Washington Lawyer - March/April 2020 - 17

FEATURE

Judge Tanya Chutkan
By Tracy Schorn

MAKING HER OWN MARK ON THE BENCH

A

s a young woman, Judge Tanya Chutkan aspired to
be a dancer, not a lawyer. Fortunately for the legal
profession (and perhaps tragically for Broadway),
after moving to New York City following graduation
from George Washington University, Chutkan discovered
she was "a competent dancer, not an amazing one."
Chutkan, who serves on the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia,
says she often tells this story to students, urging them to test themselves
and try things out. "Don't worry if you don't know what you want to do."
Shifting away from the dance world, Chutkan attended the University of
Pennsylvania Carey Law School, earning her JD in 1987. "I thought it might
be something I'd be good at. I enjoyed the process," she says.
A native of Kingston, Jamaica, Chutkan comes from a family of high
achievers. Her father is a surgeon, her brother and sister are both doctors,
and her mother went to law school the year after she did, graduating
from Emory University in 1988. Then her maternal aunt followed them
both to law school a few years later and is still practicing law at age 84.
"Mom always wanted to be a lawyer. She got married very young, and by
the time I went to law school, all of us were out of the house," Chutkan says,
adding that her father was very supportive. "They had to make some adjustments. [They] commuted back and forth until he joined her in Atlanta."
Her parents' supportiveness set an example for how to achieve a
balanced family life. "I've done a lot of reading and thinking about trying
to balance work and life for mothers, especially in the law," says Chutkan,
who had two sons during the 11 years (1991 to 2002) that she worked as a
trial attorney and supervisor at the Public Defender Service for the District
of Columbia (PDS).
"When I had my first child, there was no other woman in the Trial Division
with children. I didn't think of myself as blazing a trail. I wanted to try
cases, and it was hard." Chutkan recalls a lot of late Sunday nights spent
at the D.C. jail with clients.
Before joining PDS, Chutkan worked at Hogan & Hartson LLP (now Hogan
Lovells) for three years. Her associate class included Anna BlackburneRigsby, chief judge of the D.C. Court of Appeals, and Supreme Court Chief
Justice John Roberts. "You could tell he was on a whole different trajectory!" Chutkan says.
From 1990 to 1991, Chutkan worked at the law firm of Donovan, Leisure,
Rogovin, Huge & Schiller. Despite enjoying the culture and making friendships that have lasted to this day, Chutkan says, "I didn't want to stay and
be a lawyer at a big firm. I wanted to be a trial lawyer. I wanted to work in
the public interest."

"I was reading an article back then, in the American Lawyer, about a week
in the life of a public defender. I still have a copy. It was a profile of a
lawyer at the Public Defender Service named Milton C. Lee. (He's a judge
over at Superior Court, but he was in the Public Defender Service then.)
I read this article and thought, 'God, that's what I want to do!' I'd never
heard of the Public Defender Service." It took her a year and she landed
a job at PDS, taking a 50 percent pay cut.
"I remember starting the first Monday in October, like the Supreme Court.
All the lawyers start together, and you go through six weeks of training

MARCH/APRIL 2020

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WASHINGTON LAWYER

17



Washington Lawyer - March/April 2020

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Washington Lawyer - March/April 2020

Digital Extras
Your Voice
From Our President
Practice Management
Calendar Of Events
Women of Impact feature
The Race to End Roe feature
Solar Power Access Feature
Taking the Stand
On Further Review
Global & Domestic Outlook
Member Spotlight – Joesphine Wang
Member Spotlight - Fatemah Albader
Worth Reading
Attorney Briefs
Disciplinary Summaries
Pro Bono Effect
Portraits of Suffrage's Overlooked Heroes
Community & Connections
Last Word
Washington Lawyer - March/April 2020 - Cover1
Washington Lawyer - March/April 2020 - Cover2
Washington Lawyer - March/April 2020 - 1
Washington Lawyer - March/April 2020 - 2
Washington Lawyer - March/April 2020 - 3
Washington Lawyer - March/April 2020 - Digital Extras
Washington Lawyer - March/April 2020 - Your Voice
Washington Lawyer - March/April 2020 - From Our President
Washington Lawyer - March/April 2020 - Practice Management
Washington Lawyer - March/April 2020 - Calendar Of Events
Washington Lawyer - March/April 2020 - 9
Washington Lawyer - March/April 2020 - Women of Impact feature
Washington Lawyer - March/April 2020 - 11
Washington Lawyer - March/April 2020 - 12
Washington Lawyer - March/April 2020 - 13
Washington Lawyer - March/April 2020 - 14
Washington Lawyer - March/April 2020 - 15
Washington Lawyer - March/April 2020 - 16
Washington Lawyer - March/April 2020 - 17
Washington Lawyer - March/April 2020 - 18
Washington Lawyer - March/April 2020 - 19
Washington Lawyer - March/April 2020 - The Race to End Roe feature
Washington Lawyer - March/April 2020 - 21
Washington Lawyer - March/April 2020 - 22
Washington Lawyer - March/April 2020 - 23
Washington Lawyer - March/April 2020 - 24
Washington Lawyer - March/April 2020 - 25
Washington Lawyer - March/April 2020 - Solar Power Access Feature
Washington Lawyer - March/April 2020 - 27
Washington Lawyer - March/April 2020 - 28
Washington Lawyer - March/April 2020 - 29
Washington Lawyer - March/April 2020 - 30
Washington Lawyer - March/April 2020 - 31
Washington Lawyer - March/April 2020 - 32
Washington Lawyer - March/April 2020 - 33
Washington Lawyer - March/April 2020 - 34
Washington Lawyer - March/April 2020 - Taking the Stand
Washington Lawyer - March/April 2020 - On Further Review
Washington Lawyer - March/April 2020 - 37
Washington Lawyer - March/April 2020 - Global & Domestic Outlook
Washington Lawyer - March/April 2020 - 39
Washington Lawyer - March/April 2020 - Member Spotlight – Joesphine Wang
Washington Lawyer - March/April 2020 - 41
Washington Lawyer - March/April 2020 - Member Spotlight - Fatemah Albader
Washington Lawyer - March/April 2020 - Worth Reading
Washington Lawyer - March/April 2020 - 44
Washington Lawyer - March/April 2020 - Attorney Briefs
Washington Lawyer - March/April 2020 - Disciplinary Summaries
Washington Lawyer - March/April 2020 - 47
Washington Lawyer - March/April 2020 - Pro Bono Effect
Washington Lawyer - March/April 2020 - 49
Washington Lawyer - March/April 2020 - Portraits of Suffrage's Overlooked Heroes
Washington Lawyer - March/April 2020 - 51
Washington Lawyer - March/April 2020 - 52
Washington Lawyer - March/April 2020 - 53
Washington Lawyer - March/April 2020 - Community & Connections
Washington Lawyer - March/April 2020 - 55
Washington Lawyer - March/April 2020 - Last Word
Washington Lawyer - March/April 2020 - Cover3
Washington Lawyer - March/April 2020 - Cover4
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