Featured Guest
Nina Ashenafi Richardson

Judge Nina Ashenafi Richardson has served as a Leon County Judge in Tallahassee, Florida since 2008. Prior to her...

Your Hosts
Christine Bilbrey

Christine Bilbrey is a Senior Practice Management Advisor at The Florida Bar’s Practice Resource Center. She holds a master’s...

Karla Eckardt

Karla Eckardt, a Miami native, moved to Tallahassee to pursue a bachelor’s degree in international affairs and criminology from...

Episode Notes

In this special edition of the Florida Bar Podcast recorded at the Annual Convention in June, hosts Christine Bilbrey and Karla Eckardt sit down with Judge Nina Ashenafi Richardson to hear about her personal journey in the legal profession. She describes the path she took to eventually become Leon County Judge and shares valuable wisdom for lawyers on breaking through self-imposed barriers and creating personal meaning in the practice of law.

Transcript

The Florida Bar Podcast

How She Did It: Judge Nina Ashenafi Richardson’s Path to Leadership

07/26/2019

 

[Music]

 

Intro: Welcome to The Florida Bar Podcast, where we highlight the latest trends in law office and legal practice management to help you run your firm, brought to you by The Florida Bar’s Practice Resource Center. You are listening to Legal Talk Network.

 

[Music]

 

Christine Bilbrey: Hello and welcome to The Florida Bar Podcast, recorded from the 2019 Florida Bar Annual Convention in Boca Raton, Florida. This is Christine Bilbrey.

 

Karla Eckardt: And this is Karla Eckardt, and we are your hosts for today’s show.

 

Christine Bilbrey: Joining us today fresh out of a very popular CLE called How She Did It, is Judge Nina Ashenafi Richardson. Like us she is down here in Boca Raton, but she is a Leon County Judge in Tallahassee, where Karla and I both live.

 

So we’re excited to have her. She did an excellent job. A little bit about Judge Ashenafi Richardson. She is belovedly known as Judge Nina. She is a Florida State University College of Law graduate. She considers it the greatest honor of her life to have been elected Leon County Judge in 2008, then re-elected without opposition in May of 2014.

 

Prior to her election she spent the majority of her professional career representing teachers and university faculty as in-house counsel with the Florida Education Association and as adjunct faculty at Barry University’s Tallahassee campus. She has distinguished herself as a first in many categories, including the first Ethiopian-American judge in the United States, the Conference of County Court Judges of Florida awarded her the 2016 Distinguished Leadership Award and recognized her among those judges who off the bench are making a difference in their communities.

 

She strives daily to serve at the highest level and to maintain the public trust and confidence in the court’s ability to do justice.

 

Welcome to the podcast Judge Nina.

 

Karla Eckardt: Thank you so much for being here.

 

Judge Nina Ashenafi Richardson: Thank you so much you two. I want to thank the Florida Bar for having the Legal Talk Network. I am so excited to be invited by you two. It is an honor. I am a very humble person so to have this light shone on a County Judge from Tallahassee that is a great honor and I’m excited about this podcast. I love it.

 

Christine Bilbrey: And we want to jump right in. We just got the opportunity to watch you on a very distinguished panel of seven women attorneys who have now become, we had a federal judge, county judge.

 

Karla Eckardt: Supreme Court Justice.

 

Judge Nina Ashenafi Richardson: Yes, we had the –

 

Karla Eckardt: Agricultural commissioner?

 

Christine Bilbrey: That’s right. And we really wanted to talk to you, because for so many reasons. So How She Did It, so we’re talking about the journey. So we want to start by having you tell our listeners how do you get from Ethiopia to Leon County Judge?

 

Judge Nina Ashenafi Richardson: Thank you. My dad was very active with Peace Corps in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia which is where I was born and my dad started a school of music called the Yared School of Music and he was also very involved with Peace Corps.

 

So during President Kennedy’s administration, one of the exchanges that occurred was an educational exchange and my dad was invited to come to the United States to finish his doctoral degree in ethnomusicology, which is the study of the music of the world.

 

Karla Eckardt: Wow.

 

Judge Nina Ashenafi Richardson: So he left with my sister and I and mom in tow to Connecticut and he went and got his doctorate from Wesleyan University and imagine a family from East Africa living in Connecticut. It was cold, it was snowing, it was a completely different culture. My mom ended up leaving. She went back to Ethiopia and my dad raised me predominantly as a single parent.

 

But the reason she left was it was very hard to live in a country during the 60s when there was segregation and she could not understand why everybody didn’t love each other regardless of your skin color, regardless of your religion, regardless of your culture and it was such a shock for her that she went back and I was about 6 or — I was very young and then my sister was probably about four, but that really taught me a big lesson that I apply even now, which is why during the panel, I stressed how it’s so important that in the greatest country in the world that we remember the great Constitution, our founding fathers and what this constitution stands for that we are about the rule of law.

 

(00:04:56)

 

And that we don’t judge each other by the color of our skin or our socioeconomic standing that we are a country about laws and making sure that everyone can live in harmony with each other, where we can all achieve our dreams whatever they are and that we can be truly a melting pot.

 

Christine Bilbrey: That’s beautiful and one of the reasons I want to talk to you about this is because I think that women as soon as people see a CLE about gender diversity, I think they dismiss it, because they think oh, I don’t have that problem, I’m not a woman whatever it is and they dismiss it, but that’s not what we want to talk about. We want to talk about everyone has a different road to get where they are successfully and you had specifically different things. It wasn’t about you were trying to make partner and you needed childcare and you needed time off and I think a lot of people think that that’s what we are talking about.

 

Karla Eckardt: But you have unique challenges that really sort of brought you where you are today and that I’m sure so many of our listeners are facing, not necessarily the exact same challenges, but things that maybe feel out of the norm and it’s all part of the journey, it’s all part of what made them successful or what made you successful, like being raised by your father.

 

Judge Nina Ashenafi Richardson: Yes.

 

Karla Eckardt: How did that affect you as a young girl growing up? What made you want to go to law school?

 

Judge Nina Ashenafi Richardson: Yes. So it did affect me profoundly and I can define the answer to your question as love for this country. I love this country at my core and to be a part of the Judicial Branch in my mind is the greatest place to be, but it carries a weight on my spirit. I want to be a contributing part of it of the Judicial Branch in a positive way. I want my footsteps as a lawyer and as a judge to help this country move forward.

 

I don’t want to be a lawyer or a judge that helps us move backwards. I want to be a forward moving judge and the way what I mean by that is when someone comes to court that they see someone wearing a robe, that treats everyone with dignity and respect, that treats people with care, so that they can speak their peace, be heard, that the judge knows what the law is and is ruling from an educated manner, that is benevolent when needed and tough when needed.

 

When because it is lawyers and judges that bring the law into reality, you can have laws on paper, but it is lawyers and judges that bring it to life.

 

Karla Eckardt: Right.

 

Judge Nina Ashenafi Richardson: We must carry the torch and show what it means to have the rules of law. If someone gets hurt that there are rules of enforcement and there are countries that don’t have that. There are countries for instance someone will go to jail and they will not know what they’ve been charged with. They will sit indefinitely in jail. There is no due process and in this great country we don’t have that.

 

If you are poor you have a lawyer appointed to you, if you are charged with a criminal offense under Gideon versus Wainwright, one person changed the law of the land so that you don’t sit in jail without the benefit of a criminal defense attorney.

 

This again, I am so honored to be part of that type of a country that is about the people and it’s about our Constitution, I’m honored to be part of that and my love for this country, my love for our Constitution is what makes me want to be a contributing positively member of it.

 

And I want you to know something. I am surrounded by others like you two have a passion for what you’re doing, helping and supporting lawyers with podcasts like this.

 

I am constantly surrounded with other do-gooders and so, it’s a community if you will, the Florida Bar and all the respective bar associations all over our state and country, we are a community. We care, we care and I see a lot of passion for it.

 

Christine Bilbrey: And that’s why we wanted to talk to you, because you are thriving in the law and it’s not just because — it’s not because you’re a woman or you love the law, it comes through, it sustains you over these obstacles, where you get from one place to the other.

 

But I feel like so often efforts for law firms are like why are we not retaining these amazing women, where did they go, what did we do wrong and it’s always focused on work/life balance.

 

So I’m going to quote from Anne Brafford who we had last month on our podcast and so she talks about the higher up the pyramid you look in the nation’s largest law firms, the fewer women you will find. So in the largest 200 law firms, only 18% are equity partners and 29% of non-equity partners are women.

 

(00:10:00)

 

And advancing women to equity partner is at a virtual standstill. So nothing is changing and it seems to be a mystery to them and they keep talking about the work/life balance thing.

 

The reason we want to talk to you is because through Anne’s research and others, she covers a lot of other studies. There are some very actionable evidence that’s coming up. So she talks about a leadership style called Transformational Leadership, which may play a particularly important role in cultivating work environments that match women’s motivational patterns.

 

This is not a work-life balance, it’s getting women to a place where they feel like their work is meaningful. It becomes part of their whole life, it’s not about balance, it’s that it is their life and so all the other stuff works itself out that kind of thing.

 

So what we’re looking for and Anne talks about this, we want inspiring role models that can articulate a vision that fosters meaningfulness and optimism.

 

Karla Eckardt: That’s you.

 

Christine Bilbrey: Yes, we found you. Because the message that we want to take to everyone at law firms is it’s not about like I talked about, it’s not like I need maternity leave and you’re not giving me enough time, it’s that we need to create an environment that benefits everyone that works in that law firm.

 

And to get to that place, we need to start talking about what really motivates people to feel passionate about their work. And so, one of the things that we talked about before, we started recording, you as a County Judge touch individuals’ lives every single day.

 

So can you talk about that like what is that does that creep into every area of your life, is it affecting when you’ve traveled 12 hours to get here? Why do you keep doing it? What is meaningfulness in your work play?

 

Judge Nina Ashenafi Richardson: So Christine, Karla, this is a huge point and the study that you cited is very important that we highlight like you are in this podcast. The American Bar Association also has written about how many women lawyers are leaving the profession at the sunsetting of their career for these reasons.

 

One of the top reasons that was cited in the ABA study was gender bias, not making partner after many years. So for those who are listening to this podcast, I urge you to look at the ABA study, it’s a long article and I’m not doing it justice in my summary. It’s very thorough, but what you just shared is my testimonial.

 

When I graduated from Florida State Law School, I thought that the end-all was to be at a big firm making big money.

 

Karla Eckardt: Right.

 

Judge Nina Ashenafi Richardson: I thought that was the definition of happiness. I was also worked my way through law school, so I had student debt and I remember feeling a sense of relief that I had employment and that I could pay back my student loans. I worked my way through college and law school and I was responsible for paying for my education.

 

But after a few years at the private firm, I never actually spoke to a client because the clients were so high end, we spoke to corporate representatives and I realized after two years at a big firm that I needed to have more purpose. I needed to have meaning. I needed to feel that my law degree was being used to help someone.

 

And I remember thinking something happened to me tomorrow would I have made any difference using my law degree. And I remember actually thinking this. So I went to one of my law professors and I told him this, I said professor and I can tell you who he was, Professor McHugh, and I said Professor McHugh, I thought that being at a big firm making an excellent salary was the definition of success and happiness.

 

Well, he said you have to get to that conclusion, you had to reach that outcome for yourself. I couldn’t tell you that. Now that, you have told me that you want to actually help human beings, not a corporate entity, I can help you with that.

 

Christine Bilbrey: Right.

 

Judge Nina Ashenafi Richardson: And he referred me to a general counsel for teachers association named Tom Young, who is still one of my dear friends, my former boss and dear friend.

 

I interviewed for a in-house counsel position fighting for teachers, bus drivers and university faculty all over the state and Tom Young, out of the just sheer goodness of his heart, decided to take a risk on me, because I was right out of Law School and I had two years of private firm experience but not the in-house experience that he needed.

 

(00:14:55)

 

And he also I believe was one of Professor McHugh’s, if I was recommended by Professor McHugh that helped Tom Young, I believe in his decision. So I had that wonderful opportunity. I stayed there for 18 years.

 

Karla Eckardt: Wow.

 

Judge Nina Ashenafi Richardson: I stayed there for 18 years and it was a significant pay cut.

 

Christine Bilbrey: I was about to say.

 

Judge Nina Ashenafi Richardson: It was a pay cut.

 

Christine Bilbrey: You didn’t say because of the pay.

 

Judge Nina Ashenafi Richardson: But I was so happy. So my testimonial echoes the point that this study that you’ve highlighted points out that I would probably not be a lawyer and judge right now if I did not have purpose and meaning in my life. I would have gone to the place where I could find that and fighting for teachers, bus drivers, and faculty — university faculty it gave me such joy.

 

I felt like I was actually using my law degree for what I intended it. Money was not the carrot it turned out. I found that out. So every person, every lawyer is going to have to make that determination.

 

Karla Eckardt: Right.

 

Judge Nina Ashenafi Richardson: Some lawyers that is their joy to generate a lot of billing and make a lot of money and I’m so happy for them that they found their joy but that was not as a woman, lawyer and judge, that has never been the draw. I’m a public servant, I’ve never been happier to serve every day.

 

I count my blessing to come to the Leon County Courthouse work with my four colleagues, county colleagues, work with my circuit colleagues, our chief is Jonathan Sjostrom, he is an amazing chief. He is very careful and thoughtful about gender bias issues.

 

If there’s an issue we can take it to him and he will address it. We don’t have a lot of women judges, but for those of us that are there, I believe that he is very sensitive to gender bias diversity, implicit bias issues.

 

Christine Bilbrey: And I do want to interject here. We want women to be paid for the work that they are doing. So I am not saying accept less than your worth in whatever position you take.

 

Karla Eckardt: No, find purpose.

 

Christine Bilbrey: Right.

 

Judge Nina Ashenafi Richardson: Absolutely. Oh yes.

 

Karla Eckardt: Money is not the end-all be-all and I think that’s the point. Whether it could be like you said for some that may be what makes them happy, what gives them purpose, but the point is if your purpose is not aligned with making a lot of money that doesn’t mean that you won’t be successful that you won’t be happy.

 

Judge Nina Ashenafi Richardson: It’s such a good point and that was my testimonial and as you just pointed out, I love how you said it. I had to think about what makes me happy Karla and align my work/life to what makes me happy and serving another person helping, even if it’s less money I decided that that was purposeful for me.

 

Karla Eckardt: Right.

 

Judge Nina Ashenafi Richardson: And everybody that’s listening to this, it may not be their path.

 

Karla Eckardt: Right.

 

Judge Nina Ashenafi Richardson: But I have noted that many of my friends in their 50s are leaving the profession because they are finding, for instance, they decide to become an entrepreneur. They want to use the other side of their brain and be creative and create things. They leave the profession of law and they could have been a high-level partner.

 

Karla Eckardt: Right.

 

Judge Nina Ashenafi Richardson: Many of them are going back to the state agencies that they started from, because they had a passion for let’s say protecting the environment or whatever it was and it is important that we lead a joyful life. At the end of the day, why are we here on this earth and you can actually be happy and be a phenomenal lawyer and use your law degree.

 

Karla Eckardt: And you can make money.

 

Christine Bilbrey: Right exactly.

 

Judge Nina Ashenafi Richardson: And make money, they are not mutually exclusive but we may – helping our fellow man is the best type of joy. Public service to me giving to another is a type of bomb.

 

Karla Eckardt: And the statistics show I mean I don’t —

 

Christine Bilbrey: I’m about to, you are both illustrating my next point.

 

Karla Eckardt: Right, the statistics show that public servants, adoption lawyers, they are the happiest group of lawyers. So there is something to that, that may not be your driving, your motivator, but there is something to that because at the end of the day, we’re all statistics and we all fall into one statistic or another and that’s just a huge point.

 

Christine Bilbrey: But I want to make the point. We are not telling people okay, quick, quick big law, you’re going to be so much happier because I don’t think that’s the message here. I think that what we are pushing forward and I think leaders at law firms both big and small know that it’s time to shift the environment inside their law firms because lawyers want to be happy.

 

As we’re coming finally, I think that older attorneys are actually inspired by Millennials that are putting their needs, they’re clearly stating my work balance means that I’m actually — I want to feel something about the work I’m doing the people I’m serving.

 

And I’m glad you mentioned your law firm professor, I think that goes back. So we’ve talked to Larry Krieger in the past and Anne Brafford quotes him. So this is a study of 6,000 lawyers by Larry Krieger and Kennon Sheldon. So they found that women had more intrinsic values than men.

 

So women are aware that they need this other thing. Men are more likely to say a desire to make money was a big factor in their decision when they were choosing their careers.

 

(00:20:05)

 

Women are more likely to identify altruistic reasons for becoming a lawyer such as the under privileged.

 

But the point that we want to make is even if the men attorneys are saying, absolutely money is a motivating factor to me, they will benefit. Whatever you are aware of, you will benefit from a change in law firm culture.

 

So what we’re looking for is that some law firm managers would instead start looking — ask people what are you interested in? What are your strengths?

 

Karla Eckardt: Leveraging people’s motivations.

 

Christine Bilbrey: Yes, and if you can tie those two together, this transformational leadership is associated with higher work engagement for both men and women and that’s what the studies show across the board.

 

Karla Eckardt: Right.

 

Christine Bilbrey: So pay us equally, figure out what our strengths are and so even if someone doesn’t realize that they’re not — they maybe they just think they’re depressed, I think that if law firm leaders would reach out and like — look at the evidence that’s out there, we could cause a transformation in the legal profession.

 

Karla Eckardt: And you are a perfect example of that, because from your story it seems like you’ve been lifted up every step of the way by men, so there are men that can –

 

Christine Bilbrey: Yeah, absolutely.

 

Karla Eckardt: Help women and understand our motivators and push us in the right direction. So it’s not just women helping women although that is very, very important, but it’s also for male counterparts to understand what our motivators are and to leverage that and that will make them more productive, if women are more productive, it makes the whole firm more productive, and it makes the practice of law all-around just better.

 

Judge Nina Ashenafi Richardson: It’s so true and what we’re almost saying is the importance of balance that both women and men who are in these very high demanding firms, they want to have balance, they want to be able to spend time with their families, their children, to be able to see the world, to be able to catch their breath and as law firms start to accommodate this need for balance they will retain those lawyers, because the data is showing at least as to women that a law firm invest all this time, energy and training to keep a high level attorney and when they leave that is a huge —

 

Karla Eckardt: Hundreds of thousands of dollars.

 

Judge Nina Ashenafi Richardson: It’s hundreds of thousands of dollars. So it seems to me that there is a cost benefit analysis in spending time, figuring out what will make the work-life balance in this firm, work for everyone.

 

Karla Eckardt: Right, it’s a cultural thing. It’s not — it’s not a one-size-fits-all.

 

Judge Nina Ashenafi Richardson: Absolutely.

 

Karla Eckardt: It’s, it’s a cultural thing and that’s why there needs to be that connection with what makes each individual tick right, you know what motivates you may not motivate me, and a lot of it has to do with gender, because like Christine quoted earlier, women tend to be and not all women, there’s always outliers, but we tend to be motivated by intrinsic values.

 

Judge Nina Ashenafi Richardson: Yes.

 

Karla Eckardt: So I feel like leadership and law firms can go into situations knowing that — and when they have an employee, a female employee that perhaps is not motivated by money. They can leverage that, they can — they can, that person can thrive and in that culture even if it is big law.

 

Judge Nina Ashenafi Richardson: I wanted to share this. I know several women attorneys who left the traditional law firm to work for companies that allow them to work remotely from their homes that reduced overhead. They did everything that they would in the law firm but they worked from home, using their laptop, they will prepare briefs, they did the billing, they did the research, they did the travel, but they had the opportunity to work from home and that allowed them to spend time with their families. Actually they said, that they’re more productive, because they can hyper focus from home and that is a new trend. Technology is really –

 

Karla Eckardt: Virtual law firms —

 

Judge Nina Ashenafi Richardson: Virtual law firms are opening the door for both men and women because many men now want to spend more time with their children as well.

 

Karla Eckardt: Of course.

 

Christine Bilbrey: And they need to start asking for that, so that it is the normal thing, because we are human beings, we need to have life outside the firm.

 

Judge Nina Ashenafi Richardson: Yes, and I hope that those who are listening to this podcast, who are in a position whether they’re managing partner that they would look to the Florida Bar for ideas on how to make their firms balanced out so that they have happy lawyers and staff and it’s not just for the lawyers, the paralegals, the support staff who probably have very similar concerns.

 

Karla Eckardt: Yeah, employee disengagement is one of the sort of biggest vampires in your bottom line. So if money is your motivator and you’re just looking at your bottom line, know that disengaged employees are eating away at it.

 

Judge Nina Ashenafi Richardson: Absolutely.

 

(00:25:02)

 

Christine Bilbrey: So I feel like we’ve been speaking to law firm leaders and I kind of — for the people that didn’t get to see you speak earlier, I do want to circle back around, because there were a lot of young female attorneys in there and they’re looking to you and the other women on the panel to tell them how you did it?

 

I think they were looking for this secret sauce and you did have some really interesting stories, because — could you just briefly tell us about when you decided that you were going to run to be elected Judge in North Florida, some — you said you had two groups of friends, so tell us about the advice you got from both sides.

 

Judge Nina Ashenafi Richardson: So yes. Today during the Panel many of us were elected and we shared how scary that was and everybody had their unconventional path to elective office.

 

So mine was to run in my mid-40s and I remember also having a stereotype that I thought if you are going to run for Judge you had to have like white hair, you have to be older and I too had my own biases about what I expected of a Judge and it was my women friends through the Tallahassee Women Lawyers, fall the Florida Association of Women Lawyers, the Tallahassee Bar, my male friends too — they said, Nina, we encourage you to run, let the people make that decision, don’t put that limit on yourself. Let the people, let your community decide are you too young? Do you need more seasoning? Do you need to have more gray hair? But now it is a good time County Judge needs five years of experience, you have 18 years of experience, but let the people ultimately make that call and I loved that concept that you put yourself out there, you jump off that cliff, it is the most terrifying thing I’ve ever had to do and I worked hard for the people’s vote.

 

I wanted their vote, I worked hard for it. I learned a lot, running for office. My husband was an inspiration because he ran for office as well. He was a school board member, a state legislator and then City Commission and he’s the one that really talked me through my fear and today during our panel I told everyone and I hope everyone that’s listening to this podcast, here is the message, don’t let fear keep you from living your dream. If you have a dream to be in elected office, whatever office that may be, go for it. Do not live a life of regret, let the people in your community, or your state, or whatever level you want to run for, let them make the decision about whether you have, whatever it’s going to take.

 

Karla Eckardt: Right.

 

Judge Nina Ashenafi Richardson: And you might be surprised. I ended up being elected and that’s why I never take that vote for granted. I will continue to work to keep my community’s confidence in me, but if what if I never tried — and I sold myself short.

 

Karla Eckardt: Right, a lot of these limits are self-imposed.

 

Judge Nina Ashenafi Richardson: They are self-imposed and one of the comments I said today was get out of your own shadow. I had to — I was living in my own shadow out of fear and I told everyone in the audience, get out of your own shadows of fear. All these excuses, they’re all fear-based thinking, live your dream. This is the greatest country. The United States is where dreams come true.

 

Karla Eckardt: Right. No — and that can be true for men and women. I mean that little tidbit of advice is true for everyone, and it’s just what I think the message for women is and what it was for the panel in How She Did It. It is really that as women we need to remove these self-imposed barriers, we need to embrace when men support us and we just need to go for it. We need to stop being scared and stop apologizing for being successful, and strong, and powerful and determined, because the men don’t.

 

Judge Nina Ashenafi Richardson: I love that Karla. It’s so true.

 

Karla Eckardt: It’s so true.

 

Judge Nina Ashenafi Richardson: Well, we never — I was brought up to not call too much attention to myself.

 

Karla Eckardt: Most women are.

 

Judge Nina Ashenafi Richardson: I was brought up to be of service to others and to do it quietly, to not — if you can to do it where they don’t even know you did it, to be seen but not heard, to be polite, to be a lady and so as an adult I have had to struggle because I don’t want to offend anyone. I want to be kind. I don’t want to call too much attention to myself. So can you imagine running for office, being brought up like that, because it’s the opposite of how I was brought up.

 

Christine Bilbrey: Absolutely.

 

Karla Eckardt: Right.

 

Christine Bilbrey: And I want to say, the beauty of your success is — you tore down a lot of barriers for women. So you’re this beautiful, successful woman and all these girls are looking up to you, but I love that you changed some specific old men’s minds in Leon County, like so, so you’re striking just a real strong blow for success for women, but I love that you changed these men’s minds.

 

I’m sorry, I have to throw this in because I love this. You had — I felt like you’re really — you got some pushback from the establishment, the good old boy network of Leon County.

 

(00:30:03)

 

And so you said, so you got your own good old girl network. Who is in your good old girl network? Are they your – in the court, who are your people?

 

Judge Nina Ashenafi Richardson: I have a wonderful good old girl network. I have friends like, one of my inspirational friends was Kelly Overstreet Johnson who’s the past Florida Bar President.

 

Karla Eckardt: Yes, yes.

 

Judge Nina Ashenafi Richardson: And when I was very, very afraid, she said you can do it. When I said, I don’t know if I have it in me. She said you have it in you.

 

Another friend that that was encouraging is Kelly O’Keefe, who’s another leader with the Young Lawyers and she was on the Board of Governors and Kelly O’Keefe was one of my inspirational friends. When I was afraid, she pushed me out of my comfort zone, but said, I’m there for you.

 

Gigi Rollini, another attorney in Tallahassee. So they — I specifically named those three. I’ve permanently recused myself from any case they have, if they ever comes, no, no, seriously because they were — they were so much the core of my support and friend, grounded in friendship that I don’t even hear their cases in court.

 

Christine Bilbrey: Right.

 

Judge Nina Ashenafi Richardson: But we have to support other women. So much of my time is spent helping my women friends deal with the negative energy of someone that does not support them or like them in there — whether it’s their office or a group, a bar group. We care so much. We want everybody to love us and it is a shock when you find out that someone could actually dislike you for no reason.

 

And it’s so hard for women, but there’s this book called ‘The Four Agreements‘ and one of the lessons that this book taught me was to never take something like that personally, allow that person to have their viewpoint, don’t judge it, let it be. They don’t like you, don’t read into it, don’t try to figure it out, it is what it is, don’t take it personal, but don’t reciprocate in a negative way, just accept it. Don’t judge it, let it be and that has really, really taught me a big lesson, because when I find out someone doesn’t like me when I ran for office, there were people that did not vote for me.

 

Karla Eckardt: Right.

 

Judge Nina Ashenafi Richardson: There were people that didn’t vote for me that I would have expected, but that book taught me allow them to have their opinion, that is what the democratic process is, people get to vote for who they want. Don’t take it personal, make sure that in your office someone may not like you for absolutely no reason, be civil, don’t push yourself on them, let them be, and focus on the friends that do care about you.

 

But what do we do? We focus on the people that have issues with us, that are negative and that is not a good use of our energy and you would be surprised how many women friends I counsel on this topic.

 

Karla Eckardt: I think it’s part of our nature.

 

Christine Bilbrey: Right.

 

Karla Eckardt: I mean we want everyone to like us. We want to take care of everyone, and we do take it personally. So I think bringing that to the forefront and I don’t know — becoming aware that that could be an impediment in the workplace is incredibly important.

 

I heard you say earlier, don’t carry their baggage.

 

Judge Nina Ashenafi Richardson: Yes.

 

Karla Eckardt: And that’s incredibly important. That’s their baggage, their hate to carry.

 

Judge Nina Ashenafi Richardson: Yes. I’ve had women friends tell me that they were sabotaged for partnership track by other women in their office who they thought were friends. And that caused them to leave the firm because they didn’t want to be in that toxic environment and that sometimes may be what you have to do, is if it’s not an environment that you could thrive in, if you’re not in a safe environment at work or wherever, leave that environment.

 

When you leave, you are trusting that another better opportunity will come. Women we worry to the point of sabotage. I must hold on to this because –

 

Karla Eckardt: Self-sabotage.

 

Judge Nina Ashenafi Richardson: I will never find another opportunity. I will never. So a lot of what we can do for each other, men or women, is get out of that fear-based thinking. If you are in a toxic environment, get out of it or change the circumstances within that office or within whatever setting and change that environment if you can.

 

Karla Eckardt: And I think as a Millennial we get that a lot, Millennials are always speaking out, but I think our generation is speaking out what previous generations have always felt and internalized.

 

Christine Bilbrey: Absolutely.

 

Karla Eckardt: So that, that’s part of what you just said, change that environment and only if you cannot change it, then leave and move on to an environment that motivates you, that makes you happy.

 

Judge Nina Ashenafi Richardson: Absolutely.

 

Christine Bilbrey: And that’s the secret to success.

 

Judge Nina Ashenafi Richardson: It is, it is the secret to success.

 

Christine Bilbrey: Yeah. Well, I feel like we have taken up so much of your time and I can talk to you for three more hours.

 

Judge Nina Ashenafi Richardson: Thank you.

 

(00:34:56)

 

Christine Bilbrey: But I also — I want to thank you for being such a shining example to all of us that have daughters and all the women that attended today. And I want to thank you on behalf of the Leon County, all of us citizens that you serve for your very dedicated service to us. Thank you.

 

Karla Eckardt: Thank you on behalf of women. I don’t know, no one was here, everyone listening might not have been here today, but she was a complete rock star and I think that had a lot to do with what you were putting out in the world and you kept telling people to be themselves, be genuine, and I think that was your secret sauce, that was your secret to success. It was being genuine, allowing people to help you men and women alliance and just thriving, knowing what motivated you which was public service, which is amazing.

 

Judge Nina Ashenafi Richardson: Thank you Karla, and I will close, I know it’s time to close. We must always remember to be thy neighbor’s keeper, we must always be kind to one another and help one another. We are of one, E pluribus unum. It is imprinted on every American coin, E pluribus unum, out of many, one.

 

So as lawyers, as judges, as members of this arm, we have to always look out for each other. We have to be kind to each other.

 

Karla Eckardt: And in doing so, we elevate the practice of law.

 

Judge Nina Ashenafi Richardson: Absolutely. And when you elevate each other and you elevate the practice of law, that in turn has a positive ripple effect, where the more we feel good about what we do, the more that will help others using the rule of law, using our law degree, and if we don’t take care of each other as a community, then this profession is going to be hurt.

 

Karla Eckardt: It will atrophy.

 

Judge Nina Ashenafi Richardson: Absolutely.

 

Karla Eckardt: I mean, we see that day in and day out with turnover and firms.

 

Christine Bilbrey: Yes.

 

Judge Nina Ashenafi Richardson: Yes.

 

Karla Eckardt: So we’re trying to change that.

 

Judge Nina Ashenafi Richardson: This type of podcast is highlighting the topic, and I look forward to hearing more on this topic.

 

Karla Eckardt: We look forward to putting it out, yeah.

 

Christine Bilbrey: Yes. And I feel like we have moved the needle just a little bit today and I thank you so.

 

Judge Nina Ashenafi Richardson: You have moved the needle, because the first part is having courageous conversations and that’s what this podcast is, it’s a courageous conversation.

 

Christine Bilbrey: So that’s all the time we have for this episode of the Florida Bar Podcast. I want to thank Judge Nina Ashenafi Richardson for her valuable time to spend with us today.

 

I am Christine Bilbrey.

 

Karla Eckardt: And I’m Karla Eckardt. Thank you for listening.

 

[Music]

 

Outro: Thanks for listening to The Florida Bar Podcast, brought to you by The Florida Bar’s Practice Resource Center and produced by the broadcast professionals at Legal Talk Network.

 

If you would like more information about today’s show, please visit legaltalknetwork.com. Subscribe via iTunes, Google Podcasts, Spotify and RSS. Find The Florida Bar, LegalFuel, The Florida Bar’s Practice Resource Center and Legal Talk Network on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and LinkedIn, or download the free app from Legal Talk Network in Google Play and iTunes.

 

The views expressed by the participants of this program are their own and do not represent the views of, nor are they endorsed by Legal Talk Network, its officers, directors, employees, agents, representatives, shareholders, and subsidiaries. None of the content should be considered legal advice. As always, consult a lawyer.

 

[Music]

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Episode Details
Published: July 26, 2019
Podcast: The Florida Bar Podcast
Category: Legal News
Podcast
The Florida Bar Podcast
The Florida Bar Podcast

The official podcast of the State Bar of Florida.

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