Alumni Spotlight: Anne-Valerie (Prosper) Imparato (2014-2016; New York)

November 15, 2022

Cleary Gottlieb alumni often reflect upon their time at the firm with fondness and gratitude.

Anne-Valerie (Prosper) Imparato (2014-2016; New York), Director of the Office of Civil Rights and Title IX at UMass Boston, shares some of her thoughts below.

Why did you choose Cleary and what did you practice at the firm?

I chose Cleary because of the international aspect of the firm and the background of its people. I had heard so many great things about the people there from all over the world. I grew up going to international schools my whole life, surrounded by people from different places and spoke different languages so I missed having that international community. That’s something that I really found at Cleary when I got there.

I was in the litigation department. I did some securities litigation, white-collar, and I did some international litigation and arbitration. I really loved it and truly met so many wonderful people during my time at the firm.

I worked with many partners but the ones that stand out from my time at Cleary are Breon Peace, Jennifer Kennedy Park, and Bill Gorin to name a few. I had the most wonderful relationships with them and when I think of them, I think of the word kindness. These people who are titans of the industry were so kind to me from day one. They were invested in me as a young person and in my career and for that I’m incredibly grateful.

Do you have any favorite memories from your time at Cleary? 

I had an opportunity to travel when I worked at Cleary which I think is unique given how junior I was but because of my language skills and some of the work that I did, I went to Dubai and also to West Africa, where I interviewed senior government officials in French. I enjoyed the travel, but the work was also substantive, important, and condensed, so it was all very interesting to me.

Tell us your path from Cleary to where you are now. What have you learned along the way and what do you appreciate most about each of these experiences?

I left Cleary because I was moving to Boston from New York. I went from Cleary to Nutter McClennen & Fish in Boston, and then I went to Harvard, which is where I did my first Title IX work as a fellow, then I went from Harvard to Brandeis and now I’m at UMass Boston. It doesn’t seem like the traditional trajectory, but the interesting thing is that investigations work, securities investigations work, is actually much more similar to Title IX investigations work and civil rights investigations than you would think. I knew that I loved investigations, and securities investigations work, and that process is very much the same. At Cleary, I learned what witness interviews look like, what depositions look like, what reviewing evidence looks like. Reviewing evidence for wrongdoing, especially when taking more of a neutral stance, was a skillset that really did translate when I started doing Title IX and then later on civil rights investigations because I knew what it was like to read someone’s emails, text messages, etc., then meet with them to talk through the evidence.

I always think of Cleary lawyers as not only brilliant, but also quick in understanding how to approach each situation and matter. As an international firm with international clients, you are working with people from a host of cultures and you’re working with people who have very different perspectives of the world, and you need to know how to have sensitive conversations. Knowing how to pivot from working with a government official, then to someone from pro bono, perhaps it’s a minor who just arrived in the U.S. for example, to then speaking with a trader from a large financial institution, all in the same day, and you need to know how to do that. Those are all very different people with different situations who require different ways of communication. These soft skills and the ability to pivot quickly have translated into my work now when I’m speaking with a student versus a faculty member, or a senior staff member in the presidential cabinet. These are all very different conversations, and you need to approach people with the same level of respect, with cultural sensitivity and an overall understanding of where they’re coming from and I don’t think I would have learned how to do this at another firm because of the diversity at Cleary and the diversity of clientele.

It’s been 50 years since Title IX was passed as part of the Education Amendments of 1972. In a moment of reflection, from your perspective, how far have we come and what more can we do?

We’ve come so far legally, and we’ve come so far as to what the parameters are. For a long time, there wasn’t anything on paper that said you can’t harass women at work. There wasn’t anything on paper that acknowledged the precarious situation that could come from eighteen-year-olds living on a college campus together and what could happen. There wasn’t anything to acknowledge the various situations where so many young adults are living in close quarters and power dynamics. I think we’ve come really far in getting those things down on paper and we’ve come really far with putting rules into place. I think what we can still work on is the culture. This new generation has especially put their foot down and they have different expectations about what work looks like and what it looks like to be able to do what you came to do without feeling like you’re in a hostile environment. I would say that this is still new and it’s still taking a long time for people to report situations, often because they are worried about the repercussions of coming forward on their careers, especially when working in a small field where there are very few decision makers. From my perspective, and where I am, we take every case very seriously and make sure we’re in compliance when it comes to those rules that are on paper. I think it’s hard to get the word out there and it’s hard to make someone feel comfortable with the thought of coming forward without the fear behind it, in order to have a larger cultural shift. That’s my hope as to where we go next in this country, to really just seeing a shift for all genders, with an increase in reports.

If you can share, what inspired you to want to make a difference in your work and what do you enjoy most about your current role?

When I went to law school, I was really interested in doing international human rights work and kind of thought that’s where my career would go, but I also knew that I wanted to know how to lawyer at the same time. So, for me, especially with all of the pro bono opportunities that I got to do at Cleary, I knew that was where my career was going to take me eventually. I got to a point in my life where I realized that my life wasn’t going to be a path, which is hard for lawyers to understand especially because we think we know the next phase that’s around the corner, whereas for me, the way that it ended up was, I heard about an opportunity and tried it out until I started to advance my career and felt like I was really able to help people. Using my legal skills in order to do that. My career doesn’t look like what 22-year-old me thought it was going to look like, but I think that I’ve maintained those same values of helping people and really marginalized communities. When I think about Title IX and civil rights work, even though I’m on the compliance side of it rather than the direct services side, I really do feel like I get to work on policies and build systems that ensure a more equitable and welcoming environment for everyone.

You are also an artist and a writer. What are your artistic goals and what do you look to portray? Do you ever express parts of your work through your art?

My art is about both the personal and the systematic. A lot of the work that I’ve done is about what it’s like to be a black woman in America, black joy and femininity and trying to represent this image of colorful black presence and to have that come through for people in their everyday lives around the city.

On the personal side, my work has been about motherhood. Not just my own personal journey to motherhood, but for all women. My personal portrayal has resonated with so many women who have also experienced difficulties in their own journeys and it’s been important for me to continue to show that through my work.

On the professional side, I paint about what’s important to me and I work in what’s important to me. Ultimately what’s important is ensuring that everybody is aware of their rights and is able to live their life in an environment where their rights are respected, especially when we’re talking about protected categories. My art is often about protected categories as well. I would say that on the macro level that my professional life and art life overlap and then certainly my personal life and my art life overlap.

What advice do you have for a Cleary associate who may want to pursue a similar career path?

Try not to be so concerned about the big picture or your career trajectory and where you’re going to be when you’re 65. Just take the next step. Take a look at what opportunities would be wonderful right now, and maybe that’s radically different to what you’ll be doing five years from now. I think that’s ok. You will ultimately end up where you need to be when you just do the next right thing. Look at what is going to make you happy now. Look to what is going to be a good fit for your family now. You can have many different careers within one lifetime.

What advice would you offer to associates that you wish someone had offered you while at Cleary?

I was nervous and I was trying so hard to do a good job. I would tell my younger self to work hard and do my best and understand that’s enough. People who are more senior than you, or those who have been there longer than you, if they see you working hard and doing your best, that will also be enough for them. You’re going to make mistakes and you’re not going to know everything, but no one expects you to, and it’s ok. Cleary picked you for a reason, so dump the imposter syndrome, and you’ll be great.

What’s something I haven’t asked you about yet that you would like to share with the Cleary community?

Law firms are not for everyone, but if you’re going to go to a law firm, there’s no other choice but Cleary. It is filled with so much kindness at all levels which is rare. Take advantage of this community and pay it forward.

Learn more about Cleary’s global alumni network here.