Running the Baltimore Court System: A Conversation with Judge Kathleen Cox ‘ND 76, ‘NDLS 79

I recently got the chance to speak with Judge Kathleen Gallogly Cox, Circuit Administrative Judge, of the Third Judicial Circuit in Maryland, which covers Baltimore and Hartford counties. As “Circuit Administrative Judge,” Judge Cox runs the Baltimore County Court system as Judge Buckley runs the Los Angeles County Court system. Judge Cox oversees the administration of the courts, budget and procurement functions, and trial calendars to ensure the expeditious disposition of cases. She also supervises county administrative judges. Judge Cox not only has an interesting job; she is an interesting person. She was in the first undergraduate class that had women at Notre Dame.

I encourage you to take the time to read this blog post as well as my interview with Judge Buckley. The takeaway from the two blog posts is that we have two Notre Dame Law alumni running prominent court systems, which is a testament to how amazing our alumni are and how far your NDLS degree can take you.

KM: Tell me about your background.

JC:  I was in the first class at Notre Dame undergraduate that had women.

I was living through the process of being in a small group of women in an institution with a lot of strong traditions undergoing a massive change. This experience enabled me to make good friendships with many women. It also made me comfortable with myself because I was in a setting where there were not many people like me sitting in the room. During my Freshman year, there were very few women in any of my classes.

The first class at Notre Dame with women consisted of 300 women total in 2 small dorms.

I then continued on to Notre Dame Law School, where 20% of the law school was women. By then, the male to female ratio on campus had improved. During law school, I worked at a clinic in Southern Michigan that was completely staffed by law students. At the time, I recall that there was not a single woman in practice in that county.

KM: How did you end up deciding to attend law school?

JC: I was an English major in the 70s and when asked what I was going to do with my English degree, my stock response was law or business school and law sounded more interesting. I did not have a clear cut career path in terms of the law I wanted to practice when I entered law school. I just thought I would never be a litigator but that is what I have spent my entire career doing.

When in law school, I found that I liked everything about the law intellectually. The law is so expansive and there are so many things you can get into.

KM: What did you do after law school?

JC: After law school, I clerked for a federal judge in Maryland for three years and then went on to work as an Assistant Federal Public Defender for the opportunity to do criminal defense work. After that, I moved on to a large law firm where I worked until I became a judge.

KM: What does the day to day work of a Judge consist of?

JC: When a judge is new on the court, they get assigned where the court needs them and have no say as to where they go. Baltimore county courts are general jurisdiction courts so there is a mix of family, criminal, juvenile, and any other issue that comes up. My job is different every day and I have learned to triage things. As a judge, you have to learn to figure out how to get up to speed quickly. Ask yourself who on your bench may know more than you do on a particular topic so you can talk to them and get the benefit of their expertise.

It is very helpful to have judges who are collegial and I feel lucky to work with great people.

KM: What does your day to day work as the Circuit Administrative Judge for the Third Judicial District consist of?

JC:  I am the lead judge for Baltimore County and one other county in Maryland. Our court system has 20 judges, 6 magistrate judges, and a case load annually of 32,000 cases. Like Judge Buckley in Los Angeles, I manage the Baltimore county court system. Unlike Judge Buckley, I still hear cases because Baltimore is too small to have a judge dedicated to managing the court. Some of my court managing duties involve serving as the chair of the conference for circuit judges and testifying before the legislature on issues that affect the judiciary. I spend more time on administrative issues than I ever did before.

I balance court administrative duties with sitting and hearing cases. I block out days to deal with administrative duties. I have been in this position for 3  1/2 years. My job as Circuit Administrative Judge will last as long as the Chief Judge wants me here. I just ran for election for the 2nd time. Judges have mandatory retirement at age 70.

I enjoy doing the administrative piece. There are things I can do that can improve the way we process cases and manage the court system. I like doing that.

KM: What was it like to be one of a few female attorneys when you started practicing law?

JC:  I went to a small firm in Baltimore County and was about to become partner and then the firm merged back with the large firm I had left. There were a few female partners and fortunately, the firm had a progressive attitude toward women in the workplace.

While at the firm, I was the first female lawyer to be pregnant while working there. The firm had never dealt with maternity leave before and policies were less clear then. Firms struggled with finding the right balance on how to treat associates.

KM: When did you realize you wanted to become a judge?

JC: I worked at the firm for 20 years. While there, I had a pretty wide ranging litigation practice. As I worked there, it became clearer and clearer that judging was my long term objective. I was ready to get out of the  business of practicing law.

KM: How did you become a judge?

JC: To become a judge in Maryland, there is a screening process where you get vetted and then get put on the list. The Governor then chooses a candidate to nominate from that list.

To get the on that list, you have to be thinking years in advance what you can do to make yourself the right candidate for that particular governor. I remained active in the bar and worked to have a broad range of experiences in the law.

(To give you a sense of how involved Judge Cox is with the Maryland Bar, below is a list of her leadership roles.

Judge Cox is on the executive committee of the Judiciary’s Conference of Circuit Judges, and is an active member of several professional organizations, including the Maryland State Bar Association, Baltimore County Bar Association, Women’s Bar Association of Maryland, Women’s Law Center of Maryland, and National Association of Women Judges. She is a fellow of the Maryland Bar Foundation. She is a past chair of the MSBA’s standing committee on gender equality and the Coe Board of Review. Judge Cox received the Maryland Leadership in Law Award from the Daily Record in 2005, and has been named by the Daily Record as one of Maryland’s Top 100 Women in 2004 and 2012.)

KM: What advice do you have for law students interested in pursuing a career in litigation?

JC: If you want to be a litigator, it is increasingly difficult to get trial experience as a young lawyer. It’s even harder now than it used to be.

Those interested in getting trial experience should pursue criminal law work, either in government or at at a firm. If you really want to be in a courtroom, actively search for opportunities where you will have those experiences.

I am very glad that I clerked. I found that I made connections in the bar and got to see what opportunities existed in the law. If I had not clerked, I would have had a very different career.

KM: Increasingly, I see students interested in pursuing a career as a judge. What advice would you give to those students?

JC: The process for becoming a judge is very different from state to state because the appointment process can be different. Aspiring judges need to make sure they know what the appointment process is and understand it from an insider’s perspective.

Talk to people who have been successful and ask them how they positioned themselves. For instance, the process in Maryland for screening potential judges for the list involves looking at the judge’s practice experience, their reputation in the bar, and calling people who have had cases with you. They are not just looking for good lawyers but people active in the bar and in the community.

Think strategically about what you have done in your legal experience and how you need to diversify your experience to be competitive. My husband is going through the process of trying to get on the judge list now and is working to get experience in areas he has not worked in. He has vast criminal law experience so is now taking continuing legal education classes in family law to demonstrate his commitment to learning.

KM: Do you take summer interns?

JC: I take 1-2 interns during the semester and over the summer. I also take bridge to practice fellows.

To apply, send a cover letter and resume over email to my office.

KM: How do you hire law clerks?

JC: I have a clerk and two administrative staff. Judges can hire clerks anyway they want. I hire clerks for a one year term.


KM: What advice do you have for law students to maximize their law school experience?

JC: It is important to get a broad base of practical experiences when you’re in law school. Prioritize clinical work and things like interning with a judge. These experiences give you a practical perspective on your training that really informs your career decisions. These experiences also help you network from the start.

You will never how your career progresses and who you have worked with who will put you in contact with someone. Those contacts are something that as your career develops are really critical.

For example, the Judge I clerked for had a gathering of former clerks every few years. Through these gatherings, I got to know people who clerked 15 years before I did. I hold the same type of gathering for my former clerks every year. Older clerks help newer clerks find jobs. Those relationships with people really help you as you develop.

Judge Cox is happy to speak with anyone interested in building their legal career in Baltimore or in working for a judge. Email me and I will connect you with her.





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