffs Firms, Washington Post

Musical Chairs: Cate Edwards Follows in Her Father’s Footsteps

The comely Cate has her father's smile.

No, she didn’t cheat on a cancer-stricken spouse through an affair with a trashy “videographer”; Cate Edwards, the daughter of John and Elizabeth Edwards, isn’t married. Rather, the 28-year-old Harvard Law graduate has become a plaintiffs’ lawyer, like her father before her.

As reported today in the Washington Post’s Reliable Source column, Edwards recently became an associate with Sanford Wittels & Heisler, a boutique class-action litigation firm with offices in New York, D.C., and San Francisco. Her bio on the firm website, which lists her as Catharine E. Edwards, mentions that she’s a member of the Virginia bar, with an application to the D.C. bar pending.

It also reveals that she previously served as a law clerk to a federal judge. For whom did Cate Edwards clerk?

Edwards clerked in the Eastern District of Virginia, for Judge Leonie Brinkema. Judge Brinkema is perhaps most well-known as the judge who presided over the trial of Zacarias Moussaoui, the so-called 20th hijacker on 9/11. After he was convicted, she sentenced him to life imprisonment:

Judge Leonie M. Brinkema, who sentenced Mr. Moussaoui, told him:

“You came here to be a martyr and to die in a great big bang of glory, but to paraphrase the poet T. S. Eliot, instead, you will die with a whimper. The rest of your life you will spend in prison.”

Mr. Moussaoui began to respond, but Judge Brinkema continued. “You will never again get a chance to speak,” she said, “and that is an appropriate and fair ending.”


Whoops, sorry — got distracted. Back to Cate Edwards. Joining a plaintiffs’ firm is an unusual path for someone with Edwards’s pedigree: Princeton, Harvard Law, and a federal judicial clerkship.

But why is that? Many graduates of elite institutions like HLS are liberal, or at least left-leaning. Why do they all troop off to defense-oriented, white-shoe firms, like Cravath and Davis Polk? Why don’t they go to plaintiffs’ firms, where they can “do good”?

And maybe even do well while doing good. Sure, partners at Cleary and Debevoise don’t starve. But the richest practicing lawyer in America, Joe Jamail — worth a cool $1.5 billion, according to Forbes — is a plaintiff’s attorney.

Of course, Cate Edwards, who spent much of law school working at the Harvard Legal Aid Bureau, probably isn’t in law for the money. She doesn’t have to be: her father made a killing as a trial lawyer, and her mother is a bestselling author. The Georgetown townhouse that Cate calls home is worth $1.3 million — not typical digs for a junior associate.

Check out the full Reliable Source item, which contains some additional tidbits (such as what her longtime boyfriend does), over here.

Cate Edwards lands first law firm job, joins the ranks of Washington lawyers [Reliable Source / Washington Post]

Earlier: Lawyerly Lairs: Cate Edwards’s Georgetown Pad

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