CALIFORNIA LABOR & EMPLOYMENT LAW QUARTERLY
Official Publication of the State Bar of California Labor and Employment Law Section.
Vol. 13, No. 3 Fall 1999
The Sole Practitioner
Toni Jaramilla leans back in her chair, late on a Friday afternoon. "I always wanted to represent victims in civil rights claims. Labor and employment law allows me to do that. I am able to do what I always wanted to do."
It isn't always easy for her to remain detached from her clients' problems. "It is challenging, It becomes emotional when you are dealing with clients who are devastated because they lost their job by virtue of their gender or employees who have devoted twenty or thirty years to a company and have been let go for some discriminatory or retaliatory reason."
I take a lot of these cases personally, not in a bad way, but I see the human side of it. I think if you litigate on the defense side, you may just see a name on a complaint and you don't want to hear some of the things they have gone through."
As a sole practitioner, Toni faces concerns and difficulties that attorneys at law firms do not. "If I am out of the office, I don't have a larger selection of attorneys that will take over. Also, if I want to take a week's vacation, I have to make arrangements so that my case load is monitored and things don't fall through the cracks. That is the biggest challenge as a sole practitioner.
Solo practice does offer immense rewards for Toni, however. "I chose solo practice because I wanted to get down into the trenches. I never thought about going to a big or even medium-sized firm. If I were at a big firm I think that I would be stuck in the library. Here, I can strategize and litigate a case from start to finish. I pick and choose my own cases. My expectations coming out of law school are exactly what I am doing."
Meeting the expectations one has as a law student is seemingly rare and is partially the basis for Toni's job satisfaction. Toni loves employment law and the opportunity it provides her to help people. "I enjoy what I do, I enjoy the area of law. It is a sexy area but also a noble one. You see a change in your clients from when they first come through your door and they are devastated to when the case is over and they now have the sense of closure to a difficult chapter of their lives. It is tremendously fulfilling."
"Also, employment law is changing so often, there are always new issues that come up in these cases. You are constantly challenged and you will never get bored."
Asked about being a minority woman, Toni doesn't hesitate. "I encounter problems all the time. Some of my adversaries underestimate me. I have four strikes against me---I am a woman, I am of color, young, and a sole practitioner. Some opposing counsels think 'she isn't as competent' or 'she doesn't have the backup' and so that is frustrating. I accept that, I don't like it but I work harder and prove them wrong. But such stereotyping shouldn't have any place in this profession."
Toni describes herself as "compassionate. To the point where I can feel what my clients are going through. I am also an idealist. I want to believe that people are going to do the right thing. I am often amazes by the stories that clients bring to me and surprised by the companies involved. Then I send my investigators to follow-up and sure enough, I find corroborating evidence. I suppose that I should not be such an idealist," she sighs.
Her solo practice has given her the opportunity to be "down in the trenches", leading to a wealth of experiences that many young attorneys only a few years out of law school are deprived of. "I am always meeting great people too, including clients and opposing counsel. I have met interesting attorneys who have a great style and we become colleagues and even friends after the case is over. They refer clients to me when they have a plaintiff's case that they can't take. I consider that a compliment."