“My Story” Featuring Hon. Elizabeth Allen White (Ret.)
Judge White’s prolific legal career began in 1977 with paralegal work and a determination to move on to law school from there. After completing law school, she practiced law for 15 years and then became a judge, serving for 23 years. She has been an arbitrator and mediator with JAMS for the last two years.
Breaking Through Barriers
Interestingly, Judge White’s professional journey did not begin in law. She was a French major as an undergrad at UCLA. “I really hadn't thought much about law, except that my father had been a lawyer and my mother's cousin was a judge, and I thought that what they did was pretty cool,” she says. “I really wanted to be an international lawyer, and being terribly naïve, I thought, I'll be a paralegal first, then I'll go to law school, and then I'll jump right into international law at The Hague speaking French. Obviously, that didn’t happen.”
What did happen was, after graduating from law school, she went to work at a small firm in downtown Los Angeles and faced significant challenges in a male-dominated system. “The male associates got to go to court all the time, and I never got to go to court until they ran out of lawyers,” she recalls.
But as soon as she was presented with the opportunity, her first experience in court proved to be truly life-changing.
“From the moment I stepped into that courthouse, I was in awe. I loved it. I loved everything about the courtroom. I loved everything about my experience with that judge, and I was launched.”
The Keys to Successful Mediation
When it comes to successful mediation techniques, Judge White emphasizes the ability to listen and “try to completely and totally understand what the parties are going through,” she says.
“Because people in litigation are not happy people. They're upset. They're stressed. And so, to the extent that you can, bring the stress level down and get people to appreciate the other person's side is valuable so that you can find that middle ground.”
Striving for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion
From Judge White’s perspective, achieving a culture of diversity, equity and inclusion starts with having a clear plan. “You have to have a plan, and you have to encourage people to follow that plan,” she says. “We need to have a working group that's reflective of the population at large so that the core group includes everyone.”
She believes that this important work starts with getting personally involved. “I’ll give you just one example of what I’m doing actually tonight, and that is that I'm going to Loyola Law School, where we have a MentorJet program,” she adds. “Loyola Law School has had a wonderful program recruiting law students of all backgrounds, all colors, and I think they're 50-50 [in terms of] gender, if not more women than men.”
Advancing Opportunities for Women in the Judiciary
Judge White is especially proud of her membership in the National Association of Women Judges. “I’m proud to say that I just completed my first year as president this last weekend at our conference in Detroit,” she says. “And one of the things that National Association of Women Judges has done is to encourage diversity on the bench.”
The organization started in 1979, and its mission is to increase diversity, predominantly gender diversity.
“I'm very pleased to say that we now have many, many more women on the bench than we did back in 1979, and we actually have four women on our U.S. Supreme Court right now,” she says. “So that's pretty amazing.”
A Recipe for Success in Three Words
Judge White’s three words for success in ADR are prepare, engage and enjoy. “Be prepared, be ready, read the papers” she says, “so you know what the parties are going through. Be fully engaged, don't think about what else is going on in your life, but be fully engaged. And then, finally, enjoy, because these are wonderful people who appear before you who want to be before you and who want you to help them, and so enjoy it.”
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