Raising the Bar
Lawyer jokes are a dime a dozen, but our guess is that if these top-notch litigators walked into the bar, everyone would enjoy lively conversation while learning a thing or two about how to successfully represent their clients.
And having these women enjoy a drink and conversation together fits with the collegial atmosphere in San Antonio. Litigation, at least in San Antonio, is a noble profession where opposing counsel treat each other with respect. They may fight battles in the courtroom, but these attorneys believe that advocating for their clients and supporting other women in the legal field are not mutually exclusive.
They also all believe in the importance of mentoring, being involved in the community and doing what it takes to help their clients meet their goals. And that’s no joke.
Some people might be intimidated by taking a case to trial, but Larissa Sanchez Fields, Member at Dykema Cox LLC, enjoys it. “It’s exciting to take all of these facts, build this story and tell it to a jury — and try to get them to understand where you’re coming from in a very short amount of time. You’ve worked the case for four to five years, and you have 30 minutes in an opening statement to be able to sell them on your story,” she explains.
“I enjoy fighting for my clients. By the time a case gets to trial, it’s usually on an issue that is very important to them, that they feel worth fighting for. I feel very honored that they pick us to fight for them.”
The San Antonio native has managed to maintain her career with the firm in spite of being an active duty Air Force spouse, following her husband to various duty stations while managing her caseload remotely. “They’ve made sure it didn’t set my career back. I’ve built and maintained a practice through the support of really amazing mentors.”
“When you’re first out of law school, you have no idea what you’re doing. You learn from the people you work for. You learn how to be a lawyer watching others. Find those people who are going to help you be the best lawyer you can be and allow you the opportunity to do what you know you can do,” she advises.
San Antonio Managing Partner, Jackson Walker, LLP
Julia Mann is enjoying a milestone year, being elected Managing Partner of Jackson Walker’s San Antonio office just four days after celebrating her 50th birthday. This year also marks 25 years of practicing law and 25 years of marriage to the husband who encouraged her to pursue law in the first place. Considering her success, there’s little doubt that she followed the right path.
Having an attorney as a father, Mann was fairly well prepared for a legal career. “What I did not know is how much I would truly love it. Solving problems, helping people, and the thrill of a good court argument never gets old,” she explains.
Based on her experience, she advises other women to let others help them in their careers.
“Not only mentors but those around you. Women tend to be the doers and rarely ask for help. Asking does not mean you can’t do something, just that you want to collaborate to achieve the best result.”
Mann is a firm believer in Jackson Walker Women, the firm’s women initiative, which works to attract, retain and promote female attorneys through efforts like networking, client development, and alternative work schedules.
As a litigator, Mann embraces challenges. “Challenges are opportunity, an opportunity to learn, to grow and to succeed. If there were not challenges out there, then my clients would not need me. My best days are when I have faced a difficult issue and come up with a solution.”
Attorney at Law, Mysti Murphy Law Firm
Mysti Murphy found her way to family law as a Dallas County Assistant District Attorney, serving as Chief Felony Prosecutor and Specialized Trial Prosecutor primarily in the area of domestic violence. Now on the civil side, she sees family law as a good place for women. “A lot of people like to have female attorneys when it’s a family law case. They see it as giving them an edge.”
Murphy’s experience as a prosecutor helps fuel her commitment to the Bexar County Family Justice Center Foundation, where she serves on the board of directors.
“There’s such a need. The services provided by the Family Justice Center make it easier for victims to get the help they need to change their lives.”
While Murphy is an experienced litigator, she encourages her family law clients to consider collaborative divorce, a cooperative process in which a couple and their lawyers work together in private to resolve the issues in the divorce.
The process is designed to be respectful and efficient.
“Collaborative law is a healthier approach to divorce that can benefit everyone,” she explains, noting that the process can remain positive and help minimize the negative effects on children involved. Whether the process involves collaborative law, mediation or litigation, Murphy believes in making positive progress. “I tell my clients, it’s one day at a time, one step at a time, one small thing at a time. Tackling one thing at a time makes it easier.”
Kristal Cordova Thomson
Shareholder, Langley & Banack, Inc.
One of only ten lawyers in San Antonio elected as a fellow to the American Academy of Matrimonial Specialists, Kristal Cordova Thomson is a family law specialist, Board Certified in Family Law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization. She’s currently Chair-Elect of the Family Law Section of the State Bar of Texas and believes being active has been key to building her practice. “A lot of what I’ve learned has been helpful to my career. It’s a break from representing clients, but it helps make me a more well-rounded professional and is beneficial to my practice.”
Thomson found her way to family law thanks working part-time with a solo practitioner during law school. Fielding a call from a mother upset about a father picking up the children later than what the court had decreed, the conversation put family law in perspective for her.
“So many of these people are just going through a tough time, and they need more than legal advice. They call us attorneys and counselors at law. At least half the time I’m a counselor with some legal background.”
She applies that same practical approach to how she practices law.
“Female attorneys get so much advice about “leaning in.” There are so many mixed messages out there—it’s overwhelming. But it’s really is two things: work hard and don’t be a jerk. You can advocate, you can be competitive, you can be aggressive without being a jerk, and it will all balance out.”
Senior Associate, Norton Rose Fulbright US, LLP
When looking at potential future careers, Lauren Valkenaar, Senior Associate at Norton Rose Fulbright, was drawn to the intellectual challenge of the legal profession. To confirm that a legal career might be a fit, she worked at a law firm to get an inside view. “It’s nothing like what you see in the movies,” she laughs. “But I found out I absolutely loved it.”
Ultimately graduating as valedictorian from St. Mary’s School of Law, there’s little doubt that she made the right call.
Valkenaar enjoys becoming close with her clients, advocating for them and working collaboratively to achieve their objectives. “It’s not only important to have strong legal skills and expertise, but to also understand your client’s business and understand how to help them achieve their goals.”
The nature of the bar in San Antonio has helped solidify her love of the profession.
“Particularly in San Antonio, the bar is very collegial. Even though you’re vigorously fighting something in court, you’re still able to be friends. I practice all over the nation, and San Antonio really brings respect and honor to the profession.”
Since joining the firm, Valkenaar credits the people she’s worked with for helping her develop as a lawyer.
“You learn something new with everyone you work with. Training like that is instrumental. Having a network of mentors both inside and outside of the firm — all of that is really what is needed to develop.”
By Dawn Robinette
Photography by David Teran