By Stacey L. Evans (B.A.’02)
Litigation was not the obvious choice for Maria Batres (J.D. ’11) when she decided to pursue a law degree. An introvert, the former middle and high school social studies teacher wasn’t entirely comfortable with public speaking outside of the classroom. But she was encouraged to try out for the Student Trial Lawyer Association (STLA), and soon realized that being a litigator had many intriguing similarities to being a teacher.
“In a jury trial, you are presenting information to a group of people so that they can determine what really happened,” said Batres, assistant district attorney for Cobb Judicial Circuit. “I ‘teach’ the jurors and give them a framework for coming to a verdict, the same way I guided my students to consider everything I taught them before coming to their own conclusions about the world.”
And like teaching, a lawyer’s work can have an important impact on people and communities. As an ADA, Batres values assisting victims in getting the justice they deserve while balancing that with being fair to the defendants.
“In this job, you have to look at each situation differently, take into account all the factors and try to be as reasonable as you can in how you resolve it,” she said. “But in the end, you also want to get justice for those who were wronged.”
Her passion for teaching also plays a role in her involvement in the various organizations through which she mentors new attorneys or students and in her service as president of the Georgia Hispanic Bar Association (GHBA). In leading, Batres fosters collaboration by empowering everyone to contribute their ideas — teamwork is vital to growth and success, she believes.
“Women are often raised to be problem solvers, to be compassionate and to listen, so I think that allows us to look at things from different perspectives,” she said. “To an extent, the very nature of the challenges we experience as women gives us a unique perspective with regard to resolving issues.”
At GHBA’s Cafecito events, in which Latina attorneys meet to support each other, the conversation often turns to those challenges.
“Women in the legal profession are often underestimated by both clients and other attorneys, and so we have to work that much harder to establish our presence and gain respect as a strong, competent force,” Batres said.
Many describe similar experiences —being called belittling names, having people assume they are anyone but the attorney, continuously being asked to take on extra work that male counterparts are not, being denied raises or promotions when male colleagues who haven’t met as many benchmarks are given them. Some have been harassed while the firm’s leadership turns a blind eye or is dismissive of their complaints.
Sometimes, women are asked to sit at the table to give an impression of a diverse team but not given the opportunity to contribute in a significant way.
Many women struggle with how and when to voice their concerns at work—which is why mentoring and groups such as Cafecito in which women find support are vital. Batres advises her mentees that it’s not worth staying at a job where their voice isn’t being heard.
“I’ve been lucky to have supervisors who have been open to listening, but a number of my colleagues have not had that support,” she said. “To some extent, there are things you just try to ignore, but you also have to decide what your limits are, and if those limits are breached, you must speak up about it, respectfully—but firmly, setting your boundaries.”
Women do have fewer challenges today because of the hard work of women before them, Batres said, especially those who have taken on leadership roles. “Their efforts serve as inspiration to a new generation of women attorneys establishing their presence in the profession,” she said.