Girl Scout Troop Visits WLALA Board Member’s Courtroom

By Alexandra Jernigan

Extern to the Hon. Sandra R. Klein

March 2019

WLALA Board member Judge Sandra R. Klein recently hosted a special visit from Girl Scout Troop 1265, a fantastic group of six driven, precocious, and enthusiastic young ladies.  They love unicorns.  They aspire to be a lawyer, zoo veterinarian, pediatric oncologist, baker, and dentist.  One girl said that she “didn’t know yet,” to which Judge Klein replied, “don’t worry, neither do I!”

If you haven’t heard, Judge Klein created the Girl Scouts of Greater Los Angeles’ Justice Patch Program, to teach girls about the law, the legal profession, and the role of judges and lawyers in the community.  When Judge Klein discovered that Boy Scouts had an opportunity to meet judges and lawyers and learn about the law, while earning a badge or patch, but Girl Scouts did not have a comparable opportunity, she did something about it.  Through the Justice Patch Program, Judge Klein has hosted visits by more than 150 girls from troops across the greater Los Angeles area and helped bring more equality of opportunity to the young women of our community.

Judge Klein asked the girls what they thought judges do.  They were quick to raise their hands and say: “decide cases,” “put people in jail,” and “solve problems!”  Judge Klein explained that her job is sort of like a parent’s when two siblings fight, something everyone in the room could relate to.  Judge Klein joked that we never seem to outgrow such disputes, because some of her most contentious cases have been between family members. 

Judge Klein encouraged the girls in Troop 1265 to work hard, to seek out new opportunities, and not to be afraid to change course at any point in their lives.  Judge Klein shared her story to illustrate: she graduated from college with a degree in music education, but because the economy was down, began working as a corporate trainer for AT&T and other companies, both large and small.  Although the work was interesting, she felt unfulfilled and began considering what the next step should be in her professional journey.  Her mother encouraged her to go to law school, joking (and surely most lawyers out there have heard this), “you always argue with me, so maybe you should be a lawyer!”

Judge Klein packed her bags and moved 3,000 miles from her home in Boston, Massachusetts, to sunny Los Angeles, California, to begin studying at Loyola Law School.  Judge Klein recalled thinking to herself: “it would be nice to be warm for a while.”  After working hard at Loyola Law School and graduating at the top of her class, Judge Klein clerked for two renowned jurists: Judge Arthur L. Alarcón, Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, and Judge Lourdes G. Baird, U.S. District Court.  After that, she was a litigation associate in private practice.  Judge Klein spent the majority of her pre-judicial career at the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ), where she focused on complex white-collar crime cases and, in particular, bankruptcy fraud.  While at the DOJ, she obtained an MBA from UCLA so that she could better understand financial statements and all the other “number stuff.”  Judge Klein explained to the Troop that math and science never came easy to her like it did her sister, who is now a doctor, but because she worked hard and sought help from professors and tutors while studying for her MBA, she mastered the material and graduated at the top of her class.  Judge Klein shared her experience to encourage the girls to ask for help whenever they need some additional assistance.    

When a position became available at the Central District Bankruptcy Court, Judge Klein’s friends and colleagues encouraged her to apply.  Filling out the application of more than 100 pages was the easy part, but Judge Klein was concerned about the interview process, during which she would be interviewed by nine people.  Judge Klein told the girls that there is no substitute for preparation, so she reached out to her alma maters, Loyola Law School and UCLA, and requested that they help her prepare with mock interviews.  After making it to the second round of interviews in San Francisco, Judge Klein was repeatedly told that she “would not get the job.”  Judge Klein advised the girls that they should never listen when someone tells them that they are not good enough or not capable of doing something that they want to do.

Reflecting on this story, Judge Klein told the Girl Scouts about a study she read that shed light on why men get more advancement opportunities than women.  When men look at an employer’s wish list, they apply when they have about half of a job’s requirements.  Women only apply when they have 100 percent of the requirements.  Judge Klein encouraged the girls in her courtroom to apply for every job that interests them, even if they think they might not have all the qualifications, because it would be very rare for an applicant to have 100 percent of what an employer is looking for right from the start. “You have absolutely nothing to lose by throwing your name into the ring”—and much more to gain when you get the job.

Judge Klein then asked the girls to raise their hand if they had ever been bullied.  Everyone, including Judge Klein, raised her hand.  There are bullies in all stages of life, Judge Klein said, and support systems are important to help us through difficult times.  Everyone shared how they deal with bullies, on the playground, in the classroom, or in the courtroom.  One girl said she told a parent, another started taking MMA classes, and Judge Klein called her mentor for advice.

Finally, after asking Judge Klein around 40 “what is your favorite…?” questions (Judge Klein’s favorite color is blue, and her favorite animal is a Boxer, if you were wondering), each girl donned a judge’s robe, sat at the bench, and banged a gavel.  Although that was surely the highlight of their visit, the greatest thing to report was the girls’ responses to Judge Klein’s question: “What would you do or say if someone told you that you can’t do the same things a boy can?”  To which they replied, “Watch me.”