In honor of Women’s History Month, we asked some of our attorneys to reflect on the rewards and challenges of being women plaintiff-side lawyers.
Gibbs Law Group associate Monica Alcazar
I grew up learning to always say yes regardless of my workload or bandwidth, to be deferent in my demeanor, and to never make mistakes, or else my seat at whatever table I had been permitted would be taken away. As a woman in this legal field, certain moments in the past made me keenly aware of my identities as a young woman of color.
However, these are not the expectations I have encountered here at Gibbs Law Group, and so I feel very fortunate for the opportunity to join at this stage of my career. The rewarding side of this firm, specifically, is that the management and mentorship is such that younger attorneys are empowered to speak up, collaborate, and create solutions and strategies they believe are best. We are encouraged to set healthy boundaries, and communicate empathetically, which benefits our teams’ morale and creates an overall collaborative work environment.
Woman that inspires you? I am inspired by Isa Noyola, a translatina activist and leader in the LGBTQI+ immigrant rights movement. She was the Deputy Director of the Transgender Law Center when I was a summer clerk there, and is now the Deputy Director of Mijente. She has done incredible work in queer and Latinx spaces, especially for trans and queer immigrants. She is both powerful and empowering, and as a queer Latina daughter of immigrants myself, I look up to her as an example of kindness, resilience, and advocacy.
Gibbs Law Group counsel Rosanne Mah
One of the challenges I had to overcome as a plaintiff-side attorney was changing the perception of male attorneys (opposing counsel) who viewed me as this docile, willing to roll-over petite Asian woman.
But it’s been rewarding to help women on the path to becoming an attorney, too. One of my most rewarding experiences was having the opportunity to mentor a former female paralegal who was waiting for bar results.
Woman that inspires you? I am inspired by Michelle Obama because of her self-respect and respect for others from all walks of life, her fight for equal rights and better education for girls—and that she was Barack’s mentor, too.
Gibbs Law Group partner Rosemary Rivas
My mother is the woman who inspires me every day, although she’s been gone now for close to two years. For most of her life, she suffered from rheumatoid arthritis, a very painful and debilitating disease, but she never let that stop her from doing what she wanted to do. She came to the U.S. with almost nothing, learned to speak English, became a U.S. citizen, raised five girls to become independent women, and made a home where she was warm and gracious to people from all different walks of life.
One of the best rewards of being a lawyer on the plaintiffs’ side is that I get to help other people who are just doing the best they can, who do all the right things, yet are treated unfairly, are taken advantage of or have their rights violated. I’m also proud to be a Mexican-American woman doing the work I do because I feel like I’m a voice for other women who’ve been traditionally underrepresented in the justice system.
Gibbs Law Group associate Amanda Karl
My current modern-day hero is Katie Porter, who represents California’s 45th in Congress. She’s an attorney and a mother whose legislative priorities focus on helping everyday workers and families. With her trusty sidekick (her whiteboard, which she carries with her at all times), she holds the powerful accountable and communicates clearly and compassionately with her constituents.
As an attorney and mother myself, who cares deeply about vindicating our clients’ rights in the face of corporate wrongdoing, I am a huge, huge fan.
Gibbs Law Group partner Karen Barth Menzies
I have a former client, Kim Witczak, who inspires me for being able to take a tragic life experience and channel it to fight for important changes in drug safety.
Kim’s husband committed suicide after bring prescribed Zoloft for mild insomnia. Although he had no history of depression or mental illness, the drug triggered in him a condition called akathisia, which can cause uncontrollable trembling and restlessness. Sometimes the akathisia is so intense that it causes patients to inflict harm on themselves or on others, including suicide and homicide. But doctors and patients were not properly informed of this possible side effect at the time her husband was prescribed the drug.
We filed a lawsuit alleging that Zoloft’s manufacturer, Pfizer, knew but failed to warn patients and their loved ones of the risk of akathisia. Kim and I also joined others in testifying before the Pediatric Drug Advisory Committee of the FDA about the risk of SSRI-induced suicide, after which the FDA began requiring manufacturers of drugs like Zoloft to include a black box warning (reserved for the gravest health risks) about the increased risk of suicide.
Kim’s tragic loss has become her motivation to fight for patient safety and increase the awareness of the pharmaceutical companies’ behavior of hiding the risks of their drugs. She currently serves as the consumer representative on the FDA advisory panels for pharmaceutical drug safety and she co-founded the nonprofit Woody Matters, named in honor of her late husband.
Years ago, she told me of a quote that she feels refers to me. I was so honored and inspired, I scribbled it on a post-it note, which is still taped to my computer monitor some 15 years later:
“Justice will only be achieved when those who are not injured by crime feel as indignant as those who are.”
–Solomon (635-577 B.C.)
I deeply respect and admire Kim, and I am still motivated by her strength and courage. It has been an honor and a privilege to represent and know this woman.