Michelle S. Kallen was chosen by her peers as Virginia Lawyers Weekly’s 2022 “Leader of the Year.”
Kallen, former solicitor general with the Office of the Attorney General of Virginia and now a partner at Jenner & Block in Washington, D.C., received the honor Oct. 25 at Virginia Lawyers Weekly’s annual Leaders in the Law and Up & Coming Lawyers awards program at The John Marshall in downtown Richmond. This year’s ceremony celebrated the 17th class of Leaders in the Law.
Kallen, who was selected by a secret ballot of the 30 members of the 2022 class, recently joined Jenner & Block’s Appellate and Supreme Court Practice. According to a press release from the firm, Kallen also maintains an active pro bono practice.
“It’s really an honor to be here among these incredible honorees today and I really am touched by the vote from my colleagues and my peers,” Kallen said during her Oct. 25 acceptance speech.
A graduate of the Vanderbilt University Law School, Kallen began her career as a clerk for Judge Jane Stranch of the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. She later served as an associate for Simpson Thatcher & Bartlett and Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison before joining the attorney general’s office in 2018.
At the attorney general’s office, Kallen served as deputy solicitor general under then-Solicitor General Toby Heytens. When Heytens was nominated by President Joe Biden for a judgeship on the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in 2021, Kallen was elevated to solicitor general.
Her term as solicitor general was groundbreaking. She became the first female solicitor general in Virginia’s history and led Virginia’s first all-female solicitor general team.
In her speech, Kallen mentioned a plaque in the solicitor general’s office that lists the names of former solicitors general, people who she said “took me under their wings and supported me during some tumultuous times.”
“But there was no woman on that list,” Kallen noted. “And it really has been an honor to be able to leave that office knowing that maybe someone else comes through those doors and it’s a little different in terms of looking at that plaque.”
As solicitor general, Kallen spearheaded efforts by Virginia, Illinois and Nevada to have the Equal Rights Amendment recognized and served as lead counsel in litigation to certify and publish the Equal Rights Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
In 2020, Virginia became the 38th state to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment, a proposed amendment to the U.S. Constitution approved by Congress in 1972 to ensure equality under the law is not denied on account of sex.
Kallen’s term as solicitor general also included representing the commonwealth in legal challenges to the removal of the Robert E. Lee Monument on Richmond’s Monument Avenue. Then-Gov. Ralph Northam ordered the removal of the monument, which was owned by the commonwealth, in the summer of 2020.
After several legal challenges, the monument was removed in September 2021.
She also represented the commonwealth in matters before a variety of courts, including the U.S. Supreme Court, the Supreme Court of Virginia, the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia and other state and federal courts. Such cases included defending Virginia’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic in court and serving as lead counsel in election matters.
In recognition of her work at the Office of the Attorney General of Virginia, Kallen and her team were awarded the National Association of Attorneys General Best Brief Award in 2019 and 2020.
It was while serving at the attorney general’s office that Kallen said she had her most humbling experience of her legal career while arguing on behalf of the commonwealth before the Supreme Court of Virginia for the first time.
“The idea that I had the role of speaking on behalf of the commonwealth was daunting and a true honor,” Kallen wrote in her Virginia Lawyers Weekly Leaders in the Law questionnaire.
Upon leaving the Office of the Solicitor General in January, Kallen continued her public service by serving as special litigation counsel to the U.S. House of Representatives. Specifically, Kallen represented the Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the U.S. Capitol in litigation.
As special litigation counsel, Kallen successfully defended the committee in multiple matters, including efforts to block subpoenas for phone records and an effort to compel trial testimony from lawmakers and congressional staffers.
Throughout her career, Kallen has been noted for her advocacy for equality.
Kallen is director of Women Lawyers on Guard, a national nonpartisan group serving to “preserve, protect, and defend the democratic values of equality, justice, and opportunity for all.”
She is a co-founder of the Washington Area Women Trial Attorneys, served as a board member of the Women’s Bar Association of D.C., and has been involved with several other women’s attorney groups throughout her career.
Kallen also has spoken on numerous panels about the legal issues surrounding the potential ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment, dating back to before Virginia ratified the amendment. She currently serves on the ERA Advisory Council for the ERA Coalition, a group that seeks to amend the Constitution to include the ERA.
Serving as a mentor for The Appellate Project, which seeks to “empower law students of color, particularly those most underrepresented, to become the next generation of lawyers and judges in our highest courts,” is another way Kallen gives back to the community.
In her speech, Kallen commended the “kindness and warmth” of the Virginia bar while also encouraging a call-to-action for her fellow Virginia attorneys.
“Take someone under your wing, support someone, maybe someone who’s different than you, and show them the warmth and mentorship that I was shown from former leaders in Virginia,” Kallen said. “If every one of us did that, we can look at plaques hanging throughout the commonwealth and see names like yours and mine and know that with the right support, any of us has the opportunity to achieve really great things.”