Christina Luk ’21
Grace Tang ’21
The University of Virginia School of Law had the pleasure of welcoming David Leitch ’85, Global General Counsel for BoA, to North Grounds last week. Leitch is in Charlottesville to visit BoA branches in the region to discuss talk with local management. On October 21, the Virginia Law & Business Society held a Q&A moderated by Professor George Geis, with whom Leitch discussed his extensive experiences working at the nexus of global commerce and law. A podcast can be found online on SoundCloud, courtesy of UVA Law.
We at the paper took this opportunity to snag an exclusive Law Weekly interview with Leitch. Managing Editor Christina Luk ’21 and Lifestyle Editor Grace Tang ’21 had the opportunity to sit down in ScoCo to chat with Leitch about his impressive and wide-ranging career path, his love for Charlottesville, his memories of the Law School, and his advice for current students.
Leitch fondly reminisced about his days at UVA Law and his 1L professors Emerson Spies, John Jeffries, and John Robinson. When asked if he played softball at UVA, he told Law Weekly, “I did, I didn’t realize I had a choice! Softball was a very important activity then, and it's taken on more prominence since my time here.” When Leitch was a student, law firm interviews were scheduled throughout the semester, and there would inevitably be students who attended interviews in their softball uniforms or softball games in their suits! Given this and UVA’s stellar softball reputation, it’s no wonder everyone asks us about softball during interviews. Leitch gave us additional insight into another softball tradition, the 1L Dandelion Kick-off, which had its origin in the first softball opening parade while Leitch was in school, called the Dandelion Parade. Leitch found the inaugural parade particularly memorable because George Rennick, a popular automobile salesman who starred in funny commercials, was the parade’s grand marshal.
Leitch grew up in the suburbs of Philadelphia and attended Duke University for undergrad before arriving at UVA Law, where he pursued a course of study dedicated to litigation. Leitch spoke at length about the many doors UVA Law opened for him, including clerkship opportunities. For example, just two days after Leitch graduated from the Law School, he drove up to D.C. to interview with then Justice Reinquist. Far from having any expectations, Leitch said, he felt privileged to have met Justice Reinquist and said it was a great opportunity to see the Supreme Court from behind the curtain. When his mom received a call the next day from Justice Reinquist’s assistant, Leitch wondered if he had forgotten his umbrella in the office. The news was in fact much better. “It was all so fast,” recalls Leitch. “I graduated on Saturday, interviewed Monday, and by Tuesday I had the job.”
When it comes to his long and interesting career, Leitch commented that he had “a number of different jobs, each rewarding in different ways,” which is certainly true. After leaving law school, he clerked for Federal Circuit Judge Wilkinson ’72 in Charlottesville and Chief Justice Reinquist on the Supreme Court in D.C. before working at what is now Hogan Lovells LLP. Afterwards, Leitch worked at the Department of Justice alongside UVA professors Barbara Armacost, John Duffy, and John Harrison. While practicing as an appellate lawyer at Hogan, Leitch worked alongside John Roberts, now Chief Justice of the Supreme Court.
Throughout our interview, Leitch emphasized flexibility and he advised students to be patient and keep an open mind in their careers. “While you don’t need to take every opportunity presented, consider reasonable ‘stretch’ opportunities.” When he graduated from law school at the age of twenty-four, Leitch was set on litigation and wanted to be a federal judge. “I was a young man in a hurry. But take the long view, let things unfold, and really dedicate yourself to what’s in front of you.” In his career, Leitch worked in many legal fields, and he always dedicated time to master his current role. “I didn’t think I would end up in-house, but I was fortunate to work with people who have helped me develop those skills. I was intentional in terms of being open to opportunity, and you never know where it leads.”
Being open to opportunity paid off for Leitch in 2001. “After working as an appellate lawyer for the better part of a decade, I wanted to try something new,” said Leitch. When the opportunity to gain management experience became available as General Counsel of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), Leitch took the role. Shortly afterward, 9/11 occurred and Leitch found himself at the center of a national crisis over aviation and safety. Leitch’s work at the FAA led to contacts that helped him find his next job. After eighteen months at the FAA, in 2002, Leitch became Deputy White House Counsel with an office in the West Wing. “It was an incredible opportunity,” recalls Leitch, “and through those experiences, I was offered a position as GC for the Ford Motor Company where I worked for ten years.” Four years ago, Leitch took over his current role as General Counsel at Bank of America.
Throughout his career in and out of public and private practice, Leitch has found writing to be one of the most important skills, translating across a variety of legal and non-legal positions. “Developing the ability to communicate clearly and concisely to lawyers and non-lawyers through accurate and clear written word is vital. Good legal writing is not about being formal. But whether it is a brief or email, you need to make sure to be understood.” A reputation for integrity and candor is critical as well. “Be careful not to shade the truth to serve your client’s needs, building a reputation takes a long time so you should guard it carefully.”
For students interested in working in-house, Leitch recommends developing relationships with clients and in-house lawyers. “It sounds obvious, but sometimes, we can be insulated from the actual people on the other side of the table. You should work for people who let you get to know the people you work for and not just the problems.” This is also a great way to learn what it is really like to work at the corporation.
Since this is Law Weekly, we had to take a page out of Hot Bench and ask Leitch a series of lightning round questions. We learned that Leitch’s favorite food is usually related to the last country he visited. At the time, Leitch was craving Thai food, because he had a local Thai cooking class with his wife and daughter on his last trip. The next destination on Leitch’s bucket list is South Africa, and London is his favorite city outside of the US for its culture, arts, and history.
In Charlottesville, Leitch recommends the Virginian down on The Corner. He met his wife in Charlottesville and they had some great meals there. Additionally, Blue Moon Diner and Millers Downtown are also local favorites still around today.
For podcast listeners, Leitch recommended Malcolm Gladwell’s podcast Revisionist History, especially the episode discussing the history of the timing requirement on the LSAT exam. For novel readers, he recommends In Hoffa's Shadow by Jack Goldsmith, who used to teach at UVA Law, or anything by Hampton Sides.
In the fashion of a true UVA Law alum, Leitch was humble, kind, and generous in his advice. He spoke softly and was warm and approachable. He told us he had read last week’s Law Weekly and that he hoped he would be able to pick up another edition before he left Charlottesville. During our interview with Leitch, he talked about a wide range of topics ranging from his experiences at UVA, to his professors, to Jim Ryan’s book, all the way to stories about how final exams used to be taken on typewriters. The common thread tying together each topic is how much Leitch values and appreciates the Law School. It’s clear that Leitch is a big UVA Law fan and that he thoroughly enjoyed being back on Grounds.
When asked what he wanted to tell students at the Law School, Leitch had a simple message, “Savor every moment being at the Law School, and don’t forget to make relationships that will last a lifetime.”