Spotlight interview with Judge Loza
I met with fellow WATL committee member Judge Pamela Loza to ask her a few questions. Judge Loza is the supervising judge of the Child Support Division in Cook County. Previously, she was a trial judge in the Domestic Relations Division. Before Judge Loza was elected to the bench, she was a private attorney focusing primarily on criminal defense and family law.
Q. Tell us about your transition to the bench?
Ans.: I went to a judge school for about two weeks. We were warned the job would be tiring and they were right. Being a judge uses a lot of mental energy; people are throwing things at you constantly and you have to be able to synthesize the information and make decisions on the spot. Of course, it is easier if you practice in the field in which you are sitting, but that is not always the case. When you are a judge, you cannot take a side and you cannot be an advocate, which is difficult to learn to do. However, having the law as a guide helps when making decisions, as it takes the personalities out of the equation. You may not really like one side or the other, but the law is there to guide your decision.
Q. What is your role as supervising judge of the Child Support Division?
Ans.: Administrative work. I deal with personal issues, union, HR, vacation, discipline, FMLA, construction projects. I oversee not only the judges, but also the hearing officers, clerks, have meetings with the state’s attorney, and the sheriffs. It is challenging, but I enjoy it.
Q. What new and exciting projects are you working on?
Ans.: Through the Chicago Volunteer Legal Services, we have expanded the child representative program for young attorneys, which has been a huge success. This provides a pro bono child rep for cases when both sides are pro se. It gives younger attorneys experience as a child rep, and assists the judges and litigants. We just received approval for there to be 30 child reps in the Parentage Division and 10 to 12 attorneys in the Domestic Division; this program may also expand to Markham. Judge Dickler just signed the order for this to be a permanent program. In addition, the new courtroom for Judge Coccoza was completed and it is very nice. It took two years for this project to receive approval and another six months to do, so with it finally being done is very exciting.
Q. What advice do you have for attorneys that want to transition to become a judge one day?
Ans.: Work your politics. Be active in your community. You have to be out there and be known. It is hard to do this without family support; go out there with your family, with your husband, with your kids, make it known that you have support and make yourself be known. Also, you have to have a good knowledge of the law. Being a litigator and doing trial work helps to get approved by the Bar Associations. Having worked as a state’s attorney or public defender gives you the trial experience and training to think on your feet, but you also need to know how to plead. So overall I would say trial experience and writing skills are a key to being a success on the bench.
Q. How do you balance your personal and professional life, and what advice do you have for others struggling with this?
Ans.: When you’re in private practice, it’s hard. I can’t say that I know how to be a young female professional with children and balance your career and your personal life. There is no balance if you want to succeed, really. The most important thing is to have family support. If you can even balance with your spouse so you at least get some time to yourself that is helpful. It is easy to tell someone to go to yoga for an hour a day or go to the gym, but in reality, this is very difficult. There is a lot of demands placed on young lawyers and the job is not forgiving. You just have to do what you can. If you can make it all work, kudos to you.
Q. Where do you see yourself in the next five years?
Ans.: Here (big smile).
Q. What advice you have for lawyers appearing in the courtroom?
Ans.: Civility. Do not interrupt each other. Do not think that the one to yell, or the one with the last word wins. Also, do not object to a reasonable continuance - life happens; people get sick, there are deaths in the family. Things happen and if you should do onto others as you would want done unto yourself. If someone needs continuance, it is okay to say, “for the record, my client does not agree, but I understand.” It gets across the message and keeps you looking professional.
Q. This is your first year on Women in the Law, what do you hope to get out of the committee?
Ans.: Right now, I am really just getting to know the Committee - seeing what is going on and getting to know the members. Aside from the Equal Rights Amendment, I want to see what else we can do to help and encourage women. There are so few women equity partners in major law firms and I think that is a problem. I am really interested in the diversity issue because quite frankly, it can be improved within the ISBA, and I would like to see the ISBA tackle this issue.