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The Redoubtable Ms. Crittenden

Judy Crittenden doesn't take no for an answer  

Published in 2008 Alabama Super Lawyers magazine

“Judy Crittenden became my mentor the first day I stepped into a Birmingham courtroom,” says Jessica Kirk, partner at The Crittenden Firm. Kirk recalls sitting in Birmingham’s Domestic Relations Court more than six years ago, just after moving from Montgomery. She watched the other lawyers chat amongst themselves. Only one took the time to introduce herself.

“It was the redoubtable Ms. Crittenden,” says Kirk. “I, of course, already knew her by reputation.”

Crittenden was the first female deputy district attorney in the state and a founding member of the Women Lawyers Section of the Birmingham Bar Association and the Family Violence Center at the YWCA. Since opening her own boutique firm specializing in divorce—one of the first in the state—more than two decades ago, she has turned her four-lawyer firm into a hugely profitable business.

Credit her unshakable confidence. In 1967, an admissions counselor at a prominent Alabama law school almost stopped her career cold, rejecting her on the grounds that she would take a spot away from a man. “It was insulting,” Crittenden says. “It was totally without regard to my abilities.” After all, Crittenden graduated cum laude from Judson College and was the editor of the school newspaper.

So she took her application to Cumberland School of Law, where she became one of only two female Cumberland graduates in 1970. She worked for the Birmingham Legal Aid Society and Jefferson County Family Court before going into private practice at a small firm. In 1984, she decided it was time to break out on her own.

“I was pretty confident, but it was nerve-wracking taking on all that financial responsibility,” Crittenden says. (At first, the female loan officer wouldn’t allow her to take out a loan without having her husband co-sign. “I told her I wasn’t going to do it!” Crittenden says with a chuckle. “I did business with them for years after that.”)

With the help of a business consultant, Crittenden picked family law, an area that was underrepresented in Birmingham, and rented an office in the same building as a large corporate law firm that didn’t handle divorces. From there, she watched the referrals roll in.

“I like to think that we are the best, and we build a firm around that,” Crittenden says. “We always want to produce a high quality of work and become more and more educated about our business.”        

 

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