Fellowship Spotlight: Elizabeth (Lily) Baggott

June 15, 2022

The Cleary Gottlieb Fellowship Program places associates at legal services or nonprofit organizations for one year, providing critically needed legal work to underserved communities.

Lily Baggott, a current Fellow at the ACLU Voting Rights Project, shares some of her thoughts about the experience thus far.

Why did you choose to join Cleary initially?

Many of the people that I had bonded with and looked up to in law school—peers, professors, and mentors—spoke highly of Cleary. I took that as a sign that there was something about the firm’s culture that would appeal to me. My time as a summer associate proved that to be true. Cleary is full of intensely dedicated and brilliant attorneys who bring humor and grace to their work. The firm’s thriving pro bono practice, which ranges from criminal defense and civil litigation to corporate matters, was also a huge draw for me.

What drew you to the Cleary Gottlieb Fellowship Program?

Throughout law school, I focused my work in and out of the classroom on people in need, from an internship at the San Francisco Public Defender’s Office to the coursework I pursued. As someone with deep roots in public interest work, I was thrilled at the prospect of being a part of Cleary’s Fellowship Program. Several of my close peers had great experiences as members of the previous cohort of Cleary Fellows, and it seemed like a tremendous opportunity and honor to serve communities that I care about. I am so pleased that my fellowship experience has proven those expectations.

How did you get paired with the ACLU?

I am passionate about First Amendment and democracy issues, and I wanted to work for an organization dedicated to protecting our fundamental rights to speak, vote, and live in an open and just society. The ACLU is all of that and more—it’s a non-partisan powerhouse defending civil liberties in courts across the country. Like Cleary, it is brimming with excellent legal minds that approach their work with creativity and grit.

Can you provide an overview of the type of work you are doing at the ACLU?

The Voting Rights Project has a very active litigation docket, most of which is currently focused on the 2020 redistricting cycle. I work primarily on redistricting cases in Alabama and Arkansas, but also work on a larger voter suppression case in Georgia. My involvement spans the various stages of litigation. I have been a part of pre-filing investigations, preliminary injunction hearings, discovery proceedings, and appellate briefings, including at the U.S. Supreme Court.

What has surprised you most about the fellowship?

Representing plaintiffs in litigation matters is much different than doing so from a defensive posture. In law school, most of my practical experience was in public and private defense. The hard skills certainly overlap between the two—fact gathering, legal research and analysis, coordination between teams, and so on—but the outlook changes the approach. That has been eye-opening and a fantastic opportunity for growth. I have learned a lot about the full lifecycle of litigation and the work that goes into crafting plaintiff-side litigation strategies.

What kinds of challenges have you faced during your fellowship?

There is a lot to be done to protect our most basic and fundamental rights, and the ACLU is on the front lines across a broad spectrum of civil liberties work that I care about deeply. Having such a strong personal connection to my work can be challenging on some days, but motivating and rewarding on others.

What skills have you learned at the ACLU that have served you well?

The ACLU hosts fellows regularly, and the attorneys I work with are diligent about finding space for my professional development. I have been able to hone my skills in legal research and writing, client communication, and team facilitation. I have learned invaluable lessons about the nuts and bolts of litigation, from turning complex questions of law and fact into concrete research and answers, to navigating evidentiary burdens with fact and expert witnesses. Being able to learn how to approach my work with an understanding of the big-picture legal implications and the practical steps needed to reach desired outcomes has been invaluable.

What advice do you have for a First Year Cleary Associate who may want to pursue a similar path?

Think about what kind of work is fulfilling for you, think about the type of work that may intimidate you, and then seek out something that checks both boxes. You certainly do not need to know exactly where you want your career to go, but if you are clear about the type of work you want to do, people will help you find it and cheer you on along the way.

What are you looking forward to most upon your arrival at Cleary?

I am looking forward to reconnecting with my Cleary colleagues and applying the skills I have developed at the ACLU to a variety of matters. Of course, I am also excited to continue my pro bono practice at the firm.

Learn more about the Cleary Gottlieb Fellowship Program here.