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Member Spotlight: Desislava Kalcheva

Member Spotlight

Desislava (Desi) Kalcheva: Combining Excellence and Service

Hannah Brown*

Desislava Kalcheva
Desislava (Desi) Kalcheva

Desislava Kalcheva is an important member of our federal bar community and a critical wheel in the federal judicial system here in the Southern District of California. Desi is the Career Judicial Law Clerk for the Honorable William V. Gallo, the Presiding U.S. Magistrate Judge. As we all know, law clerks are crucial employees for each district and magistrate judge. Desi is no exception. And, she not only assists Judge Gallo, but also mentors law students (i.e. judicial externs), promotes accessibility in education, and volunteers regularly for the San Diego FBA.

Education and Career

Desi is a San Diego local whose interest in the law began while she was a college student at the University of California, San Diego (UCSD). While at UCSD, Desi was highly involved in campus activities, and one of her favorite activities was to volunteer for Student Legal Services (SLS). There, she performed legal research to assist her supervising attorneys with advising college students on legal issues, such as DUIs or landlord-tenant issues. Desi enjoyed this experience and working with the experienced attorneys. She had always loved reading and writing, and had thought she may be interested in journalism. But her position at SLS convinced her that her interests lay in the law. Through SLS, Desi met attorneys Jon Carlos Senour and Jerrilyn Malana, who became important mentors to Desi and helped inform her decision to become an attorney.

After UCSD, Desi attended the University of San Diego for law school. She entered law school with an interest in labor and employment law, an interest she had developed during college, thanks in part to Ms. Malana. Desi liked the idea of advising companies how to do the right thing, comply with employment laws, and treat their employees right.

During law school, Desi’s interest in labor and employment law grew, and she began her legal career as a summer associate at Jackson Lewis. Upon graduation, she continued her work there as a post-bar law clerk and then as an associate. Desi got substantial experience there, and was able to assist in drafting three motions for summary judgment before her bar number issued. As we all know, even one motion for summary judgment is a massive undertaking. Desi felt privileged to work on these three separate motions under the partners’ supervision. And, it paid off, as the firm won all three motions!

Desi later transitioned to work at Paul, Plevin, Sullivan & Connaughton LLP. Rich Paul, one of the firm’s founding partners, had been Desi’s professor during law school, and he became a trusted mentor to Desi. At this firm, Desi was able to expand her practice in wage and hour litigation, draft and argue discovery motions, and represent clients in workplace restraining order proceedings. Desi enjoyed the firm, the work she was doing, and the people she worked with. In 2019, however, her career took an unexpected turn. At the time, Judge Gallo had an opening for a term clerk. Each magistrate judge has two law clerks, typically a term clerk—who may serve no longer than four years—and a career clerk—who the judge may keep for longer. The career clerk often helps train term clerks and provides continuity for the judge’s chambers.

Desi had not considered clerking previously, but she greatly enjoyed her experience in law school as a judicial extern to Judge Gallo. Unsurprisingly—as clerking is an amazing job—Desi loved it. Now, three years later and as the career clerk, Desi considers clerking for Judge Gallo the most fulfilling job she has had. She sees Judge Gallo as a mentor to both his clerks and externs and describes the work environment he fosters as collegial, enthusiastic, and service-oriented.

Desi’s role requires her to frequently interface with attorneys to help Judge Gallo resolve discovery disputes and keep cases moving toward resolution. She also helps her Judge research and rule on matters referred to magistrate judges, including appeals from the Social Security Administration, Section 1983 complaints, and petitions for writs of habeas corpus.

An amazing aspect of being a law clerk that many may not realize is that the job provides the opportunity to mentor and teach law students. Many judges, including Judge Gallo, make it a point to hire multiple externs each semester and during the summer. Desi and her co-clerk, Kayla Huynh, help those students with their research, writing, and understanding of the federal court process. Desi feels it is one of her callings to support law students develop their professional skills as they begin their own legal careers.

She is also involved in the legal community outside of clerking. Desi is a member of the Enright Inn of Court, where she enjoys working as part of a team to facilitate continuing legal education workshops. She also volunteers for the San Diego FBA and has helped the FBA and Southern District present the last two Judith N. Keep Federal Civil Practice Seminars. Desi is currently assisting her colleagues with planning this year’s Seminar and the “Forging Your Path” panel for the 2022 Annual Conference. Desi is also helping the San Diego Federal Bar Foundation organize its inaugural charity golf tournament.

Interests Outside the Law

Desi and Yousaf in Madrid
Desi and Yousaf in Madrid

During my time interviewing Desi, I learned how passionate she is about her community and about helping others. When asked about her interests outside the law, she mentioned that one of her passions and goals is to make education accessible to everyone. Desi attributes these values to her grandmother, who was a schoolteacher, and her mother, who emphasized the importance of education and helping others. Desi and her husband, Yousaf Jafri, serve as Chancellors Associates at UCSD, where they fund scholarships for first-generation students and also serve as mentors and guides for those students. This is important to Desi on a personal level. As an immigrant and first-generation lawyer in her family, Desi recognizes how crucial it is to be someone who can help students navigate the college and education system.

Desi also has other hobbies and interests, namely playing piano, attending live music shows, doting on her cat, and picking up new interests and unique activities (including vegan leather-working and off-roading).

Desi and Yousaf at an L.A. Clippers Game
Desi and Yousaf at an L.A. Clippers Game

Advice for Federal Practitioners (And Lawyers Generally!)

Now for the most important part for anyone reading this who wants to learn how to succeed in federal court. According to Desi: read the local and chambers rules! Doing so will save you a lot of time and will answer a lot of your questions. It will also ensure that you learn how to timely lodge required documents and save you an order from the court asking you to comply with the rules. To best set yourself up for success, you should also take a solutions-oriented approach, particularly in settlement conferences and discovery disputes. Judges need to reach a resolution and appreciate you showing them a path to do so.

More broadly, Desi also shared good advice for students or law students first starting out in their career or education. She shared something that we all know but often forget: there is a steep learning curve to the law. You will often feel like you don’t know what you’re doing. We have all felt that way, and we can embrace each opportunity to grow as professionals. You can do this by adopting a mindset that every task and every person has something to teach you. Nurture your relationships and appreciate your mentors. Take the time to do your research and find your answer to ensure that you’re doing what is right and what is just. Finally—pay it forward. We have all been in the early (and stressful) stages of our career, and Desi encouraged us all to take the time to help out and mentor those who need it, just as we all did (or maybe still do!).

I know that I speak for the entire FBA when I say we are glad to have Desi as a member and are excited to see where her career takes her.

*Hannah Brown is a member of the San Diego Chapter of the Federal Bar Association and its Public Relations Committee. She practices intellectual property litigation and commercial litigation at Gordon Rees Scully Mansukhani, LLP and clerked for the Hon. Cynthia Bashant and the Hon. Janis Sammartino in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of California.

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