The Life and Career of Hon. Elizabeth White: Judge, Superior Court of California, County of Los Angeles

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"I have what is called a general jurisdiction civil assignment, which means I handle cases which have in controversy $25,000 or more; so it could be a relatively small personal injury case, or it could be a large construction dispute or a Jones Act case dealing with a seaman who's been injured or killed at sea," she said. "[There are a] wide, wide, wide variety of civil suits."

White completed the paralegal program at UCLA Extension in 1977 and went on to work as a paralegal at Loeb & Loeb for a year and a half. She said the skills she learned as a paralegal student and as a working paralegal have helped her greatly as both a lawyer and a judge.



"I don't think I would've become a judge had I not been a good litigator, and I don't think I would've been a good litigator had I not learned the organizational skills in the paralegal program and working as a paralegal," she said. "The key to success in litigation is not only presenting the document but being able to find it—having key pieces of evidence at your disposal and organized in such a fashion that you can present them at the appropriate time."

Judge Elizabeth White thinks paralegal training can be extremely beneficial to someone thinking of pursuing a career as an attorney.

"I think it's a good way to test the waters, a) so that you know whether you like the field and b) to get the kind of nuts and bolts skills that most people don't get in law school so that you become a better lawyer once you're licensed," she said.


She thinks paralegal training can be extremely beneficial to someone thinking of pursuing a career as an attorney.

"I think it's a good way to test the waters, a) so that you know whether you like the field and b) to get the kind of nuts and bolts skills that most people don't get in law school so that you become a better lawyer once you're licensed," she said.

As a paralegal at Loeb & Loeb, White worked in civil litigation on some pretty well-known cases, including the Jack Ryan vs. Mattel Toy Company litigation over the rights to the Barbie doll.

When it comes to giving advice to paralegal students, White said she thinks students should look for opportunities to get experience while they are still in school and try to carry that experience over into full-time jobs.

"My advice would be to take an opportunity to participate in whatever internships are offered so as to just get out there and meet people and look at the different environments—whether it's a law firm, whether it's working for government—but don't be afraid to have an unpaid internship for a month or two and then try to transition that into something that pays," she said.

White's advice comes from her own experience. Upon completion of UCLA's paralegal program, she accepted a temporary position indexing documents at Loeb & Loeb. When the temporary time frame was up, she told one of the partners that she would like to stay with the firm permanently. In her words, she "took the bull by the horns and got the permanent job out of it."

White went on to attend Loyola Law School in Los Angeles after getting her feet wet in the legal field as a paralegal. After graduation in 1981, she practiced law until she was appointed to the bench by Governor Wilson in 1997.

White applied for the judge position for two main reasons: she wanted to play a different role in the legal process, and she wanted to have more freedom in her schedule.

"I wanted to see what it was like, as opposed to being an advocate, being a more neutral observer but still playing a very active role," she said. "I had been doing significant numbers of trials, and so the demands on my time were very, very high; and I had a small child, so I wanted to find a way to be able to stay in the courtroom but not have to do all of the homework that was involved."

Even though she admits there are challenges to being a judge, such as dealing with cases that are emotionally draining, White enjoys her job and her new role in the courtroom.

"I love the theater of the courtroom," she said. "I love a good case when it's well presented. I love to be able to ensure that the proceedings are fair, make the litigants feel like they've been heard, let them have their day in court. I like participating in the resolution process when asked—in other words, trying to resolve it so that somebody doesn't have to put all the time and money into trying a case if they're more inclined to try and resolve it."

White said she feels that recently there has been a trend toward the resolution of cases instead of the trial of cases, and she thinks it's a positive thing.

"I think that's a good thing if people can resolve their differences and move on with their lives and not get entrenched in the process, but I don't think that we need to go so far as to say that trials are not necessary," she said. "Obviously, they are necessary. Not everything can be resolved, and so judges need to be cognizant of the fact that you're not going to be able to settle every case. And some cases do have to go to trial."



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