Was there a defining moment or event where you realized that you wanted to be an attorney?
There really was two defining events. The first one was when I realized I wanted to be an attorney. The second one is when I realized I wanted to be a Trial Lawyer. Those are two different things. The first time that I realized I wanted to be an attorney actually was a scientist studying for my master’s in Chemical Engineering and I took a break and I saw the movie Jagged Edge with Glenn Close and she played this character Teddy Barnes and what I loved so much about her character and what motivated me for the law was her passion for justice and her passion for life and her passion also to be a well rounded woman.
Throughout the entire movie she was a stellar advocate for her client but one of her challenges was not to lose herself especially as a woman as a mother and she balanced all of that during the movie and it really inspired me to want to be an attorney. Now, the second piece is when did I realize I wanted to be in the courtroom because when you go to law school there are so many different kinds of attorneys that you can be. You can be a corporate attorney, a tax attorney, litigation attorney, all different types of attorneys but trial attorneys are special. Trial Attorneys are the ones who are on the battlefield who are carrying the burden of proof, who are leading the battle for their client and I didn’t really know much about that. So I happened to be very fortunate at Vanderbilt where my professor, legal writing professor, ran the clinic and we had to write briefs to support the third year law students that were actually doing the trial and I’ll never forget the first hearing and the judge was asking one of the third year attorney’s questions and I was just very unimpressed with the way the law student was answering it and in my mind I’m saying, “No. Answer it this way. No, answer it that way make this argument.” So, I found myself just really excited to be an actual player in the part of justice right on the battlefield and that happened my first year of law school.
Well, I have a lot of idols depending on the century we’re talking about and the genre that we’re talking about. One of my biggest idols is my grandmother. She, in the late 1800’s left her small village in Italy because her fiancé was killed. There was nothing for her and she came to the United States, married a man, she never kissed, it was her fiancé’s best friend and they started a life here in America. He got killed in an industrial accident and she ended up raising 10 children on her own without knowing how to speak the English language. She knew how to work hard, she knew how to educate and she knew how to persevere and I carry my grandmother with me everywhere I go. That’s one of my idols. Another one of my idols was Susan B. Anthony. She led the women’s right to vote. Gloria Steinem, she led the fight for equality for women. Hillary Clinton, I mean, I love her. She is so well qualified and I hope someday she will be our president. So those are some my role models.
What obstacles or hurdles do you feel you face due to being a woman in the legal field?
So, anytime you’re a woman not just in the legal field but in any professional arena there are special challenges that you have that men just don’t face. As a Trial Attorney, I’m a minority in my field. There aren’t a lot of women advocates out there and so people just aren’t used to seeing you and so a lot of men tend to initially be uncomfortable. Some feel intimidated and there’s a way that you have to play that because you want to as an attorney even with your opposing counsel you want to build a consensus and have a trial go smoothly. One of the things that I find male colleagues try to do is play on stereotypes with women. One thing I can remember when I was in the courtroom and I was trying to hotly debate a case and my defense attorney was a well known male defense attorney in his fifties. I was getting very passionate on cross-examination with this client and he stood up and he said, “Your honor, objection. She’s angry.” Well, the basis of an objection being angry there’s no legal basis but he was trying to do was lessen my credibility in front of the jury by saying that I’m a woman out of control who’s angry. So, instead of getting mad at him I turned to the jury and I said, “I’m not angry. I’m just Italian.” and they all laughed and he ended up looking ridiculous but sometimes men will play those kind of ploys as a means to try to get you off balance or decrease your credibility in front of the jury and the balance is too and the challenges that you face as a woman is what your goals are. My only goal is not only to be an attorney I’m more than that. I’m a mother, I’m a friend, I’m a confidant and I take pride in that and sometimes men view that as being a weakness but for me I view that as a strength.
Number one, it makes me a more well-rounded person and number two it gives me the emotional intelligence. I think that’s very important and persuasiveness in a courtroom because you’re having people come from all different aspects of life that you’re trying to convince and carry your burden of proof and if you can relay to them not only on an intellectual level but also as an emotional level it makes you a very powerful advocate in the courtroom.
Do you feel your experience as an attorney would be different as a man? If so, how?
I think some things will be similar and some things will be different. One of the things that I find very interesting is that as a woman often I find myself underestimated by my opponents and sometimes I can use that to my advantage. I had one jury trial where the jurors nicknamed me “the shark” and she said and you can see the foreperson telling me she goes, “We called you “the shark” because you’d be very quiet just swimming in the water and nobody would know where you were going with the witness and the next thing you were on top of them, cutting them at the throat and showing how they were lying and tearing the witness apart.” And you know I think part of that is people have a tendency to see women as not being aggressive and men as being aggressive and one’s negative and one’s positive but you can turn negative perceptions into positive experiences.
What message would you send to younger girls with aspirations to become an attorney?
Well, follow your dream. Follow your dream and if that’s what you want to be you go ahead and be it. What I say to women whether they want to be doctors, lawyers, nurses, child care providers, stay-at-home moms is follow your passion. Find what you’re passionate about and pursue it and if law is something that you’re passionate about pursue it no matter what anybody tells you. When I started out my legal career I was told that I wouldn’t be a good Trial Lawyer. They didn’t think I had what it takes. They didn’t think I was aggressive enough and I didn’t believe them and now I hold one of the largest verdicts for a female Trial Lawyer here in Georgia. So, what I say to women is if you believe in yourself others will follow and never ever give up in your dreams. I’m Brain Injury Attorney Jane Lamberti protecting the smartest part of you at the Cochran Firm.