'Telling a Different Sort of Story'
Mindy Pava’s journey from the newsroom to the courtroom
Published in 2020 Washington DC Super Lawyers magazine on April 22, 2020
Mindy Pava still remembers what periodicals came on which days of the week while growing up in Miami.
“We always would get magazines and newspapers,” she says. “I remember waiting on Tuesdays for Newsweek to arrive and Thursdays for Sports Illustrated to arrive. There was a big place for the written word in my household.”
A career in journalism felt like a natural fit: She was interested in writing and asking questions. “Because, in my household we were all so well-read,” she says, “I was curious about the process behind the articles I would read.”
Pava got an early start as editor-in-chief of her high school paper, Miami Killian Senior High’s The Cougar’s Roar. From there, it was onto Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism, and a career in education reporting at The Herald-Sun in Durham, North Carolina, and then The Post and Courier in Charleston, South Carolina.
“There are so many things about education reporting that people just don’t expect,” says Pava, now a senior associate at Kelley Drye & Warren. “You could have so many different types of sources—from principals to parents to people who cared about budgets, to construction and growing areas. You’re writing about so many different things. It was a new thing every day.”
At The Post and Courier, Pava covered statewide education issues, including all the politics entwined in local school boards and budgets.
“Education reporting is one of the most political areas of reporting you can do, besides reporting on the White House or Congress,” she says. “You have school board elections, you have issues with how the school board is spending the budget, you have all these different stakeholders who care so much about curriculum and academics and discipline.”
However, despite the wide variety of coverage that education reporting entailed, Pava found she wanted a deeper challenge. She recalls the highlight of her journalism career also being its end.
At the time, in 2007, South Carolina’s school buses were the oldest and least safe in the United States. Pava worked alongside a member of The Post and Courier’s special projects investigative team to publish a five-installment series on the issue, and she still talks animatedly about the realities she uncovered. “Some of the buses were about 20 years old. There were some kids in kindergarten [who] were riding on the same bus that their parents rode on,” she says. “Old buses break down, kids can’t get to school on time, some of the buses would catch fire, you’d have mechanics working in the shop who were trained [to work] with newer engines. It was a series of cascading problems.”
The school bus series ultimately helped mitigate those problems. “It won a handful of awards … and once the governor and legislators commented on it, they developed a bus replacement cycle,” says Pava. “Our article helped change school buses in South Carolina.”
After that, returning to churning out daily copy wasn’t as exciting. The pivot to law seemed just as natural as the path to journalism she’d originally followed.
“I liked the complex issues that I was dealing with on that assignment, and I liked feeling like I was in charge of an investigation … where we were trying to pull out the most pertinent facts, ask questions and to stick with something,” she says. “I always had in the back of my mind that the skills I enjoyed doing—asking good questions, trying to write in a way that was comprehensible to a wide audience, trying to get to the heart of a matter factually—would potentially translate to a career in law.”
So she took those skills to the Emory University School of Law in Atlanta, where she got her J.D. in 2011. Pava has now been at Kelley Drye & Warren, where she works primarily as a litigator, for five years. But she’s carried some of her journalism lessons with her.
“You have to know how to write, you have to know how to ask questions, you have to know how to gather facts—you’re just using them a little differently,” she says. “As a journalist, you’re trying to present the issue neutrally, while as an attorney you’re trying to use those same facts to tell a persuasive story. You’re still a storyteller; it’s just telling a different sort of story.”
Stop the Presses
Total number of U.S. newsroom employees
Total circulation of U.S. weekday newspapers
More than 1 in 5 local U.S. newspapers folded between 2004 and 2018.
36 percent of large U.S. newsrooms experienced layoffs between January 2017 and December 2018.
Sources: Jounalism.org, The University of North Carolina