Pai-Thompson, Vanesa

Vanessa Pai-Thompson

Adjunct Professor


  • B.A., University of Washington, magna cum laude, 2005
  • J.D., New York University School of Law, 2008


Vanessa Pai-Thompson has been fortunate to fight alongside clients through public defense work during law school and since she graduated in 2008. She is grateful to spend each day learning and telling her clients’ stories and witnessing the power of radical compassion.

Vanessa spent the first six years of her career practicing in Brooklyn and Manhattan state courts with Brooklyn Defender Services (BDS) and the Neighborhood Defender Service of Harlem (NDS). While at BDS and NDS, Vanessa represented clients in misdemeanor and felony matters in New York State Criminal and Supreme Courts and contributed to each office’s community engagement work.

In 2014, Vanessa moved home to the Pacific Northwest to practice in federal court as an Assistant Federal Public Defender (AFPD). As an AFPD, she primarily represents clients in trial matters before the United States District Court for the Western District of Washington and in direct appeals before the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. In her current position and in partnership with the ACLU of Washington, Vanessa also leads “Civics Days” for high school seniors in Kent and Renton School Districts. Vanessa also serves as a Co-Chair of the Criminal Law Committee for the Federal Bar Association — Western District of Washington.

Vanessa is graduate of NYU School of Law, where she received the Hy Frankel Award in Law and Social Welfare; Ann Petluck Poses Memorial Prize for clinical coursework; Black, Latino, Asian Pacific American Law Alumni Association Public Service Graduation Prize; and the Vanderbilt Medal for contribution to NYU School of Law. She was also awarded the Outstanding Criminal Law Student Award by the New York State Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers in 2007.