Women Criminal Defense Attorneys: Interview With Nina Marino

Women Criminal Defense Attorneys: Interview With Nina Marino

This week, I had the opportunity to have a conversation with Nina Marino, a criminal defense lawyer practicing in Los Angeles, California. Her 24-year law career has been exclusively focused on criminal defense and white-collar crime in particular. She has been a State Bar of California Certified Criminal Law Specialist since 2001. She is a current and former Board member of the Women Lawyers of Los Angeles and has been involved since the outset in the Women White Collar Defense Association. She currently holds a leadership position in the ABA, as Director of the Criminal Justice Section CLE Board and has held many positions of leadership in the ABA throughout the years. She was instrumental in the creation of the ABA Women in White Collar Subcommittee for the Criminal Justice Section. Nina is a regular lecturer in the field throughout the country and has published countless articles and treatise. Nina Marino's peers have voted her a "Southern California Super Lawyer" every year since 2004. For years she has been driven and committed to enhancing opportunities for women in the field. Nina Marino is one of those rare courageous lawyers who had the guts to open up a private practice right out of law school, and since then she has never stopped forging her own path.

What inspired you to specialize in criminal defense?

The ideas of saving someone, being a hero, and winning were all very appealing. I have always rebelled against conformity and obedience, so fighting for the underdog, objecting to the government, challenging authority and the structure that comes with a bureaucracy are natural to me.

You have been involved since the outset in helping organize women in white-collar law, what inspired you to do this and has this impacted your practice?

I have been involved in organizing women in criminal law for the past 15 years. I started the criminal law section of the Women Lawyers Association of Los Angeles (WLALA) 15 years ago, which was designed to be co-chaired by a defense attorney and a prosecutor. Today, I again chair this section. As I evolved into a white-collar lawyer, it was natural for me to undertake the task of helping to organize other white-collar women.

I currently co-chair the Women in White Collar Subcommittee of the ABA CJS (WWCC). I am also a city leader for the Los Angeles Chapter of the Women White Collar Defense Association (WWCDA). All of these organizations, the WLALA, WWCC, and WWCDA, have given me a network of women for both referrals and for support. My work with WLALA afforded me the opportunity to make long term strong bonds with both state and federal local prosecutors, many who are now on the bench. In my capacity as a bar leader for WWCC and as a city leader for WWCDA I have met women white-collar lawyers from around the globe. All of these relationships enhance my ability to represent my clients in a myriad of ways. For example, sometimes just bouncing an idea off someone across the aisle can make a huge difference, and certainly being able to pick up the phone to either discuss a specific case or just for a referral is of tremendous value.

A project I'm working on now is a Women Leaders lunch program to take place at the ABA International White Collar Crime Conference in London, UK, October 8-9, 2013. The program will feature Women GC's and Women White Collar Lawyers from around the world, and will provide a forum for networking and mutual support. In time, I hope to see a common practice where all case referrals start with two or three women's names. This program is just one small step in that direction.

Did you have important women role models when you started practicing and what effect did that have on your development?

My mother was a significant role model to me. She was smart and beautiful. She was a powerful litigator; it defined her. My mother was a successful woman litigator in a man's world, she taught me to be tough.

District Court Judge Florence Marie Cooper (D) was a dear friend and mentor. She took me under her wing when I was a brand new lawyer. She was really an inspiration. She taught me to always be true to myself.

When I ventured into white-collar practice, I was introduced to Janet Levine, who became my mentor and my friend. Janet has guided many of the decisions I have made, both personally and professionally.

I consider myself very lucky to have had such amazing role models.

Of the women criminal defense attorneys you know and admire, what made them stand out to you? Why did they inspire you?

Different women inspire me differently. I admire the woman who is the smartest person in the room. I admire the woman who works the hardest both in and out of the courtroom, who doesn't back down, but who at all times maintains her integrity and professionalism. I admire the woman who can litigate and still be all woman.

What was the moment you knew you had made it as a criminal lawyer?

When I won the first case I tried.

What specific representation of a client has stayed with you through the years and why?

In white-collar, we don't get a lot of repeat business, however, there was one client I represented several times. When I met him in the 1990's, he had already served significant time in federal custody for white-collar crimes in both the 1970's and the 1980's. This time around he was involved in a national pharmaceutical fraud involving billions of dollars. It's a long story, and the case went on for close to 18 months, but ultimately he never did any time. I represented him again in the 2000's in a government procurement fraud matter. Needless to say, this posed an even greater challenge to keep him custody free. However, at the end of the day, he never went back in. He was my first really big client who paid me an equally big fee, which there is no question I earned.

If you could go back and give one piece of career advice to your younger self what would it be?

Take law school more seriously, and not just as a means to end. Let me explain, I come from a family of lawyers. My mother is a lawyer, my father, my sister, my brother, my uncles and cousins, on both sides, are all lawyers, so I knew I would be a lawyer, a litigator. For me, law school was an obstacle in the way of my career. It never occurred to me that the LSAT would matter, or that where I went to school would matter. Of course, back then, it never occurred to me I would be a white-collar lawyer, I doubt I even knew what a white-collar lawyer was. So, if I was going to do it again, for a pedigree, I would have paid attention to the LSAT, gotten into a better school, and applied myself while there.

How are you meeting the challenge of juggling work and family in this demanding field?

My husband, Richard Kaplan, is my law partner, so we juggle everything together. My kids are amazing. We all support each other, so it works out. My girls are very involved in women's issues, such as Girls Learn International, the Feminist Majority, and other socially conscious organizations. My husband/partner is very involved in the Beverly Hills Bar Association. As a family, we all recognize each other's commitments and we do what we can to help each other realize our goals.

Does being a woman give you any advantage in trial before a jury and if so explain?

I recently spoke to a jury consultant who validated what I always believed: Being a woman is an absolute advantage because a woman can show her passion for the client, and for the defense of the case itself, and not be viewed as overbearing. Jurors expect a woman to be maternal, and being maternal encompasses being protective. I believe my passion as a defense attorney and my instinctive protection of my client is viewed very favorably by jurors.

What is the best advice you ever received?

Throughout my career, I have sought out, listened to, and learned from mentors and colleagues. Through these people I have garnered four rules to practice by:

  • Maintain your integrity
  • Always have time to think
  • Be reasonable
  • Always outwork the other side

My favorite is "always have time to think."

Worst day ever on the job?

Whenever a jury returns a guilty verdict.

Finally, what is one thing that people who know you don't know about you?

I love action movies. My favorites are the "Fast and Furious" movies, all 6 of them. Can't wait for #7.