Member Groups

The Challenge
The newsletter of the ISBA’s Standing Committee on Racial and Ethnic Minorities and the Law

November 2008, vol. 19, no. 1

Journey to Judgeship: An Interview with Judge Patrice M. Ball-Reed

A dynamic woman recently fulfilled an aspiring goal and assumed her well-deserved spot on the Cook County bench. Long-time ISBA member and active committee participant Patrice M. Ball-Reed was sworn in as a newly elected Cook County Associate Judge on September 26, 2008. When asked how she felt after receiving the good news in a phone call on September 15, Judge Ball-Reed joyfully answered, “Overwhelmed. I have ten days to pack up my office of five years and transition my work to someone else.”

Judge Ball-Reed may feel overwhelmed, but she certainly has not lost sight of the importance of her new job. She is intent on being fair and impartial, listening to all litigants and parties who appear before her, and “being the best judge that I can be.” Judge Ball-Reed attended training for new judges beginning on September 29 and, along with the other new judges, begins her position as an Associate Judge in Traffic Court, after which she will be reassigned to another division. Judge Ball-Reed expects that her wealth of experience – both as a plaintiff’s attorney and defense lawyer—will help her on the bench. Having balanced a heavy caseload herself during her career, Judge Ball-Reed is mindful of accommodating attorneys on her docket without sacrificing the efficiency and integrity of her courtroom.

The third time was the charm for Judge Ball-Reed, who was successful in her recent attempt to become elected as an Associate Judge. Her road to judgeship started in September 2008 once the order for judicial vacancies was issued. Judge Ball-Reed completed an application and was evaluated by various bar associations. Her application and evaluations then were submitted to the Chief Judge, who appointed a Nominating Committee comprised of presiding Cook County judges in various divisions. Along with other applicants, the Committee interviewed Judge Ball-Reed, after which she made the short list of candidates. Two weeks later, her name was on the ballot, and Judge Ball-Reed was relieved and thankful to receive her call on September 15 advising her that she had been elected.

Judge Ball-Reed’s accomplished professional history undoubtedly will aid her in her new role. Notably, Judge Ball-Reed is in the first generation in her family to attend college, and she is the first lawyer and first judge in her family. A graduate of The John Marshall Law School and past President of the John Marshall Law School Alumni organization, Judge Ball-Reed has had a remarkable and impressive career. Starting when she was a teenager, Judge Ball-Reed took advantage of permissive transfers which required her to take two subway train rides and a bus to high school, which she managed with a perfect attendance record and while earning scholastic honors.

Without seeing the school in advance, Judge Ball-Reed then attended Trinity College in Hartford, Connecticut, with an academic scholarship where she majored in economics. A true self-starter, Judge Ball-Reed remembers, “I had to learn to take care of myself. I had to find out how to take care of financial aid, my room and board, class registration and everything else.” Judge Ball-Reed has since served as Vice President of the Trinity College Scholarship Board and began serving on the school’s Board of Trustees beginning in October 2008.

After graduating from law school, Judge Ball-Reed accepted a position with the law firm of Washington, Kennon, Hunter & Samuels, where she practiced for four years before becoming Deputy Supervisor at the Office of the Cook County State’s Attorney. While an assistant Cook County state’s attorney, Judge Ball-Reed was President of the Black Women Lawyers Association of Greater Chicago. Judge Ball-Reed worked with the Cook County State’s Attorney for fourteen years and, in 2003, transitioned to her job as Deputy Attorney General at the Office of the Illinois Attorney General. Judge Ball-Reed credits her interest in public service to people she met who “were very supportive of me and the ideas I had.”

For example, Judge Ball-Reed is grateful to the many women role models she has admired over the years, including Cook County Circuit Court Judge Jane L. Stuart, who was very encouraging of Judge Ball-Reed from the start and continues to serve as one of her mentors. Judge Ball-Reed also is especially appreciative of her mother, Portia Ball, who lives with her and helps manage her family and career. Judge Ball-Reed relies on the support of her husband, Roy Reed, and her children and network of extended family and friends. But she also gets plenty from them in return. Judge Ball-Reed says that her children (ages 27, 16 and 14) and grandson (age 5) keep her motivated and energized. “I teach them to set goals and work toward them, so I try to lead by setting a strong example.”

Judge Ball-Reed sagely remembers, “I had to learn not to be afraid to ask for help. We as women think we have to be Superwoman. There is no reason to be ashamed [to ask for help].” In fact, when she started asking for help, Judge Ball-Reed realized that she was not the first or only woman to struggle with balancing a family and career. She also was surprised and delighted to see how willing people were to help. As her own connections grew, Judge Ball-Reed found herself being asked to help link people with each other. She now often acts as a middleman helping others grow their own networks.

A significant part of Judge Ball-Reed’s network has involved her spirited participation in the ISBA. She has been a member of the ISBA for more than ten years, initially getting involved through one of her mentors, Judge Jane Stewart. Judge Ball-Reed has served on numerous boards and committees, including the Minority and Women Participation committee. She remembers that, when formed, the Minority and Women Participation committee members got people of color involved by inviting associate members to join. Although she had no voting rights, Judge Ball-Reed helped raise interest in the committee, interacted with many people, and eventually joined the ISBA. Additionally, she has been a member of the Family Law Committee, and currently serves on the Women and the Law Committee and the Legislation and Public Relations Board. Judge Ball-Reed also was a Fellow in the Illinois Bar Foundation, served on the Bar Publications Board, the Illinois Bar Journal Board, and the Membership Services Committee at one point.

Service in these various organizations helped Judge Ball-Reed professionally and personally, in part, because she has been able to grow her network. Although her initial 1998 campaign for judgeship was unsuccessful, she continued to make new contacts and enhance her skill set both within and outside of the Bar. Judge Ball-Reed took advantage of various opportunities, while learning to express herself and gleaning lessons from others.

Judge Ball-Reed has simple yet very sound advice for young women and/or minorities who are interested in attaining success in the legal field, which she has formulated into one acronym: ACTION.

• First: ACT. You must take action and plan for your own future. “Don’t sit and hope [success] will happen. Define your goals and be prepared to make changes. While you may have to take detours along the way, it is important to stay focused. Success will not come about if you just wait for things to happen to you.”

• Second: CONSISTENCY. Remain consistent about your picture in life. Without some type of constant goals, you are bound to be blown around every which way.

• Third: TOOT your own horn – loud and often. Highlight your accomplishments to your superiors and advise them of any awards you receive, articles you author, meetings you attend and changes that you have been responsible for. Judge Ball-Reed has had many opportunities arise because she alerted others to her successes, which made people recognize her efforts and results.

• Fourth: IDENTIFY. Identify key players wherever you are. Research and recognize who can take you to the next phase in your career or personal life. Many times a title without power is meaningless, so find people and resources which can help you get things done either at work, at home, or in your professional and personal organizations.

• Fifth: OPPORTUNITY. Opportunity knocks at different times. Do not be afraid to change yourself for even a brief window of time to get further ahead because opportunity helps develop new skills. By meeting new people, you gain new knowledge. View change and challenges as opportunities, not something to fear.

• Last: NOTE. Take notes of your awards, publications, certifications, classes, meetings/seminars, etc. It is critical to keep track of your professional progress in a secure location (e.g., in a safe file or box). Record notes of the people you meet and in what capacity. Judge Ball-Reed explains that her notes were essential when she submitted her application to become a judge because she had to recap ten years. Creating a set of notes also will help you build your reputation. Judge Ball-Reed also recommends keeping an updated biography and photograph of yourself. “You never know who is going to ask to write about you,” she advises.

In terms of diversity, Judge Ball-Reed finds that the face of the bar is changing, albeit slowly. She observes, “Over the years, things have changed because people are talking about diversity issues. But, in some respects, we still are not succeeding.” While diversity statistics in the legal field are improving, Judge Ball-Reed believes that there is a long way still to go. One impediment may be the need for attorneys to develop business; people who are in authority positions to assign work may not feel comfortable dealing with diverse attorneys. “It still may be hard to find common ground,” notes Judge Ball-Reed. She also recognizes that it is somewhat of a mind-shift for women to develop business. “Developing business is not easy for women. It goes against the way we were raised, but we need to be here and step out of our comfort zones and sell ourselves.” Although Judge Ball-Reed does not have any magical solution to the problems facing diverse attorneys, she encourages everyone to persevere and to keep working towards acceptance.

Judge Ball-Reed plans to work toward that goal here in Illinois. A native of Chicago, Judge Ball-Reed says that her favorite thing about the city is the activity. “Anytime of night there is something to do and some place good to eat!” raves Judge Ball-Reed. In fact, one evening after a party on Maxwell Street, Judge Ball-Reed bumped into celebrity Matt Dillon at a hot dog stand! “Chicago is a lively city, and there are plenty of free things to do. It is an enjoyable place with lots of choices.”

What’s next for Judge Ball-Reed after reaching this milestone in her career? First, she wants to do an excellent job as a judge. Beyond that, she remarks, “I am resetting my goals.” Based on her track record and determined resolve, rest assured that she will meet those goals!