On Wednesday, April 20, 2016, the Women’s Legal Association (WLA) hosted its final event of the semester: “Ladies Who Litigate.” This event was one of WLA’s monthly “#WCW” (Women Crush Wednesday) events, where on one Wednesday of every month, WLA hosted female attorneys from different practice areas as guest speakers on a panel. The panelists were Sara Colón (partner at Brown, Neri, Smith & Khan, a boutique civil litigation law firm in West LA) Maura Kingseed Gierl (JD ’12) (litigation associate at Manatt, Phelps & Phillips) and Capri Maddox (JD ’01) (Special Assistant City Attorney of Los Angeles). The hour-long session, moderated by first year law student and WLA Secretary Jenna King, was filled with great questions and insightful answers.
King began by asking the panelists to highlight a class or anything in particular during their law school career that they felt really prepared them for the job they currently have. “The more practice oriented classes prepared me most for litigation,” Colón said. These included criminal law classes with mock trials and legal research and writing. “Pepperdine has trial prep, which is a really good class to take,” added Gierl. “On your first job, you’re not prepared for most things, but that’s okay, because everyone is in that position. To some point, you learn with on the job experience, and you have this background which helps prepare you for that experience.”
When asked what they believe the biggest mistake that they consistently see litigators make, the panelists offered a variety of input. “I wouldn’t call it a mistake, but one tendency I have noticed with newer litigators and their writing is to be a little bit hyperbolic,” said Colón. “I think it is important to be persuasive, passionate, and forceful, but there’s definitely a line. Another thing I would say is that newer litigators have a tendency not to speak up. Even if you haven’t practiced and may not fully understand all of the issues in a case, you still have good ideas and a fresh perspective, and your supervisors will appreciate it if you speak up and question what’s going on in a case.”
“Generally, I would say not staying on top of deadlines,” Gierl added. “It’s really important and it seems simple, but it’s not, because dates change all the time.”
The next subject addressed involved how relationships with opposing counsel were handled in litigation. “I think that young litigators, and in my experience as a female litigator, tend to get patronized a lot by more experienced litigators,” said Colón. “You can really be a weapon in disguise. They don’t expect much from you and then you start doing your job, and that’s the retort you need.” Maddox responded that relationships are also very important. “You represent your clients, but you also represent your reputation.”
The panelists also gave helpful networking advice, including attending bar association events and talking with speakers, getting cards and doing follow-up e-mails, as well as maintaining good relationships with fellow law school classmates who would eventually go on to practice in various areas of law. The importance of showing interest in the person – the human side of networking – was also emphasized.
Several students posed great questions. When asked how to prepare while in law school for careers in litigation, the panelists agreed that shadowing (and contributing wherever appropriate), such as through watching depositions, would be helpful to students; pursuing moot court and other opportunities requiring public speaking was another option. For those students on the fence between transactional and litigation work, “I think it’s important to be ready to pursue and have the skill of litigation,” Maddox said. “It’s good to try both transactional and litigation internships to find out what you like and how your personality is,” Colón added.
Finally, in closing, panelists were asked what excited them the most about their respective positions and the work they did. Maddox and Colón agreed that the knowledge of knowing that your work made a difference definitely helps. “It’s also just fun, even if you’re getting your tush beat,” Gierl added, “The rewarding aspect is to come to events like this and speak, and it sort of makes the mundane stuff a lot more worth it.”
Reflecting on the event, King commented, “We often have several men in attendance, and we’ve had wonderful feedback that they find our panels universally important. Female empowerment is an everyone issue, not just a female issue, and I’m proud of and impressed by the support we have gotten from male students. Our mission in WLA is to empower women to achieve their goals and dreams, because we all go farther when we stand together. It thrilled me to no end that our final event of the year happened to occur on the day that Harriet Tubman has been announced as the new face of the 20 dollar bill. It was a fitting end to the semester. We are also very proud of the caliber of speakers we have had this semester and are very excited for next year.”
–Janette Blair (JD ’15) for Pepperdine Law Communications