As a small child in Grenada, food and drug law expert Vernessa Pollard lived without indoor plumbing, cared for by her older siblings after her parents came to America to work as domestics. Pollard said her parents immigrated to give their children “future options and possibilities.” The family reunited in America when she was 5, and ever since, the 36-year-old partner at Arnold & Porter in Washington has made the most of every opportunity.

She was inspired to become a lawyer as a teen by Vernon Jordan Jr., a close adviser to President Bill Clinton who is now a partner at Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld. Pollard was competing in a national speech tournament sponsored by the NAACP, where Jordan addressed the contestants, stressing that “it was his law degree that opened up all these possibilities,” she recalled.

Pollard started her career as an associate at Pepper Hamilton. She was assigned a case involving a product regulated by the Food and Drug Administration, and said that it “really spoke to me. FDA issues just seemed to be so relevant to the way we live our lives every day.”

She joined the FDA in 2002, where she was an associate chief counsel for enforcement in the Office of Chief Counsel. During her tenure, she handled the FDA’s first administrative action to assess civil money penalties for violations of medical device reporting requirements.

Pollard moved to Arnold & Porter in 2008, where she has what she calls “a core FDA regulatory practice,” with clients ranging from large global drug companies, including Merck & Co., to biotech startups to cosmetics companies. Much of her recent work has been on behalf of medical device makers, advising on issues ranging from marketing practices to nationwide recalls. She’s also committed to “helping out associates of color in the pipeline,” at her firm and other firms, she said. — Jenna Greene