Ann talks about projects that have stuck with her, her career path, and how she prevents burnout.
Meet Ann, a powerhouse staff attorney on our Impact Litigation Team. Impact Litigation uses direct representation to strategically address a legal or social issue and effect systemic change for the better. Our current cases run the gamut—from consumer law and discrimination to police brutality and Title IX issues.
On her career path
This might sound cliché, but I have wanted to be an attorney for as long as I can remember. As the daughter of an attorney and Mexican immigrant, service to others was instilled in me at a very young age. I also saw the various kinds of things my dad was able to do with a law degree, and that part really excited me. Up until that time, he had been a law school professor, in-house counsel for a software company, and worked in both big law and for a boutique law firm.
I knew I would either go into public interest law or international human rights law. In college, I really enjoyed my public interest work experiences. I pursued a Masters in International Relations, and later attended Boston College Law School.
The decision was made pretty easy for me when I moved to Milwaukee, Wisconsin after law school so my husband could pursue a PhD at a university there—not much international law to speak of in that part of the country. Almost immediately, I was thrilled to land a dream job litigating criminal and family cases on behalf of immigrants and Spanish speakers at a small nonprofit. At that moment I knew that public interest work was exactly where I wanted to be.
On a particularly rewarding project she worked on (and absolutely aced)
For me, the most rewarding projects are often the most challenging. Last year, Texas Legal Services Center's Deputy Director, Bruce Bower, asked me to argue a case before the Third Court of Appeals. This was a case that another attorney in our office worked on for the past couple of years in conjunction with our former Executive Director, Randy Chapman.
For many reasons, I knew I would accept, but was nervous about the prospect—after all, the case had to do with two areas in which I did not have any experience: administrative law and utilities regulation in Texas. That being said, I am a trial lawyer through and through and love being in a courtroom. In addition, the outcome of the case would potentially have an impact on hundreds of thousands of low-income utilities customers all over the state of Texas. Luckily, I had the support of my managing attorney, Wayne, as well as plenty of help from experienced appellate attorneys from Graves, Dougherty, Hearon & Moody who generously donated their time to make sure I was prepared.
I find meaning in everything I do.
Over the course of the next few weeks, I digested the lengthy court record as best I could, read up on the relevant standards in administrative law and how they applied to the utility rules at issue, and participated in two moot court sessions at the firm.
As I walked up to the podium on the day of the oral argument, I felt calm and collected. Throughout the 20 minutes I was allotted, I was grateful to be able to answer all of the justices' questions. Overall, it was an exhilarating experience, and I am so grateful that Texas Legal Service Center chose me to represent the organization in advocating for our clients. And the professional and personal growth I experienced after this opportunity will last forever in my mind. While we are still waiting for a decision, if we win, three customer protections for low-income consumers across Texas will be reinstated: waivers for late fees, payment plans, and the ability to pay a deposit in two installments.
On practicing at a nonprofit versus a private firm
Resources, access to experience, meaning. I think the most obvious difference is with respect to resources—we have limits on what we can do because of funding and grant restrictions, lack of access to high-tech equipment to use for depositions and trials, and personnel limitations further restrict the potential reach of our programs. That being said, one of the things I have loved most about working in public interest settings since graduating from law school is the incredible experiences I have had as a young attorney. In only eight years of practicing, I have had extensive client contact, immense responsibility in managing and applying my own legal strategies to cases, and the privilege of arguing motions and trying numerous cases as a first chair. I do not know many attorneys in the private sector who have gained that type of experience by this time.
Last but not least, I find meaning in everything I do. I love coming to work every day to pursue social justice, and surrounding myself with others who share a similar passion is a constant reminder that no matter the obstacles, we are on the right of side of things.
On work-life balance
Emotional fatigue is real. To avoid burning out, I had to accept the fact early in my career that there would always be obstacles to achieving justice for my client (and people like my clients), and that I am only one person. We have to take care of ourselves so we can take care of others. Living those ideas is easier said than done, but I find that leaving work at work whenever possible, taking time for myself, and cherishing my young family really help to balance things out.