Vickie E. Turner, partner at Wilson Turner Kosmo and adjunct professor at California Western School of Law, has one piece of advice for law students and recent graduates entering the job market: Be flexible.
“A lot of times students go to law school with a singular goal in mind, but I encourage people to explore a variety of options,” Turner said.
“It may not be the thing that they were originally interested in, but you have to be flexible in this challenging market. You might find something that you’ll ultimately do that you didn’t know existed.”
That simple maxim has held her in good stead throughout her life. As a child whose father was in the military, Turner moved around a lot — attending 13 different schools in the U.S. and abroad — before entering high school. Being flexible has also had its merits throughout a prosperous 30-year career, contributing to Turner’s confidence, sense of purpose, and the genuine joy she feels about helping people in her product liability practice.
Turner got her bachelor’s degree in accounting in 1978. She said two tax seasons as an accountant drove her to the law because although she loves numbers, she wanted more interaction with people. She got her J.D. from the University of San Diego School of Law in 1982. Shortly after winning the prestigious International Academy of Trial Lawyers Award for Excellence in Trial Advocacy, Turner accepted a position at Luce, Forward, Hamilton & Scripps in San Diego, where she became an associate and was named partner in 1989. For the past 14 years, she’s been a name partner at Wilson Turner Kosmo, a small 25-lawyer firm where a majority of the partners and associates are women.
Turner said the excellent training she got at a big firm was significant to her growth as an attorney. That training allowed her to go to a smaller firm and have a quality practice. In comparing the two, she said WTK is a family-type environment, with a better sense of teamwork.
“Whenever something comes in the door or we get a new client, it’s all for one,” Turner said.
As an adjunct professor at Cal Western, Turner teaches in the STEPPS (Skills Training for Ethical and Preventive Practice and career Satisfaction) program. She spent the past eight months running a simulated law office and working simulated cases with a group of students who learned real world lawyering skills under her supervision.
Along with the advent of computer accessibility for information, Turner said practical courses and clinics, such as the STEPPS program, are much more prevalent today than they were when she was a law school student.
“It has increased the ability of people to practice coming out of law school, and they’re receiving a broader education,” she said.
A mother to three sons, Turner said maintaining a work/life balance has been particularly challenging. As is her practice area, largely product liability and class action — which involves complex dealings with engineers who are typically male — and according to Turner, not generally used to working with female attorneys in that area.
Turner has successfully defended manufacturers, distributors and retailers in complex liability claims throughout California and in 12 other states. She represents a broad range of companies from pharmaceuticals to power equipment to homeopathic medicine. She was defense counsel for Ford Motor Company (NYSE: F) in a product liability case that was named one of the Top 20 Defense Counsel Verdicts in 2003.
Among the many awards and accolades Turner has received — she has been named one of San Diego’s top five product liability lawyers for five years in a row, was included in The Best Lawyers in America in 2010 and 2011, and named Best Lawyers’ 2012 San Diego Product Liability Litigation/Defendants Lawyer of the Year. She has also received outstanding service awards for her work in professional organizations, like the Earl B. Gilliam Bar Association and the San Diego County Ethnic Minority Bar Association, which are dedicated to fostering diversity in the legal community.
Turner said the reality of being a woman minority partner in a law firm is achievable despite the fact that ethnic diversity in the legal field has been steadily decreasing since the 1990s, according to a report commissioned by the American Bar Association.
“The opportunities are there for women and women of color, but fewer opportunities for women of color,” Turner said. “You give up things to become a partner in a law firm whether you’re a male or female, and I think the rewards are amazing. More recently as companies have come to respect and value diversity, being a woman partner can be a positive for companies who are looking for diverse representation.”
Turner is thankful for the professional awards and accolades, but said her community work with children gives her the deepest satisfaction. She is committed to assisting African-American high school seniors through the San Diego Chapter of Links, Inc. Achiever Program, and Pathways 2 College, organizations that helps students prepare for college.
“It’s wonderful to get awards, but those awards that have come as a result of my work in the community are the most significant to me,” Turner said. “What really keeps me going is community involvement.”