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Highlighting Women in Law

Interview with Judge Karen Abrams, the first female judge in St. Mary's County

Photo from: The Platt Group, 2023


Women's History Month is the perfect month for WMS Lawyers to kick off our new blog series highlighting Southern Maryland women we think you should know. Who better to start off our series with than Judge Karen H. Abrams, retired. Alanis Walker, Legal Assistant, asked Judge Abrams about what her career was like and what, if any, advice she had for women looking to enter the field of law.


Judge Abrams was born in New York City, but grew up in Washington, D.C. She received her Bachelor's of Arts Degree in Sociology from George Washington University in 1969 (The Platt Group, 2022).


At the beginning of her career, Abrams worked as a Social Worker for Charles County Department of Social Services, after which she was an Employment Counselor for a program called the Work Incentive Program that helped public assistance recipients in the three Southern Maryland counties to obtain education and training in order to become employed. She then moved to St. Mary’s County and began working as a social worker for the St. Mary’s County Department of Social Services in the Child Protective Services and Foster Care Department. This job included appearing in court and occasionally testifying. This piqued her interest in law, and she decided to pursue a career in law. She attended the Columbus School of Law at the Catholic University of America in Washington D.C.


As she continued to live in St. Mary’s County, she was able to work as a law clerk at the firm of Briscoe, Kenney & Kaminetz in Lexington Park. Once she graduated, she worked as an associate attorney for the firm. Abrams says that she "never felt as though I experienced any bias about being a woman. When I worked there, they included me in everything - cases, client meetings, court appearances, Rotary Club, etc. They never treated me differently, they included me, mentored me, and taught me to practice law."


"They never treated me differently, they included me, mentored me, and taught me to practice law."

Working at a law firm in a small town allowed her to be able to participate in helping people in all areas of the law. In 1984, Abrams opened her own law firm in Leonardtown, where she practiced law for 18 years. During this time, she represented clients in practically every area of the law, including: family, criminal, real estate, zoning. administrative, guardianships, wills, estates, corporations, contracts, tort actions, etc. Along the way, she also took on the representation of various organizations important to the local community: the Alcohol Beverage Board, the Board of Education, the Board of Elections, St. Mary's Nursing Center, Cedar Lane Senior Living Community, and the Town of Leonardtown. (The Platt Group, 2022). During this time, Abrams worked closely with members of the community through her practice, as well as local government officials, and local attorneys. However, Abrams says that "it wasn't just about career advancement. It was enjoyable and rewarding being involved in the community and helping people."


When her mentor, Judge John Hanson Briscoe, retired from the court in 2002, Abrams decided to apply for that position. This required the completion and submission of a lengthy, rigorous application, at least two writing samples and character reference letters, all of which are submitted to various local bar associations, which conduct interviews and make recommendations regarding the candidates’ qualifications. All of this is then submitted to the Judicial Nominating Commission. After interviewing all applicants, the Commission then sends the nomination of at least three candidates to the Governor. The Governor then reviews the applications, interviews the nominees, and then appoints one of them to the judgeship. Then Governor Parris Glendening was the governor who appointed Abrams (Maryland State Archives, 2022). In October of 2002, Abrams was sworn in, becoming the first female judge in St. Mary's

County. Judge Abrams served as a judge of the Circuit Court for the next 15 ½ years, retiring in 2018.


Photo from: John Warton, 2019


When I asked Judge Abrams about any advice she has for women looking to enter the field of law, she spoke on the importance of working hard and being involved in the community. The reality is that "law school doesn't teach you how to practice law. You learn the law, and what it means, but it doesn't prepare you to talk to clients or how to operate a business." We talked about the value of receiving mentoring and guidance from peers and other members of the community. "Get involved in your community. And be prepared to ask for help, because it's not enough to just go to court or file a pleading," Judge Abrams said. “I learned that, for people looking to enter the field, it's a good idea to start observing and learning how to practice law as early as law school.” In 2019, Judge Abrams was awarded a Lifetime Achievement Award by the St. Mary's County Commission for Women, (Wharton, 2019).


"Law School doesn't teach you how to practice law. You learn the law and what it means, but it doesn't prepare you for to talk to clients or how to operate a business."

Much of Judge Abrams's success has been due to her incredible work ethic, being involved in her community, and treating everyone with respect. She made history by being the first of several female judges in the county.



References:

Interview between Alanis Walker and Judge Karen Abrams done on the phone on March 22, 2023.


Maryland State Archives. (2022). Karen Abrams, Maryland Circuit Court Judge. Maryland State Archives. Retrieved March 23, 2023, from https://msa.maryland.gov/msa/mdmanual/31cc/former/html/msa13939.html


Maryland State Archives. (2022) Parris N. Glending, Maryland State Governor. Maryland State Archives, Retrieved March 28, 2023, from


The Platt Group. (2022). Judge Karen H. Abrams (Ret.). The Platt Group. Retrieved March 23, 2023, from https://www.theplattgroup.com/neutrals/judge-karen-h-abrams-ret/


Wharton, J. (2019, March 08). Judge Abrams to be Honored at Women's Commission Banquet. Southern Maryland News. Retrieved March 23, 2023, from https://www.somdnews.com/enterprise/community/columns/judge-abrams-to-be-honored-at-women-s-commission-banquet/article_1f54d48a-3d1f-58d6-9349-9b49ad3441be.html



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