The law was one of the last arenas to include women, and the road to equality for women in the legal profession has been rife with strides and struggles. The Maryland State Bar Association Young Lawyers Division Diversity & Inclusion Committee and the Maryland Hispanic Bar Association recently presented Women in the Law, a webinar discussing different career paths and sharing recommendations and tips for making yourself more marketable and a stronger candidate for various jobs. The panelists included: the Honorable Yolanda L. Curtin of the Circuit Court for Harford County; Jamie Alvarado-Taylor, Esq. of Stein Sperling Bennett De Jong Driscoll PC; Llamilet Gutierrez, Esq. of the Prince George’s County State’s Attorney’s Office and President of the Prince George’s County Bar Association; Lisa Piccinini, Esq. of the Attorney Grievance Commission of Maryland; and Julianne Tarver, Esq. Legal Services Attorney.
The discussion began with each panelist explaining what inspired their desire to work in law and what lead them to their current roles. Judge Curtain described her journey to the bench as atypical. She emigrated to the United States from Cuba with her family when she was an infant. Her father passed away shortly after their arrival, and her mother moved the family to a predominantly Hispanic area in New Jersey. Throughout her childhood, her mother expressed to her the importance of becoming a professional. When she was in college Judge Curtain was drawn towards the law. She attended law school after college and then became a prosecutor. Initially, she did not consider becoming a judge, but she felt the need to change direction after ten years and became an administrative law judge. Eventually, there was an opening in the circuit court, and she was appointed a judge.
Judge Curtain explained that she did not specifically seek out any of her roles but fell into them as a part of a natural progression. When she was in law school, she had an internship at the United States Attorney’s office, where she found that she loved being in the courtroom. Similarly, she did not aim to be a judge, but her career trajectory led her towards that role.
Jamie Alvarado-Taylorn did not initially intend to be an attorney. Instead, she entered the workforce as a teacher but shortly after realized education was not a good fit. She then transitioned into a role as a corporate trainer, and while it was more fulfilling than teaching, it was not the career she wanted to pursue. She ultimately decided to go to law school while working full time. When Jamie began law school, she wanted to work in transactional law and was hesitant to enter the courtroom. The firm that hired her after law school placed her in the litigation department, though, and she fell in love with litigation immediately and never looked back.
Llamilet Gutierrez knew she wanted to be a lawyer at a young age after an attorney gave a presentation in her law school. She followed her dream, attending a law and government magnet school and working as a law and policy intern in college before attending law school. Like Judge Curtin, she wanted to be a prosecutor but found herself taking a job at the public defender’s office instead. She stayed in that role for six years until she represented a victim of human trafficking, which inspired her to move to Amara Legal Center. The courtroom beckoned, though, and she moved to the State’s Attorney’s Office, where she continues to work with sex workers and survivors of sex trafficking.
Lisa Piccinini found a love for the law in college, initially dreaming of working in environmental science and policy work. She switched gears when she began working at Legal Aid in law school in the areas of domestic violence and family law. She got burnt out relatively quickly, though, and when she saw an opening at the Attorney Grievance Commission, she applied. She got the job, and while she had a lot of learning to do, she soon realized that the role was a great fit for her.
Julianne Tarver worked for a congressman and then as a sideline correspondent for CBS sports. During her stint working for the congressman, she noticed that people commonly requested legal counsel and decided to go to law school to help expand people’s access to justice. While she was in law school, she received a public interest fellowship, which set her on a direct path to public interest work. She then began working at Maryland Legal Aid, representing people in domestic relations matters, before taking on a role at a Legal Services Corporation. Unlike the other panelists, Julianne planned and plotted out each step in her career.
The panelists then touched on the biggest challenges they faced throughout their careers. For Judge Curtin, it was the difficulties she faced when she first moved to Maryland without knowing anyone or anything about the legal system. With persistence, she was ultimately able to obtain the job she wanted, however. Jamie’s greatest hurdle was the burnout she faced as a new attorney. She realized that it did not mean she needed to find another career, but needed to find a way to practice while maintaining a work-life balance. For Llamilet, the biggest struggle has been dealing with imposter syndrome, especially given the fact that there are few Latinas in the profession. Lisa’s biggest challenge was the guilt she felt when she left Legal Aid to work for the government, but eventually realized that she made the right decision in finding a career path that met all of her needs her and there are other ways she can give back to the community. Julianne’s difficulties arose when she had her son, and realized she had to work around his schedule rather than her own, and it was okay to ask for help.