Victoria A. Joseph C’11, L’17 has prioritized building a practice that centers public service — including work on the historic prosecution of former police officers involved in George Floyd’s murder.
From the time Victoria A. Joseph C’11, L’17 began to consider law school, she knew she wanted to help people fight for more equity and justice in their everyday lives, but she never predicted that she would end up working on one of the most pivotal cases in contemporary American history.
In late May 2020, while simultaneously working as an Associate at Hogan Lovells and providing care for her mother, who was terminally ill, Joseph was asked to work on one of the biggest pro bono matters the firm — and this generation — had ever taken on. The prosecution of the former police officers involved in the murder of George Floyd would not only forever impact Joseph’s life, but it would also change the fabric of social and racial justice in America.
“I did not see this coming,” Joseph said. “Being on what I think is the case of the century … was wild. At the time, my mom was at her sickest. And she always mustered up the energy to tell me how proud she was of me. That really kept me going even after her passing.”
An Ethos of Service
Before law school, Joseph worked as a manager at Nordstrom and hoped to become a fashion buyer; however, as she advocated for better working conditions for her team, she began to consider a career in law. She got a job working in the University of Pennsylvania Carey Law School’s Department of Alumni Relations, where she built confidence and connections as she further explored the idea.
As a law student, Joseph focused on learning how to use her legal education to help others. Going straight into public service was not an option financially, so after one year of clerking for the Honorable Gregory M. Sleet (Ret.) of the U.S. District Court Judge for the District of Delaware, Joseph entered the private sector as an Associate at Hogan Lovells.
“When I was in law school, [I knew that] helping people was definitely going to be a part of my journey. Then realities start to set in, and the loans become due,” Joseph said. “Along my path, a lot of people mentioned that helping people can take many forms. One of them is going into public interest. Another one is doing pro bono at a firm. Another one is giving money. There are different ways to serve others while also serving my own needs and goals.”
Hogan Lovells’s strong commitment to pro bono service appealed to Joseph. Throughout her four and a half years as an Associate, Joseph has led an active pro bono practice and, in turn, gained a reputation for being eager to take on pro bono matters. In one matter, Joseph and her team assisted a pro se plaintiff in a medical malpractice suit; in another matter, Joseph is assisting a client in housing court.
Across all her work, Joseph is driven by a desire help clients defend their rights and improve their lives.
“I can’t just do things for the sake of doing them. I need to do them because I know that this will make a difference,” Joseph said. “I’m working on a housing matter now. If I can get this person better housing, I’ve already made the world a better place just by helping one person. I want to do that as often as I can.”
The Racial Justice Case That Defines a Generation
When a partner approached her with pro bono work assisting the State of Minnesota in proceedings against the former police officers involved in the killing of George Floyd, Joseph immediately knew she would take the matter, but she never expected it to become the cultural milestone that it is now recognized to be.
Joseph was a Special Prosecutor for the State of Minnesota and worked with a multi-disciplinary team of attorneys and social justice advocates, including Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison and Civil Rights Attorney Benjamin Crump, on prosecution proceedings against former police officers Derek Chauvin, J. Alexander Kueng, Thomas Lane, and Tou Thao.
Specifically, Joseph and her colleagues at Hogan Lovells spearheaded writing motions throughout the cases, though Joseph described the entire process as being very collaborative. During the Chauvin trial, the team met nightly to discuss the day’s events and strategize their next moves. At one point, the prosecution team was in proceedings in all three levels of the Minnesota State court system at once.
“It was a rockstar team to be a part of. To be in that room was an honor,” Joseph said. “I never had doubts that we would get this right, specifically because of the people that were in the room, but also because the video was so clear.”
To date, all of the former officers have been convicted of depriving George Floyd of his civil rights; Chauvin was convicted of murder and manslaughter, and Kueng and Lane both pleaded guilty to aiding and abetting manslaughter. Thao’s case is ongoing.
In addition to the immense impact on conversations and policy regarding police brutality and racial justice in America, these trials also highlighted — and tested — the role of video recordings in the criminal justice system. These far-reaching implications on the future of police accountability were not lost on Joseph.
“If the jury couldn’t find that [Chauvin] was guilty based on the video, then what’s the point of a video?” Joseph said. “That was a huge weight on the shoulders of the team, because it wasn’t only getting justice for the family, [and] it wasn’t only setting an example for how officers should act, but it was also: what role do videos play in our justice system, and are people going to really disregard them in making these decisions and just go with whatever an officer says?”
As momentous as this matter was for America, the bottom line for Joseph was the justice that the team secured for Floyd’s family.
“Being a part of a big matter is really nice,” Joseph said. “But it comes down to the essence of the case. We were helping a family get justice, period. And in that, it had bigger implications, but my main driver was helping a family get justice.”
Joseph reflected that the most important skill she learned at Penn Carey Law — aside from legal writing — was how to balance hard work with community cultivation.
“Being at Penn Carey Law, it was super important not only to do your work, but also to be involved in the community, because that’s what builds the community,” Joseph said. “You create the experience you want… . That was the culture of the of the Law School, and I brought that culture with me here [to Hogan Lovells] and got involved. I like to facilitate small group discussions and get people to be more open and more family-like, like we were at the Law School.”
In addition to her work for private and pro bono clients, Joseph is active on both the Associates Committee and the Diversity Committee at Hogan Lovells. For Joseph, building community has not only been something that makes work more enjoyable, but it has also been a vital part of her journey to becoming the legal professional that she is today.
“It took a village for me, and it wasn’t always easy. I would not have known how to navigate the practice of law until somebody showed me and then worked with me on it,” Joseph said. “I’ve had great people from the Law School who helped show me the way. I’ve had great people who I met at the firm who helped show me the way. So, this was not a Victoria-only effort; this was a team effort.”