Women Worth Watching 2015

Michele D. Johnson

This Latham Partner Balances Management and Motherhood


web Latham_JohnsonWhen companies and boards of directors face complex litigation, Michele Johnson is often called on to advise on “bet-the-company” matters that threaten a company’s success, including corporate governance challenges, shareholder suits, insider trading claims, financial restatements and other disputes. In the past two years, she has handled more than a dozen consolidated shareholder class actions, and she is regularly recognized as one of the top litigators in California.

As a member of the Executive Committee at Latham & Watkins, Michele is responsible for overseeing the firm’s operations and shaping its strategy. She recently served as the managing partner of the Orange County office and as chair of the office’s Litigation Department. She has also served on Latham’s Pro Bono, Associates, and Diversity committees.

Michele serves as president of the Board of the Association of Business Trial Lawyers–Orange County, as a board member of the Public Law Center (PLC), and as co-chair of the Orange County United Way’s Bench & Bar. An avid supporter of the United Way, she has raised and contributed tens of thousands of dollars in support of efforts to address barriers to self-sufficiency in the community.

“Agreeing to join my law firm’s management committees and charitable organizations’ boards—even though my child was still small—was a big career leap for me,” said Michelle. “Often I’d just bring her along to the meetings. What did I learn from this? The miracle of Netflix on Demand.”

“…failure is only ever the middle of the story.”

Recognizing the ways in which her unique skills might further benefit the community, Michele has developed an active pro bono practice. In partnership with PLC, she spearheads efforts to represent victims of family violence in order to obtain restraining orders, file VAWA (Violence Against Women Act) petitions, and take other legal steps to help victims. Michele also plays keyboards in an all-Latham, charity-focused rock band called Diversion. Since its formation in 2013, Diversion has raised more than $100,000 for such charities as Food Bank LA, March of Dimes, Alliance for Children’s Rights, and pro bono law firm Public Counsel.


Education: JD, Georgetown University Law Center; BS, Arizona State University

First Job: Taco Bell drive-thru

What I’m Reading: “A Thousand Splendid Suns” by Khaled Hosseini 

The most important quality a woman leader should have is…

…the same as for any leader: a commitment to guidance and mentorship through service and creativity. She should strive to deliver what the team needs to succeed and inspire others to do so as well.

The career advice I’d give my former self:

This too shall pass . . . even sleepless nights with a toddler during trial.

Words I live by:

We’re in this together.

The one thing I’d do differently in my career, knowing what I know now, is…

…to try to believe in myself as much as others appear to.

When I really need to focus on a project, I…

…surround myself with chaos. My office at home doubles as a playroom/ art room/jam room and is typically filled with kids, pets, music, and loud toys. This arrangement works less well for conference calls.

My biggest career leap (and what I learned from it) was…

…agreeing to join my law firm’s management committees and charitable organizations’ boards even though my child was still small. Often I’d just bring her along to the meetings. What did I learn from this? The miracle of Netflix on Demand.

Being a woman in my profession has been…

…good for standing out in a room, championing a unique perspective, mentoring others, getting to wear interesting shoes. Bad for being assumed to be the one in charge of getting coffee. Mostly good.

I’ve learned that failure is…

…only ever the middle of the story. Keep thinking of a way out and chase it until you end up with a success.

I maintain a healthy personal life by…

…cooking with my 8-year-old, running uncomfortable distances, playing keyboards in rock-n-roll bands in black leather platforms.

I knew my present career was what I wanted to do when…

…I’ll have to let you know. It’s still a toss-up between this and opening a bakery.