Name: Honorable Stacy M. Ross
Job Title: Circuit Court Judge, 17th Circuit
City: Fort Lauderdale, Florida
Number of Children/Other Dependents: 2
Do you think having “it all” is realistic or overrated? Why?
I believe it is completely realistic. The key to it being realistic is the way in which you define “having it all.”
What does having “it all” mean to you?
To me, having “it all” means having a healthy family, good friends and a meaningful career. I also feel obligated to make the world a better place, whether that is within my own small circle or on a much larger scale.
What is the best advice that you ever received on balancing your personal and professional lives?
In order to balance it all, you need to take care of yourself first. Your health is a priority. Having it all means nothing, if you are not here to enjoy it. On a personal note, my very first mammogram detected an early, yet aggressive form of breast cancer. I ended up having a bilateral mastectomy. Early detection saved my life and the lives of so many others. Please, get your yearly mammograms and check-ups. Eat right and exercise. Being strong and healthy really improves the overall quality of your life and helps you achieve that balance.
If you had an extra hour in your day, how would you spend it?
It depends on what I didn’t get done that day.
Looking back at when you started in the profession, and knowing what you know now, what advice would you give your younger self?
Work hard on building your reputation from day one. When I was in law school, I never thought about the fact that those around me could be my future colleagues, opposing counsel or even the presiding judge. Getting the reputation early on for working hard and being professional will stay with you throughout your career.
Even the smallest actions you take matter. Take pride in your work. When you do, it shows. Chief Justice Sandra Day O’Connor once said, “Do the best you can in every task, no matter how unimportant it may seem at the time. No one learns more about a problem than the person at the bottom.”
Finally, be confident. Over the years, I have found that male attorneys seem more capable of “faking” confidence than female attorneys. If you have done the work and are prepared, a little confidence in your position can be the difference between winning or losing that motion.
Do you deal with guilt in trying to balance your personal and professional lives?
Yes, when you are a working-mother, there is always going to be some level of guilt. It is impossible to be there for every classroom celebration, game or social event.
What single change do you believe would have the biggest impact on work life balance or quality of life?
Focus on the present. Worrying about all the things that I haven’t gotten to yet, doesn’t help them get done.
What part of “balance” do you struggle with?
I like a challenge and enjoy taking on new projects. Sometimes I struggle with over-extending myself.
What part of “balance” are you improving at?
I am improving at saying “no” to projects that I know I will not be able to fully invest in.
As a working parent, how do you balance your career and your role as a parent?
Obviously, my family comes first, but being a judge does mean that in addition to my typical work day, I am required to attend several community events and bar functions. Often, this means time away from after-school activities, homework and family dinners. Having a spouse that co-parents makes all the difference. Make sure you pick a partner that has similar professional and personal goals and work as a team to achieve them. I couldn’t balance it all without my amazing husband.
How important is civic and/or professional involvement to you and why?
The reason why I became a judge is because public service is very important to me. I have always had a strong desire to give back. I am currently assigned to the juvenile division. Helping a young person get on the right path is incredibly gratifying. Recently, I implemented Broward County’s first “Girls Court” Initiative. The purpose of this specialized court is to offer gender-responsive and strength-based services, along with traditional court sanctions. The goal is to decrease girls’ and young women’s further involvement in the juvenile and adult court systems, while addressing the trauma and victimization that typically lead them there. If we rehabilitate just one child and save him/her from a life of imprisonment, it makes all the stress and sacrifice worthwhile.
What’s the best advice you would give a young lawyer seeking to strike a “balance” between family, self, and the practice of law or achieve better quality of life?
Establish friendships with women in all stages of their lives and careers:
First, find a mentor. There is no reason to recreate the wheel. An experienced mentor can share how she succeeded and give you advice on how to do so yourself.
Secondly, be a mentor. Help those who come behind you. We must all work together and support one another. Sometimes, other women can be our own worst enemies. Don’t succumb to this mentality that ends up holding us all back. It can also be quite therapeutic to re-live previous challenges and help another woman overcome them. Helping someone else is very rewarding and at the same time, may cause you to realize just have far you’ve come.
Finally, make sure you find time for friends that are your peers. You need to have a friend who is facing the same challenges that you are facing. It can be comforting to understand that you are not alone.
Any other parting words of advice?
Be nice. Even when dealing with an adversary who isn’t so nice. Don’t lower yourself to their level. Use your professionalism to try to elevate them to yours. Judges often know who the “difficult to deal with” attorneys are. Don’t allow yourself to be identified as one of them.