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Andrea Vavonese Reflects on Her Series of Career Steps to Success

July 01, 2024

By Tynekia Garrett

When Andrea Vavonese started her first full-time job as an accountant for Amtrak, little did she know that she’dwoman speaking into microphone at podium end up in a different profession. Today she’s deputy general counsel for Peraton, a national security and intelligence firm providing services to the United States government.

Vavonese graduated from SUNY Geneseo with a degree in accounting and became a certified public accountant shortly afterward. While working for Amtrak, Vavonese briefly contemplated attending business school, but she noticed that company leaders held law degrees. “I made a fairly uninformed decision to attend law school instead of business school, but it turned out to be one of the best decisions I ever made,” Vavonese said in a 2022 interview with Catholic University of America’s Columbus School of Law.

She began her legal studies as an evening law student at Catholic, which allowed her to continue working as an accountant. After taking a course in evidence and participating in moot court, Vavonese found herself interested in litigation practice. Upon graduating, instead of focusing on business law as planned, Vavonese specialized in litigation at a small internet company and then a major D.C. law firm. One of the partners at the firm was so impressed by her background in accounting and government audits that he assigned her to work on the firm’s government contracts team, which then led to a fruitful career as a firm attorney and, later, as in-house counsel.

Vavonese says her accounting background prepared her to be a government contracts associate, and her decade of experience at a firm supporting smaller clients readied her for an in-house counsel role. Law school also equipped her with unique and invaluable skills “to look at issues and solve problems” as in-house counsel, Vavonese says. “You learn a way of critical thinking that sets you apart from other leaders.”

At her current role, Vavonese enjoys helping the team “reach better decisions and better results” using both her legal and accounting background.

“When my kids were little and asked what I do, I would tell them I solve problems,” says Vavonese. “Working in-house enable[s] me to marry my business background with my legal background … and provide strategic leadership to the company.”

Vavonese also brings that knowledge and experience supporting businesses, not just as a lawyer but also as a leader of a business, to another role — chair of the National Council for Adoption (NCFA), a nonprofit organization that provides education and advocacy on adoption-related issues. Appointed for a two-year term in May, Vavonese says her work with NCFA is her proudest professional accomplishment. She says she was inspired by her own experience to get involved with the organization starting in 2013.

“In looking for a way to give back, I wanted to make the process easier for others to be able to grow their families,” says Vavonese. Now, in her role as chair, she hopes to continue promoting the mission of NCFA by developing and advocating for legislation that supports adoption.

In her spare time, Vavonese enjoys exercising. During COVID-19, she developed a routine with her husband to exercise together daily, a habit they have continued post-pandemic. Vavonese also enjoys traveling with her family. Each year, her family takes an international trip to show her children “that the world is a bigger place and full of experiences.”

Getting started as a lawyer can be overwhelming, and Vavonese has some words of encouragement for newer attorneys: “A legal career can be so broad, so find something that fills your cup and continues to challenge you and enables you to make a difference in the world.”

 A legal career can be very rewarding, but it will take you on paths you never expected, Vavonese says. Having an open mind about the journey is key, she adds.

Tynekia Garrett is a 2023–2024 writer in residence for the D.C. Bar.