Interview with Deborah Baker
August 29, 2019
Taken by: Claire Armagnac-Rodriguez
Q: How did you become involved in MDFAWL?
A: Approximately 10 years ago, Julie Kane was the incoming President and let me know of an opening on the Board. I submitted the nomination form and became a Director shortly thereafter. I had been going to MDFAWL events for three or four years prior to getting on the Board but had never considered getting involved with leadership. I enjoyed the events but had never considered running for anything until Julie approached me about it. Sometimes it just takes an invitation!
Q: What is your best memory from your years in MDFAWL?
A: Around 2011, Elisa D’Amico, Ardith Bronson, Rebecca Ocariz, Ileana Cruz, and I decided we wanted to return MDFAWL to its initial mission, which was advocating for reform in the law, taking positions on policy issues affecting women attorneys, and encouraging women to run for leadership positions. We wanted to grow the organization into an advocacy-driven organization, and I think we succeeded. Since then, lactation rooms have become available in the courthouses in Miami-Dade County, with MDFAWL leading the way, such that they have become the norm in Florida. A revenge pornography law was enacted by the Florida Legislature with those legislative efforts beginning with MDFAWL and its long-time member, the Hon. Katherine Fernandez Rundle. MDFAWL was also instrumental in advocating for the Parental Leave Rule, which was before the Florida Supreme Court for consideration just last month.
Q: What is the one piece of advice you wish someone had told you when you were a junior attorney/just starting out?
A: Find the time to build your network and take on leadership roles before you decide to have children so that you are making those connections while you still have more flexibility in your schedule.
Q: What is your favorite MDFAWL program?
A: My favorite social event is the Holiday Judicial Reception because it brings the MDFAWL community together gives us an opportunity to honor a man who lives the MDFAWL mission with the Hon. Theodore (“Ted”) Klein Award, and honors our judiciary who support us. My favorite substantive program is the Trial Skills Workshop because you can see the progression of the lawyers’ confidence and skills over the course of just a few days. There is nothing better than women supporting and teaching the next generation of women.
Q: Who inspires you?
A: Our elected State Attorney, the Hon. Katherine Fernandez Rundle. She has gained the respect of our entire state-wide legal community. She is tough on crime, yet she has a heart and believes in second chances. She is a national leader on restoring voting rights and works tirelessly to reform the laws so that human-trafficking victims do not live with unjust prostitution convictions. She is a model MDFAWL member in terms of lifting other women up. You almost cannot go to a judicial investiture without hearing mention of how Ms. Rundle mentors, teaches, and builds up the young women in her office so that they become the best attorneys possible, with so many of them sitting on the bench after a stint in her office. Her impact on our community has been immeasurable and I really admire her.
Q: What do you think is the biggest issue facing women in the law today?
A: Implicit bias. Unintentional assumptions are made about women every day. Female lawyers are second-guessed in a way that male lawyers are not, and I see it even among the most progressive members of our legal community. I am a firm believer that bias is almost never [occurring] because people set out to discriminate against women, but instead because of a lack of self-awareness and how women have been portrayed in the media and society at large for decades. This discrepancy is a real issue we face and have had to face for many years, but I do see vast improvements in the 20 years I have been an attorney.
Q: What are you doing now?
A: I would describe my practice as dispute resolution, mostly complex commercial litigation, and I am also a certified mediator. In terms of leadership roles, I just finished my second term on The Florida Bar Board of Governors in June and decided not to run again. The Florida Bar is a difficult place for advocacy-minded people. I’m not sure what my next step will be, but I am looking for something advocacy-driven.