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Motivate, Educate, Inspire! But First--Finish That Brief

by Empish J. Thomas, Lithonia, Georgia

When Angela Winfield watched Phylicia Rashad play Clair Huxtable on television's COSBY SHOW, she knew that she, too, wanted to be a lawyer. She liked the fact that Clair Huxtable, unlike most lawyers she had seen on TV, had a happy, loving family with whom she was able to spend lots of quality time. Winfield readily admits that she had a lot to learn about practicing law in those days, a process that she clearly still finds enjoyable, even if she doesn't get quite as much time away from the office as Clair Huxtable did.

Winfield practices law at Hiscock & Barclay, a law firm in New York with 200 attorneys and 9 offices. She started on this career path early in life. "When I was younger and in school, I loved to debate and engage with people," said the 29-year-old Winfield. "I enjoyed thinking on my feet and knew I could think like a lawyer." With that strong conviction to guide her, persevering through multiple eye surgeries and a continual decrease in her vision, Winfield graduated from high school with top honors and enrolled at Barnard College of Columbia University. After losing all usable vision from a flare-up with uveitis and studying abroad at Queen Mary College in England, Winfield graduated from Columbia in 2005, earning a bachelorís Degree with a combined major in Political Science and Human Rights and a minor in Religion.

She continued her education by enrolling at Cornell Law School and graduated in 2008. There she strengthened her debating and advocacy skills.

Winfield was an intern at Cornell Legal Aid where she represented clients in employment, Social Security and criminal matters. She also clerked for an acting New York Supreme Court judge and at the firm where she is currently employed. "At the beginning of my second year of law school I did on-campus interviews and summered with the firm between my second and third years," she said. "Based on my credentials and performance that summer, I was offered a permanent position before graduation." Directly following this internship, Angela graduated from Cornell with a Juris Doctorate and a concentration in advocacy.

"The vast majority of my time is spent researching legal issues and writing memoranda of law and briefs," she said. "My legal practice focuses on commercial litigation, meaning representing businesses and individuals in civil (non-criminal) disputes. Within this area, I further focus my work on representing parties in federal and state courts of appeal. Unlike what is commonly thought, I am in the courtroom only occasionally."

After working some years at the firm and "paying her dues," Winfield approached management to request a more flexible schedule. She realized she wanted to do more and give back to her community, and she needed the time to accomplish this goal. "I now have the freedom and flexibility not only to practice law but, to speak, write, and otherwise motivate, educate and inspire people to reach their highest potential." When she is not working from home, speaking or attending meetings, Winfield is in the office. Her work days start before 7 AM with an hour commute. Even though she is very organized and has a personal assistant, Winfield says that she must remain open minded and flexible. "The day brings what it will. It is not uncommon that an emergency motion, client crisis or some other unexpected task demands my immediate attention."

Besides having a personal assistant, Winfield uses assistive technology and travels with a dog guide. "Technology is absolutely key for me and is an essential part of how I get my job done. Reading and writing briefs, conducting legal research and making travel arrangements are all things I do electronically," she said. "The technology I use includes JAWS, Kurzweil OCR software and last, but certainly not least, the iPhone."

Outside of her legal work, Winfield has developed a business called Blind Faith Enterprises through which she serves as a motivational speaker, author and personal coach. She speaks at colleges, high schools, corporate conferences and womenís events. She has authored a guide called SIX STEPS TO OVERCOMING OBSTACLES that she offers at no charge from her website, www.blindfaith.com.

When speaking to people with limited vision who have an interest in pursuing a career as a lawyer, Winfield offers this advice: "Know what you are getting into. The hours are long, and partners and clients are demanding. You may not always feel appreciated or even feel like what you're doing really matters. Usually, these thoughts occur around 1 o'clock in the morning when you're tired and trying to finish up that brief. But, that all being said, if you know what you're getting into and are doing it for the right reasons, then go for it," she said. "If you are passionate about the law, are a gifted analytical thinker and are not doing it for the money or the prestige, you should do well."

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