Oleg Cross ’06 and Natalie Prescott '06

November 21, 2008Duke Law News

Natalie Prescott and Oleg Cross met in the Financial Aid Office on their first day at Duke Law. “I was trying to figure out how to get the most funding, and there she was,” recalls Cross.

They quickly learned they had common origins, each having emigrated from Ukraine to attend college, and shared passions for writing, advocacy, and public service.

They are now married and are practicing law in San Diego. Cross, who obtained a JD/LLM at Duke, focuses on shareholder and business litigation at Cooley Godward Kronish. Prescott, who clerked for Judge Roger T. Benitez of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of California, now specializes in appellate and insurance litigation at Latham & Watkins.

Building on common goals in their lives and profession, Prescott and Cross work on a range of pro bono endeavors and co-authored a book together. Both were named among “The Best Young Attorneys” by the San Diego Daily Transcript for two years in a row. And Prescott received the California State Bar 2008 Jack Berman Award of Achievement; the prestigious award is given to one young lawyer annually for distinguished service to the profession and the public.

Prescott’s public service at Duke and in practice has included representing Hurricane Katrina victims, abused women, immigrant children, and AIDS patients and advocating on behalf of the Animal Legal Defense Fund and the ACLU. Cross has worked on behalf of non-profits at the Duke Community Enterprise Clinic, and has since represented AIDS patients in federal civil rights suits, indigent victims of police brutality, immigrants seeking asylum, counseled holocaust survivors seeking reparations, and advocated on behalf of the ACLU. In 2007, Prescott and Cross also undertook immigration appeals involving challenging procedural issues and both argued on behalf of their clients before the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.

“A lot has happened to us in a short period of time,” says Prescott, who arrived in the United States in 2000 and graduated summa cum laude from the University of Southern Mississippi in 2001. She subsequently obtained a Master’s degree in English Literature at Tulane.

Although she had been working as a broadcast journalist in her native Odessa since the age of 13 — she attended a journalism school for teenagers — and was a newscaster by the age of 18, family and friends encouraged her to pursue a career in law in the United States. “Everyone believed that this was a perfect job for me, and that it would greatly complement my skills. At the same time, I saw this as an opportunity to do my part for the community, help others, and to get involved in pro bono work.”

A Kharkov native who first came to the U.S. as an exchange student in his teens and returned in 1997 for college, Cross says he was influenced by the passion of friends involved in civil rights law and nonprofits. “In Ukraine, I never wanted to be a lawyer,” observes Cross, who graduated, magna cum laude, with a degree in theology and classic languages. “I saw the law there as something that was imposed from the top down. I never thought of it as empowering. That changed after my time at Duke. I saw the law as engendering rights and protection.”

Both Cross and Prescott were heavily involved in publications at Duke. Prescott served as an editor-in-chief of the Duke Journal of Comparative & International Law. Cross was an articles editor of Law & Contemporary Problems and a founding member of the Duke Journal of Constitutional Law & Public Policy.

“I always enjoyed writing,” says Cross. “I wanted to translate my passion for writing into advocacy and thought it would be the ultimate use of my writing skills.” Cross and Prescott have recently written Nail Your Law Job Interview: The Essential Guide to Firm, Clerkship, Government, In-House, and Lateral Interviews, to be published by Career Press in March 2009. (The book is pre-selling on Amazon.com.)

“This is a very practical book geared both to young attorneys and to senior lawyers seeking to make a lateral move,” Prescott says. “It focuses specifically on the interview – the most important part of getting a job offer. From attending lunch interviews, to dealing with challenging questions, arrogant interviewers, dress code, and more, we offer insiders’ perspectives on every possible issue that may come up at an interview.”

“We wrote it because, when we were interviewing, there wasn’t a book of this kind,” Cross adds, “and legal professionals should not have to learn their interviewing skills by word of mouth.”

For the book, the duo interviewed hundreds of attorneys, hiring partners, students, clerks, judges, government lawyers, and recruiting professionals. “All these individuals focused on advice and offered tips specific to their careers and experiences. We asked hiring partners, judges, and government lawyers what candidates should ask, how they could impress them, and what expectations they should have,” Cross says.

“It also has lots of juicy interview stories,” Prescott adds. “Anonymous, of course.”

Prescott and Cross are clearly enjoying this early stage of their respective — and joint — careers. “We are working with talented attorneys who are giving us a great deal of responsibility,” Cross says. “We have been fortunate to embark on a challenging career and to pursue exciting opportunities together, and we have Duke Law to thank for that.” -Debbie Selinsky
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