In 1984, she entered private practice, joining the commercial litigation practice group of Pavia & Harcourt in Manhattan as an associate. One of 30 attorneys in the law firm, she specialized in intellectual property litigation, international law, and arbitration. She later said, "I wanted to complete myself as an attorney." Although she had no civil litigation experience, the firm recruited her heavily, and she learned quickly on the job. She was eager to try cases and argue in court, rather than be part of a larger law firm. Her clients were mostly international corporations doing business in the United States; much of her time was spent tracking down and suing counterfeiters of Fendi goods. In some cases Sotomayor went on-site with the police to Harlem or Chinatown to have illegitimate merchandise seized, in the latter instance pursuing a fleeing culprit while riding on a motorcycle. She said at the time that Pavia & Harcourt's efforts were run "much like a drug operation", and the successful rounding up of thousands of counterfeit accessories in 1986 was celebrated by "Fendi Crush", a destruction-by-garbage-truck event at Tavern on the Green. At other times she dealt with dry legal issues such as grain export contract disputes. In a 1986 appearance on Good Morning America that profiled women ten years after college graduation, she said that the bulk of law work was drudgery, and that while she was content with her life she had expected greater things of herself coming out of college. In 1988 she became a partner at the firm; she was paid well but not extravagantly. She left in 1992 when she became a judge.