Judge Vallera Johnson is an administrative law judge with the Office of Administrative Hearings. She is passionate about mentoring students and young attorneys so they have an opportunity to succeed in the legal field. Although Judge Johnson’s job requires her to travel outside San Diego County, she finds time to give back to the community. Two of her most notable and recent accomplishments have been the organization and founding of Women of Color in the Law, Inc., and the SDCBA/ACC-SD Diversity Fellowship Program.
We asked Judge Johnson to give us some of her thoughts on questions that are relevant to new attorneys. Her answers to these questions are below.
What is one piece of advice you would give to a new attorney regarding preparing for trial?
Regarding preparing for trial, my most sage advice is to be prepared. Be aware of the issues. Be succinct. Cite the law. Apply the facts. It is helpful to have copies of obscure statutes, municipal codes, regulations and cases.
What is the most important thing for a new attorney to keep in mind when arguing a motion or presenting an issue before the Court?
For arguing a motion or presenting an issue, my response is the same as the response to the prior question. In addition, be polite, don't interrupt opposing counsel and/or the judge.
What is one tip you could offer a new attorney for success during a settlement conference?
The most important tip in a settlement conference is to listen and to make your best effort to understand what the opposing party needs to settle. In addition, know the case (facts and law), have your client present or have access to your client, prepare your client, and have "client control."
If you could go back in time and offer your younger self advice, what do you wish you knew then, that you know now?
I would have worked longer at SEC in Chicago or DC and moved on to a corporation.
For someone interested in becoming a judge someday, what are some affiliations/organizations you would recommend becoming involved in now?
If one is interested in becoming a judge, I suggest he/she research the duties of the position, meet with some of those in the position, become aware of the jobs and organizations that will enhance achievement of the goal and seek out that employment and get involved in the organizations.
Looking back, what were some pivotal moves you made along the way that you most attribute to helping you make it to where you are today?
One of the reasons that I am involved with Women of Color in Law, students and young lawyers is that I did not have a career plan. Today, I suggest seeking out a mentor and network in order to develop career goals, learn about opportunities in the legal community and the most effective method to achieve these goals. Be prepared to make changes to your career plan.
Photo taken by Khari Johnson (www.kharijohnson.com).