Today we’d like to introduce you to Trisha Widowfield.
Trisha, please share your story with us. How did you get to where you are today?
My path was very circuitous. When I was younger, I actually thought I wanted to be a doctor. In high school, I went to med camp, shadowed at a hospital, and was accepted into a six-year combined undergrad/medical school program. Fairly quickly, I learned that I didn’t have the necessary passion to go through the grueling program. I was taking 21 hours a semester and still trying to get the “true” college experience at the same time, which is a combination that just doesn’t work. The full realization didn’t hit until I got a “D” in embryology, which was my favorite class! I then switched my major to psychology with a minor in sociology with a plan to get a doctorate. I had met my then-boyfriend, now-husband during my junior year and I moved to Tampa once I graduated from Kent State. I figured that if it didn’t work out with the boy then at least I had better weather than Ohio! (It worked out, he’s my husband now). There, I worked as a mental health technician in a residential facility for teenage girls, many of whom were sent down from Chicago to get out of the gang system.
I have to say, dealing with teenaged girls was tough enough, let alone ones who had significant mental issues. My stomach hurt every day on the way to work and I wasn’t growing academically or professionally, so I switched fields to work at USAA, which provided insurance to military personnel. I worked in the claims department and absolutely loved it. The company provided amazing amenities and an incredible working environment to its employees and I felt that I finally found a career. Then, my boyfriend (now husband) got transferred from Tampa to South Florida and asked me to join him. I continued working in claims, handling elevator injuries for the west coast. My defense attorney in Utah wasn’t impressive and my client kept giving me more responsibilities. I remember comparing his bills to my paycheck and realizing that law school was the logical next step. I went to the University of Miami and started at Haliczer, Pettis, & Schwamm as a law clerk during my 1L year. The most intriguing thing for me was that the firm did medical malpractice. Here, I could marry my new love of practicing law with my initial interest in medicine. I thrived in this environment and am now a partner at the same firm.
Has it been a smooth road?
Since I’ve already proven that my path wasn’t particularly smooth, I’ll answer this based on my career as a lawyer. Being a female litigator is tough. Some men assume that a female lawyer is the court reporter, they assume female lawyers are incompetent based on how they look, they make ridiculous and inappropriate comments, and they patronize female lawyers by “mansplaining” things. There are even fewer females in the practice of medical malpractice, which just meant that I had to work even harder to prove myself. I feel that the experience has made me a better lawyer (with a thicker skin) and it’s gratifying walking into a room of male attorneys and impressing them as I question a medical expert about the case.
As for advice for young women, the best thing I was taught was to make the “ask.” Ask to write the substantive motion; ask to argue it in court; ask to be at the table negotiating with or for the client. Without those experiences, you may never have the reputation and the confidence to advance in your career.
Speaking of reputation, it’s never too early in your career to start branding yourself. There are over 100,000 lawyers in Florida and you want to distinguish yourself so that clients and colleagues think of you when an opportunity presents itself. In the legal world, developing your brand–your reputation–involves staying current – in the courtroom, at bar events, at networking events, and in the community. An important reminder is that you must be authentic and consistent, as people formulate their opinions of you in all aspects of your life, not just when you’re in the spotlight.
So, as you know, we’re impressed with Haliczer, Pettis, & Schwamm – tell our readers more, for example, what you’re most proud of and what sets you apart from others.
Our firm, Haliczer, Pettis, & Schwamm is a well-known boutique litigation firm specializing in medical malpractice, wrongful death, and catastrophic injuries all across Florida. What truly sets us apart from other firms is we have extensive experience representing hospitals and doctors for decades before switching sides to represent injured patients and their families. This means that we’ve handled literally hundreds, if not thousands, of medical malpractice cases. Our experience on the “other side” has served our injured clients immensely not only in evaluating the case and determining how we can prove negligence but also in predicting how the hospital or doctor or carrier will attempt to defend the case or value the injuries or damages. We employ in-house nurse paralegals who assist in the evaluation of each case. When I say that we’re a boutique firm, I mean that we have this highly-specialized niche and we intentionally accept fewer cases so that we can give each of our clients the attention and focus that they deserve to bring their case to resolution.
Often it feels as if the media, by and large, is only focused on the obstacles faced by women, but we feel it’s important to also look for the opportunities. In your view, are there opportunities that you see that women are particularly well positioned for?
I feel that now more than ever, women have taken the initiative to support each other, which has led to increased opportunities for all. I belong to many female networking groups, both virtual and real-life, and the trend of females referring to females is encouraging. Unfortunately, I think that all females have encountered situations where women think that they can make themselves look better by putting another woman down. However, the prevailing mentality, at least with the groups that I’m fortunate enough to belong to, is to lift up each other and to cultivate leadership amongst our gender. I don’t know who is credited with the saying, but I truly believe that “other people’s sparkle won’t dull your shine” so I make it a point to surround myself with strong, successful women. I learn so much from them and it’s empowering to be associated with such leaders in the legal field.
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