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Article: March '24: Patrice

March '24: Patrice

What an honor to feature you this month. Tell us about your journey, what drew you to law and to eventually becoming a judge?

So much of my story rests on being nimble and open to possibilities. In undergrad, I was pursuing a criminology degree and happened to pick out a philosophy class for an elective that fit the schedule I wanted. I enjoyed the class so much that I immediately changed my major to philosophy.

After getting my degree, I had two options. I could go to graduate school and eventually teach or go to law school. I chose the latter because it seemed like the stabler profession.

Initially, I wanted to practice immigration law to help immigrants like me. Before law school, I handled my family’s naturalization applications by myself. Just like I had to learn a new language and interpret for my family, I wanted to learn this language of the law and interpret for others.

Language is one of the keys to unlock culture, belonging, and identity. For that reason, I wanted to make the language of law accessible.

However, I ended up taking a different path. During law school, a classmate invited me to observe his mock trial. Sitting in the audience, I immediately fell in love with trial work, much like I did with philosophy years earlier. I quickly pivoted. After getting my license, I worked at various public defender offices and really enjoyed being in the courtroom. 

My professional trajectory was guided by seeking out what I enjoy doing, by being in the right place at the right time, and by being open-minded and curious. I am so lucky to have worked on a variety of things in my practice. Now, as an Administrative Law Judge, I hear different types of cases and have the honor of learning about the lives of the parties who come before me. The part of my practice that I find most interesting are the human stories. To me, the law is as exciting as life is exciting.

What lights you up?

Nature. I’m such a sucker for beautiful skies, fluffy clouds, and crashing waves. Being outside is grounding to me and helps me practice staying in the moment without judgment. There’s so much pressure on each of us, some societal and some self-imposed, and I find it restorative to just be.

What obstacles did you run into as you were coming up in school and in work? 

Tangibly, a significant obstacle to me was poverty. I worked full time while I pursued my bachelor’s degree. In law school, while I didn’t work, I had limited loan funds. After getting my (law) license, I didn’t find full time paid employment for almost two years.

I still remember vividly that one year, I had to renew my driver license, which left only 37 cents in my bank account.

Less measurable, another obstacle was and is intersectional oppression. I’m still young (for now), and I’m a woman of color. I have to consider things such as my tone, my oral delivery, my outfit, my makeup, whether to smile, whether to be friendly, whether to defer or stand my ground, and so many other things.

There is some unfairness in the cards that each of us are dealt. The game itself feels rigged. However, I don’t think we serve ourselves by standing still and refusing to play our cards. I’ve had to learn the ways to use the cards I’ve been dealt more effectively.

Overcoming these obstacles was not an isolated effort. I have immensely benefited from the kindness and mentorship of others. In addition to the resilience I learned through hardship, amazing people also taught me how interconnected we are. This experience inspired me to pay it forward and invest in my community.

What’s the best part of what you do?

There are so many good parts. As to the substantive work itself, I enjoy talking to and learning about the litigants, and I have fun writing. As to my position in general, it’s my honor to represent on the bench. I’m on the young side as far as judges go, and I’m a woman of color.

It’s my hope that younger folks look at me and are encouraged that they could sit in my seat, too. I get to help modernize the bench and make it accessible—how cool is that?

What do you consider the most underrated virtue in a woman? 

Confidence seems underrated in women.

...Most overrated?

The flip side, in a way, is that politeness is overrated. I think it’s unfortunate that we hate to be surprised by people and sometimes even feel personally attacked when a person isn’t the way we think they should be.

Also happen to know you’re quite the creative in photography, art, fashion…. Why are those forms of self-expression so important to you?

Part of living in society and civilization requires us to be reducible in some ways, such as how our value is tied to our time and labor. While I find my work rewarding, I would be a full time creative in an ideal world. Apart from aesthetics, what I love about art is intention. It changes everything. It gives meaning to anything that we are perceiving, whether a brooch on a coat or a photo of a sea cliff at sunset. In that way, art is meditative and a practice in being intentional.

20’s vs 30’s?

I am definitely enjoying life more in my 30s than my 20s, but that’s not to say one is better than the other. (That’s a lawyerly answer—sorry!) I am financially stable, have wonderful friends and colleagues, and want for nothing. However, my struggles in my 20s got me to this place now.

I am so grateful to my younger self for the sacrifices she made and for learning the life lessons she did. I am the best thing that ever happened to me. I am the one I’ve been waiting for. In my 30s and beyond, I hope to honor my younger self by living the best life I can. 

A self-care hack you can’t live without?

I can’t live without Bag Balm. I buy the giant tubs and fill glass jars which I keep all over the house and in my office. It’s multipurpose and so nourishing.

Advice you’d share with young women pursuing law and, really, anyone coming up professionally?

J.M. Barrie wrote, “I’m not young enough to know everything.” I know I’ve said a lot above, but I’m just doing my best to understand this life and live it. I’m not really sure what I’m doing!

As far as advice, I’ll defer to Betty Reid Soskin who recently retired at 100 years old as the oldest National Park Service Ranger. She was many things throughout her life and didn’t become a ranger until she was 85.

She said: “What’s more important in life? The questions are the important things. Each time they get asked, there’s a different meaning, because you have grown so much from the last time you asked it. The answers are only temporary.”

So, to add briefly to that:

Check in with yourself often. Try new things. Be gracious and give yourself the space to be surprised and to change your mind. Treat others similarly.

Patrice in the Court Jacket 

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