Littler Lawyer Looks at Cases From Viewpoint of Both Sides

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By Gayle Cinquegrani

Melissa Judd knew from a young age that she wanted to be a lawyer, and despite some hardships in her early years, she succeeded in becoming a shareholder at labor and employment law firm Littler Mendelson in Houston.

“I just feel incredibly blessed that I’ve been able to accomplish as much as I have,” Judd told Bloomberg BNA May 18. “I’ve wanted to be a lawyer since I was 6 years old,” she said. “I had this idea that if you’re a lawyer, you’re successful.”

Judd represents management-side clients in employment cases. Her practice focuses on single-plaintiff employment discrimination and retaliation cases, often on behalf of retail companies.

Even though her clients are usually the defendants, Judd tries to see the case through the eyes of the employees who are suing them. “When I’m dealing with these plaintiffs,” she often wonders “what drove them to file a lawsuit,” she said. Was it “a lack of communication in the workplace or a personality conflict with a manager or co-worker?” she wonders. “If I can try to get inside their head somehow, I think I can achieve a good outcome for my client.”

The Client’s Priorities

Of course, Judd tries to see her cases from her clients’ viewpoint, too. “When you’re talking to your client, you have to figure out what’s important to them,” she said. “I try to offer them advice that is consistent with their business strategy and business model” and has “the least impact on the business.” She said that “one of the hardest parts of my job” is presenting a recommendation to a client “for what I think would be a favorable outcome, but it might take weeks or even months before the client is able to accept that recommendation.”

Judd said that since she entered the legal profession in 2001, “it’s just become more and more competitive. Clients have more options to obtain legal services,” including “startups that offer legal advice from a web-based or remote platform.”

As a result, “you have to be able to distinguish yourself” to attract and keep clients, Judd said. One skill that distinguishes her is her fluency in Spanish. Judd, who didn’t learn English until elementary school, is able to question Spanish-speaking employees who witnessed incidents involved in lawsuits. She also can conduct workplace law training sessions for her clients’ Spanish-speaking employees.

Lawyers should try to build their own brand, Judd believes, so she said she is launching “more earnest business development efforts.” She attends networking events and tries to find speaking opportunities. Judd belongs to the Houston West Chamber of Commerce and the Houston Hispanic Chamber of Commerce.

In addition, Judd is on Bloomberg Law’s Labor and Employment Technology and Innovation Board. The board’s goal is to provide feedback that facilitates the development of products and workflow tools for labor and employment lawyers. Judd was asked to join the board after she repeatedly contacted Bloomberg BNA with comments about its products.

Judd’s Childhood

Judd’s early years weren’t an obvious prelude to her current life. She is the oldest of three children raised by a single mother in Texas. Her mother’s job paid only a “poverty-level income,” so “we struggled a ton,” she said.

In high school, she was on the student council and in the math club, but the volleyball team became her formative influence. “Being on that team had such an impact. I was one of the captains,” she said. “We were a tight team.” With financial aid, Judd went to college at Yale University. She made her decision to attend Yale sight unseen because “we just didn’t have the means” to visit the campus, she said. Luckily, once she arrived, she found that “Yale was awesome.” She majored in sociology and joined a Mexican-American student association. She also played volleyball at the junior varsity level until a severe ankle sprain put her on crutches for several weeks. Eventually, she resumed playing volleyball, on her dormitory’s team.

Judd returned to Texas, graduating from the University of Texas School of Law in 2001. She enjoyed her employment law course there, and after a brief stint practicing product liability law at Shook Hardy, she went to Littler Mendelson in 2003.

At Littler, Judd became a shareholder in 2008, while she was pregnant.

Balancing Work and Family

Judd’s daughters are ages 8 and 9, and she is expecting a baby in October. Her husband is a lawyer.

Professional and parental responsibilities keep Judd busy. “If I’m not working, my time is devoted to what the girls are doing,” which at the moment means swimming and basketball, she said. “As a woman attorney, as a mom, as a wife, it’s a constant juggling act.”

“Give yourself permission to do those things” that you think are important “without feeling you should be doing something else,” Judd advised. “There’s always going to be something that gives,” she said. “We have to learn to manage our expectations” to prevent ourselves from feeling “like we’re constantly failing.”

Judd manages to find time for camping with her family. “We enjoy going camping,” she said, even though during one camping vacation, they encountered “serious flooding” and “were evacuated in the middle of the night.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Gayle Cinquegrani in Washington at gcinquegrani@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Tony Harris in Washington at tharris@bna.com

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