A Conversation with
By Jodi L. Wilkof
Florida Supreme Court Justice
Barbara J. Pariente
This interview features Florida Supreme Court Justice Barbara J. Pariente, who is the second woman to be appointed to the Florida Supreme Court. Justice Pariente graduated with highest honors from Boston University in 1970. She then attended George Washington University Law School, where she graduated fifth in her class in 1973, earning highest honors and membership in the Order of the Coif. After graduating from law school, Justice Pariente clerked for Federal District Court Judge Norman C. Roettger, Jr. She thereafter joined the West Palm Beach law firm of Cone, Wagner and Nugent and she later formed her own law firm, Pariente & Silber, P.A. During her eighteen years of private practice, Justice Pariente specialized in civil trial litigation. She was recognized as a Board Certified Civil Trial Lawyer by The Florida Bar, she was board certified by The National Board of Trial Advocacy, and she was awarded an AV rating by Martindale-Hubbell. In September 1993, Justice Pariente was appointed to Florida's Fourth District Court of Appeal and on December 10, 1997, she was appointed to be the seventy-seventh Justice of the Florida Supreme Court.
As a member of the Florida Supreme Court, Justice Pariente serves as liaison to the Supreme Court's Family Court Steering Committee. She is also a member of the Access to Justice Task Force, which addresses the issue of improved access to the courts for pro se litigants. For the past two years, she has served as the liaison to the Supreme Court's Drug Court Steering Committee and she organized the first statewide conference on drug courts. Justice Pariente also is a member of the National Judges' Advisory Committee for the Balanced and Restorative Justice Project of the Department of Justice and she organized the first statewide conference on Restorative Justice in June 1999. For the past three years, she has participated as a faculty member for the Supreme Court's Justice Teaching Institute and she currently serves as a member of the Florida Bar's Commission on the Legal Needs of Children.
Based on her longstanding commitment to children, Justice Pariente remains involved as a mentor to school-age children. In the past, she served as a mentor to students through Take Stock in Children, a program for helping economically disadvantaged students earn a college scholarship. She has also served as a mentor through Communities In Schools and has served as a volunteer judge in the Palm Beach County Youth Court program.
Justice Pariente is a member of the Florida Bar and its Appellate Practice Section, the American Bar Association, the National Association for Women Judges, and the Florida Association for Women Lawyers. She was also recently appointed to the ABA's Coalition for Justice. She is the recipient of the 2000 Florida Council on Crime and Delinquency Distinguished Judicial Service Award, the 2000 Florida Association for Women Lawyers' Award in recognition of lifelong dedication to the success of women lawyers in the legal profession, the 1998 American Bar Association's Law Day Speech Award, the 1998 Lifetime Achievement Award presented by the Palm Beach County Jewish Federation, the 1993 Legal Aid Society Civil Litigation Pro Bono Award, and the 1987 Palm Beach County Bar Association's Award for Distinguished Service to the Arts.
Justice Pariente's past publications include: The Prostitution of the Criminal Law, American Criminal Law Review (Winter, 1972), and a contribution to Women Trial Lawyers: How They Succeed in Practice and in the Courtroom (Prentice-Hall 1987). In addition, she recently authored an article in the Florida Bar Journal entitled "A Profession for the New Millennium: Restoring Public Trust and Confidence in Our System of Justice." 74 Fla. B.J. 50 (January 2000).
Justice Pariente is married to the Honorable Frederick A. Hazouri, judge
of the Fourth District Court of Appeal, and together, they have three grown children and four grandchildren.
Justice Pariente shared her insights on the following subjects.
The issue of mentors is a difficult one for me because when I was a young lawyer, there were very few women who could serve as role models and mentors, and that was something I really regretted. In the earlier part of my career I had no one I could go to as a traditional mentor with questions big and small. I relied on a close group of strong women friends who supported me. I was fortunate to have this group of friends and other women who were a little more advanced in their careers--including [Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals Judge] Rosemary Barkett, who practiced law in Palm Beach County when I first started. Before there was a formal organization of women lawyers, a group of us--many of whom are now judges--would gather informally and discuss our concerns as being one of the only women in our practices.
"Communicate." I say that very seriously because, having served on a grievance committee at the local level and now on the Florida Supreme Court where we review Bar grievances, I know that one of the worst things that a lawyer can do is not return client phone calls. Clients are what we are about. One of the lessons that I learned from the first firm where I practiced was the importance of keeping the client informed. We were required to make sure that the client received a copy of every letter that went out and we knew the importance of taking and returning every client phone call.
There is a natural reluctance, especially among young lawyers, not to want to tell clients about problems with the case. That is a mistake. You have to be able to have a relationship with the client where you can explain the problems in the case. Although it is the client's case in terms of making the ultimate decisions, the lawyer has the professional responsibility to set the course. The lawyer has an obligation to communicate with the client regarding whether to settle the case or not, and why. So if you have been telling your client all along that this is the best case that has ever come along, you are going to have difficulty down the road if you later advise that client to settle "for less".
Another important part of a successful client relationship is listening to your clients. Clients need an ear. Although you cannot be their psychologist or social worker, it is important to listen to what they are saying--not only as part of your role as counselor, but also because you will both gain their confidence and you will be able to be a more effective advocate for them.
On changes in the profession
The size of law firms, the increasing amount of specialization, and the tremendous amount of information available have all been changes to the legal profession in the broad sense. The most obvious change has been the increasing diversity in the legal profession. When I graduated from law school in 1973, 6% of my class at George Washington University Law School were women and now many, many graduating classes are over 50% women. Although we see many women in the profession now, my concern continues to be whether women are in positions of power. What difference are we making if we are not in a position to influence decisions?
On developing business
You should not be shy about your successes. We are taught in life that humility is an important trait but as a young lawyer, it is also important to let others know of your successes. Networking is also important, so young lawyers should get involved in both business and professional organizations, as well as in the community. In addition to these activities being another source of business, they are also very, very good for your personal life. Probably the best advice is to find your own niche in the law and develop that expertise.
On becoming a judge
I had been practicing about twenty years and I had gotten to a point where our firm was really doing well and I started to re-evaluate where my career was going. I had certainly wanted to earn a living by being a lawyer, but I had never thought much about the economics of practice. Our practice, however, was very successful financially and that was certainly a wonderful side benefit. It was also very rewarding in terms of the clients that I served that were happy with the results. Nonetheless, it started to occur to me that I just wanted to do more within the profession, for the profession, and for people. I had entered the legal profession in order to make a difference, and I decided it was time to give back. Becoming a judge seemed like a logical and appropriate career choice.
On qualities that have led to success
I don't know that I have ever thought of myself as "successful." Qualities that have helped me to be a high achiever include always working my hardest, trying to do my best and really caring a lot. Another quality is that I am never satisfied with the way that anything ever is. As a lawyer, I felt the need to see and understand the big picture--to make sure I was doing everything I could for my clients. I focused on succeeding in the individual case and doing as much as I possibly could to treat each client as if he or she was the most important person in the world.
Another key to attaining my present position was my involvement with activities outside the practice of law, whether community or bar related. All of those relationships become important as you travel through life.
On balancing work and family
The day that my son was born, my life totally changed. Everything was put into perspective when I had another life to be responsible for. As to whether a child turns out well-adjusted or not, there are so many different factors. I just tried to keep open communication to let my son and my stepchildren know that I was always available for them. When my son was growing up, I tried to make time to be involved with his activities, although sometimes balancing between the demands of family and the demands of work would be overwhelming. We did, however, have good family times together, and I really do believe that its quality versus quantity.
One of the most important things that you can teach your children is how to be independent and make good decisions. My family life has been and continues to be a wonderful aspect of my life, and hopefully each part of my life enhances the other. I also know that it is critical to make time for yourself. Taking care of yourself is not a luxury, but a necessity to keep work and family in balance.
On personal traits that the public may not know about
I am a grandmother to four adorable grandchildren and I have a very rich personal life that is very important to me. I love traveling and recently visited the Galapagos Islands with my son, who was spending the year teaching English in Equador. I also love taking photographs. When I was in college, my undergraduate major was in educational broadcasting and I also took courses in photography. Although I did not choose to follow that career, it is something that is still a love of mine. If you come to my office or my house, you'll see lots of pictures. Because I am now in Tallahassee (which is in North Florida) and many of my good friends are in South Florida, it is a comfort to have my friends around, at least in pictures. Although human memory is very rich, a picture is worth a thousand words. I can look back at a picture and smile for remembering the moment and what it represented.