Earning a reputation as a successful civil trial lawyer is a formidable task for any attorney, but the stakes are especially high for women in the law. Those odds, however, have not deterred Jeanmarie Whalen, a shareholder at Domnick Cunningham & Whalen wiThover 20 years of trial experience. While handling complex litigation in catastrophic injury cases presents unique and seemingly insurmountable hurdles, Whalen knows the greatest challenges generally inspire the greatest rewards.
“My commitment is to never surrender or shy away from a challenge until justice has been served. Prevailing for my clients and providing for their future is by far the greatest reward,” Whalen says.
Whalen’s commitment to her clients is a testament to her thriving practice, but she admits the inequities in the legal field present significant challenges for women practitioners. In 1993, when she became a member of the Florida Bar, women only made up 12 percent of partnership positions nationwide. Today, while that percentage has increased to 21 percent, it is woefully disproportionate to the percentage of women graduating from law school.
“I continue to be astounded that in a time when the field is rich with brilliant women lawyers, partnership and leadership positions within firms for women are still the exception rather than the rule,” Whalen says.
While progress is incremental, Whalen credits organizations such as the Florida Association of Women Lawyers (FAWL) with empowering women practitioners and advancing diversity and equality in the legal profession. Whalen served as two-term president of the Palm Beach County chapter and president of statewide FAWL, which led to leadership roles in the Florida Bar, Florida Justice Association (FJA), and now the American Association for Justice (AAJ).
During her tenure with FAWL, Whalen established a number of popular legal education programs designed for women lawyers, including the Trial Advocacy Skills seminar series. She was one of the founding members and a past chair of the women’s caucus of FJA and currently serves as a board of governor of AAJ and FJA, and as secretary of AAJ’s trucking litigation group. Additionally, she has committed her time to various community organizations, including serving on the board of directors of the Center for Family Services, Palm Beach County Cultural Council, and the executive cabinet of the American Heart Association “Go Red for Women” campaign.
“My advice to other women is that service is a cornerstone of success,” Whalen says. “While the responsibility may be daunting, the payoff is infinite. I do my best to encourage women to foster relationships, build a network for business development and most of all, embrace the support of the legal community.”
Beyond bridging the gender gap, Whalen believes the evolving legal landscape presents challenges to all attorneys. Recently, The New York Times reported a national decline in criminal and civil trials, which it characterized as the “vanishing” of jury trials. This decline sends the Seventh Amendment down a slippery slope that tips the scales of justice away from citizens by denying them access to the courts.
“As advocates and litigators, we are compelled to be activists willing to defend the rights of our clients to ensure their individual liberties are not eradicated,” Whalen says. “This is critical for the preservation of our civil justice system and for the future of our profession.”
Jeanmarie Whalen takes great pride in advocating on behalf of her clients, the legal profession, and women in the law. “I strongly believe that no female lawyer is a success because she is a woman,” Whalen says. “She is a success because she worked harder than her opponents.”