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Monica Maldonado ’99
Assistant Dean, Yale Law School; Formerly Assistant County Attorney, Miami-Dade County Attorney’s Office
My advice to anyone in law school contemplating life after graduation: Know thyself. Career paths are not the same for everyone and you have to really know yourself and honestly evaluate your strengths and weaknesses to find a career that will give you satisfaction, fulfillment and maybe even happiness. I’ll share with you how I decided my career path.
I thought getting into law school was the hard part, but I had no idea there were so many career choices within the legal field. I took to heart Guido Calabresi’s “off the treadmill” speech and tried everything Yale had to offer. Early on I realized that clinic really appealed to me and I was more suited to litigation rather than transactional work. My first summer I worked at the ACLU and while I enjoyed the constitutional law issues I handled, I really missed having clients and desired faster outcomes than waiting years for class impact litigation. My second summer I worked for a large, prestigious law firm and after a few weeks I knew it was not for me. While I was getting paid more than I ever dreamed of, the work and responsibility were not up to par with the work I was doing at clinic, and none of the associates around me had been to court or had even taken a deposition. I had already had my feet wet in clinic and couldn’t imagine spending years on the sidelines waiting my turn to go to court.
My clinical experience shaped my attitude about law and what I wanted to do with the knowledge I was gaining. I loved handling a case from beginning to end, and especially appreciated the trust that my clinical supervisor put in me to make decisions about strategy. I handled a five-day trial, a complex case where the state was trying to take custody of an intellectually disabled adult from her legal guardian, my client. It was the most challenging experience I had in law school, and the most rewarding when our client prevailed. It was also an emotionally draining experience because I took on my client’s problems as my own and I couldn’t disengage my emotions. I realized that, given my personality, dealing with these heated issues would be detrimental to my clients and to me.
I had to find a balance: I needed a career where I could do the public good but handle issues that I wouldn’t get too emotionally invested in; I needed immediate responsibility for my cases but have a supportive environment where I could learn and grow; I needed to do quality legal work without worrying about the financial bottom line. Luckily, I found that balance with the Miami-Dade County Attorney’s Office.
The County Attorney’s Office does all the civil work for Miami-Dade County, which consists of the Board of County Commissioners, the Mayor, and a myriad of departments that employ over 25,000 people. The office, consisting of 70 attorneys, is loosely divided into sections, though most attorneys work in more than one section. I was placed in the workers’ compensation section. I knew nothing about this area of law except that it was litigation and I would be going to court. I relished learning a new area of law and defending the County, and therefore the taxpayers, in these matters. Within my first month, I was taking depositions and handling a caseload. In my career with the office, I handled every stage of litigation, from pre-suit to appeals. A significant part of my practice involved counseling my clients to help them formulate policies and avoid litigation. I was also able to do uniquely government work, including writing ordinances and resolutions and serving as the attorney to Commission committees.
After a few years in the office, I became the lead attorney in my section, responsible for staffing each case that came in and creating practices for the attorneys and support staff in the section. I also was privileged to have had an active role in office management: I served as the law clerk program coordinator, sat on the recruitment committee, and administered the office’s computerized case management system.
I was very fortunate to find a place that allowed me to grow as a litigator and counselor. YLS is well-represented in the office: there are currently five YLS grads that would be happy to share their experiences. You can read more about the office on their website: http://attorney.miamidade.gov.
I spent 15 years with the County and hold the office in high regard. I’m happy to talk with any students about my experience there.