A former government antitrust attorney, Kayna Stavast Levy brings a unique professional perspective to Wittliff Cutter, having worked in enforcement and completing a mid-career judicial clerkship before embarking on private practice. This experience, along with her academic background in psychology and economics, allows her to dive into issues from multiple angles, making her an invaluable asset to the firm and its clients.
“One of Kayna’s many strengths is her thoughtful approach to solving legal matters,” said managing partner Jennifer Rappoport Colimon. “She has learned from and worked for some of the best in the profession, so clients can confidently place trust in her expertise.”
Keep reading to get to know more about Kayna’s practice and her involvement in the Austin community.
1. You recently completed the Austin Young Lawyer Association/Austin Bar Association Leadership Academy. What made you decide to join the group, and how has it impacted you personally and professionally?
I’ve lived in Austin for about a decade, but wasn’t here for college or law school, and started my career in a fairly niche area (government antitrust enforcement, at the federal and state level). Following my mid-career judicial clerkship and first few years in private practice, I felt a bit like I had missed some of the organic opportunities to meet other local lawyers while supporting the community I now call home.
The AYLA/ABA Leadership Academy was a great opportunity to have structured and meaningful opportunities to meet colleagues in town. It’s also a fabulous chance to learn about what’s going on here in Austin; each month, a different community leader speaks to the group and offers valuable insight into their work and an opportunity for connection. Another big part of the Leadership Academy is the service component. Our cohort put on an outdoor family festival to raise money for a renovation of a local witness interview room. It was so fun to put my amateur design hobby skills to use in creating a look for that room, and seeing everyone in our group come together to execute a great event was a wonderful opportunity. It was a pleasure to do something helpful while getting to know one another in a totally different way than a single networking happy hour would have allowed. I highly recommend the program!
2. In expanding your focus into employment law, you’ve become well-versed in how employers in Texas can protect employees’ rights to access healthcare. What’s the most important thing for employers to know?
Be on the lookout for big changes potentially happening quickly. As we move through this year’s legislative session in Texas, some questions may be answered as pending and new lawsuits challenging the status quo move forward, but new questions may arise as legislation is introduced, passed, and takes effect over this year.
Employers may be looking for new and creative ways to support their employees and communities, but be sure to reach out to your employment counsel for assistance in navigating benefit and policy changes in this arena! The intersections of regulations, long-standing and newly passed statutes, policy, emerging case law, and practicalities are very complicated and dynamic.
3. Prior to pursuing a law school, you graduated with a double major in psychology and economics. How do your insights into behavior play a role in your legal practice?
I have always been fascinated by human behavior, and, in fact, majored in BOTH psychology and economics for just this reason. Economics, generally speaking, flows from a starting assumption that folks are behaving rationally, and tries to predict behavior. Psychology (traditionally and loosely speaking) comes at it from just the opposite starting point. And we know that neither discipline gets it exactly right all the time with those assumptions.
Looking at legal conflicts from both perspectives – both the rational and perhaps more emotional components – can really move the ball. Even in the most vanilla contract dispute, the parties’ business incentives and the decisionmakers’ personal perspectives go hand-in-hand in driving outcomes. When something beyond clear economic decision-making is disproportionately driving the bus, homing in on that and offering a creative, “outside the box” approach may seal the deal. I love figuring that out and helping clients get things done more efficiently with that kind of thinking.
4. Many Wittliff Cutter attorneys participated in judicial clerkships before joining the firm. Why does a clerkship set an attorney apart?
Law school teaches many things, but, historically, how to practice law isn’t necessarily the one it teaches best. There is no better way for a lawyer to learn the ins and outs of procedure and litigation strategy than to have a front row seat of the process – demonstrated by practitioners from across the state and country and in all manner of practice areas – by clerking for a judge. The learning takes place (even passively!) at warp speed, every day. And selfishly, the opportunity to work with and develop friendships with colleagues and mentors at the courthouse is unbeatable. If you’re a law student or even already practicing and considering a clerkship, do it!