In this new feature, we profile leading legal luminaries. This month, we sat down with Allyson Ho, a partner at Gibson Dunn & Crutcher. We asked what drew her to the law, her favorite memories from clerking for Justice O'Connor, and much more.
For those of you who aren't familiar with her, Allyson Ho (née Newton) graduated from Duke University magna cum laude with a B.A. in English and from Rice University with an M.A. and Ph.D. in English Literature. She worked as an assistant professor of English at Ashbury College in Kentucky before pivoting to a career in law. She graduated from the University of Chicago Law School with high honors. In law school, she was a member of the law review, Order of the Coif, and earned awards for outstanding service and best student paper. I'd be remiss if I failed to mention she met a certain Mr. Ho (you'll hear more about him later) in law school.
Allyson went on to serve as a law clerk to Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, Special Assistant to President George W. Bush, and Counselor to Attorney General John Ashcroft. Today, she's co-chair of Gibson's Appellate and Constitutional Law practice group, and she's argued nearly 100 cases in federal and state courts and four before the Supreme Court. Allyson is also a member of the Administrative Conference of the United States, a trustee of the Supreme Court Historical Society (#lifegoals), a member of the Federalist Society’s Board of Visitors, and the list goes on.
Without further ado, here's our interview with Allyson Ho.
SCOTUS Ladies: What is your favorite thing about the law?
Allyson Ho: I love being an advocate for my clients and relentlessly pursuing victory for them. I’ve always believed that if you aim for perfection, you’ll hit excellence—and I relish the challenges of drafting briefs and preparing for oral arguments by distilling arguments down to their most concise and compelling. I also find great joy in mentoring and helping others fulfill their callings.
SCOTUS Ladies: What inspired you to focus on appellate law?
Allyson Ho: Probably my love for the written word—brief writing was the original draw. In my previous life as an English professor, I’d gotten accustomed to speaking at podiums—but in classrooms, not courtrooms. I benefited greatly from mentors who excelled at oral argument, like now-Senator Ted Cruz. You just have to be willing to put in the reps and get comfortable doing something that can be really challenging.
SCOTUS Ladies: Tell us about your experience arguing before the Supreme Court.
Allyson Ho: By the time you finally approach the podium, you’ve prepared and practiced so intensely that the nerves just fall away once the questioning starts. That preparation is the key to confidence and focus—that, and the perspective that you are there to serve the Court and your client by presenting the best possible arguments and welcoming the opportunity to address the hardest questions. Arguing before the Supreme Court is an incredible privilege—the closest thing to “iron sharpening iron” I know.
SCOTUS Ladies: Arguing one case before the Supreme Court is a dream for many lawyers, and you’ve argued four! What are some career milestones you hope to achieve?
Allyson Ho: Next month, I’ll present my 100th oral argument—and in a couple of months, I’ll present my fifth Supreme Court argument. But the career milestones I’m most focused on now are racking up second-chair arguments while the incredibly talented cadre of younger lawyers I’m so blessed to work with takes center stage. I’ve had the opportunities I’ve had because others invested in me. It’s a joy to be in a position to do the same.
Allyson's husband orchestrated a surprise on the steps of the Supreme Court following her first argument. You can hear all about his plan, starting around 41:25, in this 2020 podcast interview with Allyson, her husband, and yours truly.
SCOTUS Ladies: What would you change, if anything, about your career?
Allyson Ho: Not a thing. I never really had a grand plan—just an earnest belief that if I worked hard at the job in front of me, the next thing would come—and that the best things are often those that you never would have planned for or even known to desire. Some of the experiences that were most pivotal in making me into the lawyer and person I am today weren’t necessarily those that seemed that way at the time. Working in the White House as a legal policy adviser wasn’t something I ever planned to do, but it helped me learn how to approach legal issues from a practical perspective focused on problem-solving.
SCOTUS Ladies: [Allyson's husband, Jim Ho, is a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit.] How has your husband’s appointment to the federal bench changed your legal practice, and your life? He’s made headlines on occasion. How do you deal with the media scrutiny?
Allyson Ho: It’s such a privilege that Jim’s been given this opportunity to serve his country and his fellow citizens in this way—especially as someone who wasn’t born in this country, but became an American by choice as Ronald Reagan used to say. My husband is my best friend, soul mate, inspiration, and mentor—all in one. I couldn’t be prouder of him. Our children, though, were quite disappointed when they learned he didn’t bang a gavel as an appellate judge.
SCOTUS Ladies: You clerked for the original SCOTUS Lady. What’s your favorite memory of Justice O’Connor?
Allyson Ho: Shortly after my husband and I became engaged during my clerkship, my parents visited the Court to see an argument and meet the Justice. While chatting with her in chambers, my mother mentioned how much it meant to them that Jim flew down to speak to them at their home in Houston before proposing. The Justice said well, that’s very nice, but no one spoke to me about that. When I got back to my desk, I immediately called Jim and said that while I thought she was just joking, he should probably make arrangements to come to chambers and speak with the Justice personally. He did, and we’ll be married 20 years this April.
SCOTUS Ladies: Justice O’Connor’s life is a portrait of modern femininity: she reached the top of her profession but she didn’t shy away from being feminine. What are some of the lessons you learned from her?
Allyson Ho: That if you’re willing to work hard and make your own opportunities, there’s no limit to what you can accomplish. That being self-confident doesn’t mean being self-important. And that a happy marriage with a supportive, committed partner is one of the biggest blessings in life.
SCOTUS Ladies: Thankfully, we are far removed from the days when women struggled to find employment in the law as Justice O’Connor initially did. What lessons can we continue to draw from her example?
Allyson Ho: There’s no single, cookie-cutter path to success in life or in law. And opportunities are often missed because they come dressed in overalls and look like hard work. The Justice never made that mistake—she was always willing to make the most of every opportunity by working hard and not letting others define or limit her.
If you want to hear more about Allyson's career, check out my interview in 2020 with the Hos (starting at 19:00). Which legal luminary should we interview next? Send us your suggestions!