Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Spotlight: Geralyn M. Passaro, Partner
Even as a young girl, I wanted to be a lawyer fighting for the rights of others. I recall watching a talk show with my mother when I was nine years old which talked about the plight of the mentally ill due to deinstitutionalization. It was then I knew I was going to be an attorney.
I was the first in my family to earn an undergraduate degree, no less any postgraduate education. I earned my law school degree from University of Miami in 1986 and then joined the Florida Bar. Before law school, I had a career in law enforcement and an undergraduate degree in criminal justice. Despite my background, which would have been well-suited for a practice in criminal law, I found myself exposed to insurance defense work as a young lawyer and loved it.
I joined an old-line Miami insurance defense firm, which was founded in 1926. I was trained to be a litigator, which I enjoyed, but it was hard being a young woman in a room full of male lawyers. I was repeatedly mistaken for the court stenographer and called “sweetie” and “honey.”
When I first started practicing, the firm’s lawyers would go to attorney-only lunch at a private Club every Friday. The Club was exclusively for men but on Fridays, they would allow women to accompany the male members. During those days, I was one of the few women permitted in the Club.
Despite these obstacles, I was promoted to partner after just 5 years, and then shareholder, and ultimately managing partner of a multi-office practice. I was fortunate that the older partners I worked with were progressive for that era. As a result, I was allowed to try my first case within my first two years of practice and tried many more cases thereafter.
While I enjoyed my active litigation practice, I struggled to find the right family balance and being a parent to my two children. I distinctly recall an instance where I was in a courtroom in a large commercial damages case with about 15 male attorneys. I was pregnant and seeking a continuance of trial due to my anticipated due date when the presiding male judge came in the courtroom and literally said, “I hear one of you is pregnant.” I quickly became the unicorn in the room and all eyes were glaring on me. Although I received a continuance of that trial, it was only a two month extension before having to complete discovery and be ready for trial, allowing me only a three-week maternity leave. To this day, I regret having missed the first two months of my daughter’s life.
I stayed with my first firm for 14 years, until 2000 when we disbanded. I thereafter joined a professional liability defense firm in Fort Lauderdale. I stayed there for 9 years until I was asked to launch Litchfield Cavo LLP’s new Fort Lauderdale office in 2009, where I am currently a capital partner.
I am very appreciative of the support and the mentoring I received throughout my legal career and take great care when mentoring others into the next generation of female litigators.
– Geralyn M. Passaro, Partner