March 31, 2014 Articles

Law Firm Appellate Practice and How a Former Prosecutor Got There

By Sonia Escobio O'Donnell

I began my legal career with an appellate clerkship in the former U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit when the court met in New Orleans. My exposure to interesting criminal law issues during my clerkship led me on a different career path from the one I had originally set for myself. When I was in law school, I had been involved in the Moot Court Board, and my coursework was heavy with commercial litigation courses. Following my clerkship, however, I accepted a position as an Assistant U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Florida in the criminal trial section. This was not an obvious choice. As a clerk, I bled for every defendant. But as a prosecutor, I found I had no problem presenting a case that was novel, unpopular, or that could yield a result that would not reflect my personal philosophy. Mostly, I cherished getting up and saying I represented the United States of America. For a Cuban exile, this was an unbelievable phrase.

After I accepted the offer, but before I began my 16-year career at the U.S. Attorney’s office, my husband and I discovered I was pregnant. For about six weeks I worried about what I would say to the U.S. Attorney—how he would react and what this would do to my career. This was 1979 and there was not an abundance of women prosecutors—much less pregnant ones. It all worked out with the U.S. Attorney, and I continued to try criminal cases until the day I went into labor.

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