ASK ANY 5-YEAR-OLD what they want to be when they grow up and some might say a doctor or firefighter or maybe even a unicorn princess.
When Veronique Vernot was 5, she knew she wanted to be a lawyer.
Growing up in Connecticut, she remembered hearing people talk about how knowledgeable lawyers were, and from her own desire to help people, her dream to become a lawyer began.
In seventh grade, she decided what kind of lawyer she would be: an in-house attorney.
She stuck to her goal from age 5, and today Vernot, JD, MBA ’17, is legal counsel for product safety at Apple Inc. in Cupertino, Calif.
As of 2021, Apple was No. 3 on the Fortune 500 list. And before joining Apple, Vernot served as in-house counsel at Mercedes-Benz USA. Her journey to get to where she is now was filled with determination, a top-tier education at both the College of Law and Chambers College of Business and Economics and the support of fellow Mountaineers.
Before college, her uncle, Fritz Pierre-Louis, taught her how business experience would be beneficial in her selected field.
“It was at that moment when I decided to become a business major, and so I was a marketing major in college,” Vernot said. “I knew that I wanted to continue to get that business experience in law school, so I decided to pursue the JD/MBA.”
Vernot said she was recruited to WVU by Tina Jernigan, former assistant dean for Student Life at WVU Law, who connected her with alumni in various areas to build her legal network.
Her passion for litigation stemmed from an opportunity to participate in mock trials and moot court in her first year of law school with support from mentor and former West Virginia Supreme Court Justice Larry Starcher. Vernot and Starcher met after she joined the Black Law Student Association, where Starcher was an adviser.
“Justice Starcher is such a wonderful advocate,” she said. “To be a student of his, even before I was an actual student of his, was such a great experience.”
Vernot had many internships throughout law school, including with Highmark Blue Cross Blue Shield working in their legal department and with the IRS Office of Chief Counsel as a Legal Extern. She also worked as a judicial extern to Judge Anne E. Barnes at the Court of Appeals of Georgia during her last year in law school.
Her most memorable experience, though, was a study abroad trip to Brazil.
“Experiencing the law in a different environment all while immersing ourselves in a different culture was very exciting,” she said. “Especially when thinking about the differences in the laws between the U.S. and in Brazil.”
After law school and encouragement from her mentor, Adwoa Ghartey-Tagoe Seymour, and Veronique’s father, Jean Loubert Vernot, she applied for a job with Mercedes-Benz.
On a Friday morning in October 2017, the same day her bar results came out, Vernot discovered an email from Mercedes-Benz saying she moved to the next step in the interview process. Shortly after receiving the email, she found out that she also passed the Georgia Bar Exam.
“I was super excited,” she said smiling. “I was telling my whole family and I was crying and just celebrating.”
At Mercedes-Benz, Vernot did product liability litigation, which allowed her to even test drive its cars, an important part in understanding the business.
“I have always loved cars and I already knew quite a bit about the products, but to learn even more and to get to test the products out on a track was such an awesome experience.”
“Being in product liability and working on class actions and high stakes cases, it’s important that the lawyers working on the cases understand the [car’s] features. If there’s something someone is filing a lawsuit about, if you don’t know about it and if you don’t understand it, it’s very difficult to be able to properly advocate for your client. It’s very important that you get in the car and get a good feel for it and test drive it.”
Vernot said her best experience at Mercedes-Benz was her first big court win.
“Seeing the case go from beginning to end and winning was very exciting,” she said. “Being able to be a part of something like that, especially so early in my career and getting that hands-on experience was such an awesome opportunity for me.”