McGeorge School of Law

Profile: Katherine Pettibone

Katherine Pettibone
Katherine Pettibone

Class of 2006

Western Region Vice President for State Affairs, American Insurance Association
Area of Practice: Capital Lawyering

Katherine Pettibone, '06, prepared for a law career on the water. The mental and physical toughness required for competitive racing, learning to work with a crew, studying the area's waters before a race and adapting to constantly changing conditions have translated well into her current career as a lawyer and lobbyist.

The three-time America's Cup racer, who sailed yachts professionally from 1995 to 2010, always wanted to pursue a graduate degree. As she sailed across international boundaries, Pettibone saw how international treaties and domestic laws overlapped sometimes cohesively, other times at odds. The experience inspired her to attend law school.

"After sailing around the world and seeing how international laws work, and how we all have to work together, it's not one island by itself, any country, I was very interested in the legal aspects, and certainly how the laws of different nations work together."

Pettibone is director of legislation for the Civil Justice Association of California, which aims to strengthen the state's civil justice system through education, lobbying and research. A registered lobbyist, Pettibone works on a variety of issues, including preventing lawyers from filing shakedown lawsuits against businesses that don't comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act. Her job involves lobbying the Legislature directly and conducting workshops and outreach to educate the public about different issues, in this case teaching business owners how to comply with the ADA.

"Working in the Legislature is really rewarding because you're talking about issues that affect a lot (of people)," Pettibone says. "As a person who also continues to travel abroad, I see the importance of California being as strong as it can be. Everything that we do here means something internationally."

Before joining the Civil Justice Association in 2010, Pettibone was a senior legislative analyst for the governor's office of planning and research from 2008 to 2010. That position entailed reviewing bills going through the Legislature, analyzing how bills would affect the law, the positive and negative impacts of those changes and then recommending a position to the governor's advisers.

Between graduating from McGeorge School of Law and working in the governor's office, Pettibone joined the French team to compete in the 2007 America's Cup in Spain. Growing up in a family of sailors in Port Huron, Mich., Pettibone broke into professional yachting when she made the first all-women America's Cup team in 1995 while attending University of Miami in Florida. It was a life-changing event.

"(Sailing professionally) really does reaffirm this idea that you can do anything you want," she says. "You can't let people put stereotypes on you. If that team did nothing else, it blew up the box about what people can say what women can or can't achieve."

In addition to the America's Cup, Pettibone has competed in two around-the-world races. Two years ago, she began training girls and young women in Oman to sail yachts against men. She has since co-founded the Rising Tide Leadership Institute, whose goal is to develop women leaders through competitive sailing.

"It's a great sport that equips people for success in whatever field because you have to deal with dynamic change," she says.