ADVOCATE AND ACTIVIST: “The legal profession is really a helping profession, as hard as that sometimes may be to remember. I have always had a variety of clients — brilliant scientists, business people, educators, physicians, authors, and other creative people who have given me the privilege of working with them. And that is what it is — a privilege.” Attorney Cathryn A. Mitchell looks forward to putting her legal expertise to work for those who need it.
Princeton has been home to attorney Cathy Mitchell for 21 years. For much of that time, she practiced law with her husband, until three years ago when she left that partnership — both personally and professionally. It was at that time that her life in Princeton started anew, reports Ms. Mitchell.
“In many ways, my situation was not entirely different from that of a well-educated mother who left the work force for some time. In my case, my law practice — counsel to global business — had focused on the work and aspirations of my then partner. When that connection was severed, all of that changed. I am now living and working in accordance with my own values. As Gandhi said, happiness is when your thoughts, actions, and words are in harmony, and now, for the first time in my life, they are.”
Ms. Mitchell’s transformation, new sense of fulfillment, and professional reawakening evolved while facing the challenges and opportunities that came along with ending a partnership that spanned almost two decades.
“I gave myself permission to let go of the attention paid to another person’s dreams, and, for essentially the first time, to consider how to pursue my own. For example, I have always wanted to teach in a law school, and recently, I was a guest lecturer for an entertainment law class at a university in Philadelphia. It was a mind-blowing experience.”
High achievement has been a hallmark of Ms. Mitchell’s life. Born in New York City, brought up in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., she attended the University of Florida, where she received a BS, BA in finance. She continued her education at the University of Florida Law School in Gainesville, and while there, she was named to the University of Florida Hall of Fame, and was a prosecutor on the student honor court.
In law school, she earned three “Book Awards”, which recognized the highest grades in the class, in her case: business organizations, corporations, and criminal procedure.
After law school, Ms. Mitchell worked in a boutique litigation power house firm in Miami known for antitrust and intellectual property (IP) litigation, and white collar criminal defense. She honed her IP litigation skills there on cases for famous watch companies, such as Rolex and Cartier.
Moving to Princeton in 1991, Ms. Mitchell worked in the legal department of Prince Sports, then in Lawrenceville. While there, she began filing trademark applications, handling endorsement agreements for athletes, human resource and employment issues, and anti-trust compliance.
In 1993, she moved to the Princeton office of a New York law firm, but eventually left to start her own practice, which her husband would ultimately join.
Her view of career choices has changed dramatically, reports Ms. Mitchell. “I put the professional desires and goals of my husband before my own, despite the fact that I had worked hard to earn a law degree. I cannot say I would make the same choice today, and certainly would not recommend it to my daughter, or a friend. It was not the smartest thing to do.”
True To Yourself
“It is important to retain professional independence, not only to ensure that your professional identity remains distinct and intact, but also to give you an opportunity to be true to yourself and to follow your own professional aspirations.”
Having said that, she does look back with pride on a number of her cases over the past years.
“The law suit in Miami by Pat Metheny against soon-to-be governor of Florida Bob Martinez for using sound-alike music in his political advertisement was one of them. It was a right of publicity case, and brought to the forefront a number of music-intellectual property issues that had propelled me into the field in the first place.”
Then, there is the 10 years she spent as “private prosecutor” for Princeton University — different in scope and subject from her other cases, but legally challenging and interesting.
“This work for the University had me interfacing with the Princeton University Office of Public Safety — the campus police force — almost every day for a 10-year period. I attended court on behalf of the University in Princeton Borough and Township two days every week, and handled dozens of trials and hundreds of criminal cases. It was great to be on my feet and interacting with the community in this way.”
Ms. Mitchell also spent 12 years as the law columnist for The Times of Trenton. In addition, she has published seven scholarly pieces for the New Jersey Law Journal in the past two and a half years, for a total of nearly 75 overall.
She has received numerous awards and honors, including the 2006 NJ Biz “Best 50 Women in Business” award; 2005 Princeton YWCA’s Tribute to Women award; Who’s Who 2002 New Jersey Business Leaders; “40 Under 40” (New Jersey’s most successful business leaders under 40), recognized by Business News NJ, among others. She has also served as president of the Princeton Bar Association.
Epitome of Community
Community is paramount to Ms. Mitchell, and this is one of the treasures she finds living in Princeton. “I believe that community is transformative and Princeton, to me, is the epitome of community. It’s the synagogue that is two blocks away and its two incredible rabbis, including a young woman rabbi for my daughter to see; the shopping center, the library, the Arts Council, tennis courts, free summer concerts Thursday nights at the shopping center, the farmer’s market at the library plaza, Princeton Merchants’ Association, Princeton rescue squad, where my son hopes to become a cadet.
“There is the tight-knit community in which I live in Princeton Borough, with its block parties and neighborhood picnics; Westminster Conservatory where my son has studied music for 13 years, and the Community Park pool where he is a lifeguard; the Hun School of Princeton, where my daughter is finishing middle school; also the Mercer County Bar Association in which I am very involved.
“I am teaching my children that safety and happiness and security and joy come from connection; from being part of something larger than yourself, from giving whatever you have to help others. These are my values, and this town, on its own, teaches these values to my children by allowing them to experience them for themselves.
“Professionally, I have worked on Nassau Street for most of the past 20 years, and I am continuing to do so now at 44 Nassau Street, Suite 310. This is a familiar, welcoming, and safe place for me. On the surface, I know virtually every banker and shop owner by name, and they know me. That gives every day a ‘Cheers’ feeling that very few people have today. I run into clients, contacts, referral sources, mothers and fathers of my children’s friends all day long. Every week I see a Third Circuit Court of Appeals judge and an Appellate Division judge, friends who are professors at Rutgers, neighbors, etc. It’s a welcoming feeling of connection.”
Ms. Mitchell’s practice is more diverse than in the past, she adds. She finds that she is often playing the role of “consigliore” or trusted advisor in legal matters, whether it is helping a physician in the hiring of a new employee, or sorting through some issues that may ultimately involve the dissolution of a business partnership, or discussing the ramifications in the event of the end of a marriage.
“This has come as somewhat of a surprise to me,” she notes. “Clients are asking me to handle different types of matters for them, because of trust. This is a humbling experience. I also continue to mentor young women and girls, especially young female lawyers, and I donate a portion of my revenue to Womanspace in connection with which I am doing a significant amount of advocacy; in particular, regarding safeguarding the protections of the Violence Against Women Act.”
In addition, she continues to file trademark and copyright applications for companies. As she points out, “It’s a rather routine process, but the reason that clients might select me is because there are software licensing issues, and some intellectual property litigation issues potentially as well, and I am therefore available to handle the more complex tasks as they arrive.
“And, if we are talking about family matters, I have considerable criminal trial experience and an understanding of the municipal court system here in Mercer County. So to the extent that there may be criminal or domestic violence issues, which come up often in a family matter, I might be able to provide something a bit more comprehensive on those issues.
“Similarly, I have a finance degree and an interest in forensic accounting and finding hidden assets as well as white-collar criminal issues (forgery, etc.), and to the extent those issues may be present in a family matter, I could be a good resource there as well; in particular, working with experts and preparing clients for trial/settlement, as well as with complex issues of child custody about which I have significant knowledge and experience of my own.
“Princeton is a town with a long memory,” continues Ms. Mitchell. “When you do a good job for someone, they often remember it, and they want you to help them again. This does not just apply to attorneys, but to accountants, investment advisors, and other professionals. I have found that many people are saying something a lawyer can only dream of when she begins the practice of law: ‘I trust you, and I want you to stand by me in good times and bad.’
“Our justice system is the best in the world; our courts try their best, but they are overworked — we know that. They do the best they can, however. As lawyers, we have a responsibility to make our clients’ lives easier, to the extent we can. I can say definitively that I most enjoy the people with whom I work. I learn so much from them, from being around them, seeing the way they handle their own lives, and meet the challenges they face with courage and grace and resilience.
“And I do believe that in helping people, I am setting a good example for my teenage children, which is what matters most to me right now. I want them to experience for themselves what the Buddha says: ‘If you knew what I know about the power of giving, you would not let a single meal pass without sharing it in some way.’ And also, ‘Your work is to discover your world and then with all your heart give yourself to it.’”
Ms. Mitchell can be reached at (609) 921-8383, and firstname.lastname@example.org.