Powerhouse Litigator Gives Back Through Board Service
What powerhouse litigator Angela Agrusa ’87 appreciated most about her years as an LMU Loyola Law School student was the opportunity to collaborate and communicate with other students who were also eager to become lawyers.
Being a Loyola Law School student was a gift, she said, because it gave her the opportunity to talk about what she was learning and share her ideas with other highly motivated students.
“I think back on all the times I sat in the quad debating with my classmates. Whether it was about cases we were studying or how they related to current events, it was such a special time,” she said.
“Loyola taught me to appreciate collaboration and working together as team in order to meet a goal.”
Now, as a brand-new member of the law school’s Board of Directors, Agrusa looks forward to assisting Dean Michael Waterstone’s efforts to develop and expand LLS’ strong sense of community even further among students, alumni and Los Angeles at large.
“Joining the board is going to give me the opportunity to give back to LLS and get involved in some of its programs,” she said.
Agrusa is a big fan of Waterstone and how he is leading the school. “It’s inspiring, it’s contemporary, and I’m very excited to work with him and his staff.”
The daughter of a Los Angeles Police Department officer, Agrusa decided she wanted to be a lawyer after reading “To Kill a Mockingbird.” So when at LLS, she clerked for the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) on a case challenging the statute of limitations on childhood sexual assault, she saw it as the epitome of what she wanted as a lawyer.
However, Agrusa decided to take Contracts, a course taught by Victor Gold, William H. Hannon Professor of Law and emeritus dean. To her surprise, she loved it.
“I fell in love with contract litigation. I understood the value of the written word and the way the human dynamic interprets that word and how sometimes the two don’t necessarily run linearly. That is where my career has prospered.”
Prospered it has. Agrusa is a partner in DLA Piper and is well-known for representing major companies and prominent individuals in litigation to protect their brands. Clients have included Hilton Worldwide, Danone including the makers of Horizon Organic Milk, The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas and, more recently, Motel 6 and Chipotle Mexican Grill.
While she is particularly proud of her work in brand-crisis litigation, virtually all her cases have been big, complex and difficult. Once a new Baker & Hostetler associate fresh out of Loyola Law School, Agrusa was assigned to help defend Exxon Corp. against allegations by the state that they had fixied crude oil prices. Although four oil companies settled out of what had become the largest antitrust case in California at the time, Exxon went to jury trial and won.
Over the next 16 years, Agrusa rose to become national chief of Baker & Hostetler’s complex business litigation team.
Then, she joined LLS classmate and close friend Stuart Liner in his boutique firm. One reason behind her move was her memory of being a law student. “In many, many ways, sitting with Stuart at the firm talking about one of our clients felt like being 22 years old sitting in the quad talking about the cases we were learning,” she said.
In summer 2016, Bill Cosby’s family asked Agrusa to defend the former comedian in civil litigation and then later in a criminal trial.
“They were looking for attorneys who might have an ability to handle polarizing issues that are being litigated simultaneously in the court and the court of public opinion,” she said. “I do believe that he deserved to have a fair trial and to have the charges against him resolved in the courtroom and not on the court steps or in public.”
She joined the criminal team reluctantly, but they succeeded in winning a hung jury in June 2017. Separately, the Liner firm merged with DLA Piper the following month.
“It truly was unlike any experience I’ve ever had,” she said about the criminal trial. “And I was glad when it was over, and I got back to my less polarizing, although equally important, cases.”
During that very difficult trial, Agrusa saw further evidence of the breadth and strength of the LLS community. “Dean Waterstone would touch base with me regularly to see how I was holding up and express pride in the successes that I’ve had.”