Justice Montgomery-Reeves: Stay open to opportunities
DOVER – Be open to unheard of opportunities found along the way, as expectations can limit what is possible.
That was the central message of Delaware’s newest Supreme Court Justice Tamika Montgomery-Reeves, who held a fireside chat at Delaware State University with its president Dr. Tony Allen on Wednesday, Feb. 5.
Before scores of students, including many hopeful attorneys, she answered questions about what set her on the path to become the first African-American woman to sit on the state’s highest court.
Taking chances was one of the big talking points of Montgomery-Reeves’ conversation. When she studied at University of Georgia School of Law, she hoped to get a position at Atlanta’s prestigious law firms. But when she didn’t, she took a chance to clerk for Chancellor William B. Chandler III on Delaware’s Court of Chancery.
That clerkship changed the trajectory of her career, as she discovered her love for corporate law. The rest is history.
“I had every expectation I would be in Atlanta at one of the big firms as a partner. Had that happened, I would not be sitting in front of you today,” she said. “It really forced me to broaden my horizons, and I’m now down a path that’s much better for me.”
Montgomery-Reeves practiced at Weil Gotshal & Manges in New York around the 2008 financial crisis. Following that, she practices at Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati in Wilmington, where Chandler practiced law. In 2015, Gov. Jack Markell chose her to fill the Court of Chancery, the business-focused equity court where judges rule on corporate issues.
The Court of Chancery was her way of using her skills in corporate law and interest in public service to give back to the community, she said. When she applied, she thought she had little chance of getting the spot on the bench.
“I felt like I would regret it,” she said. “If there’s something that you think you want to do, you definitely won’t do it if you don’t try. And if you try, it might just happen.”
On breaking barriers, Montgomery-Reeves said her parents pushed her to success, but she never tied it to her gender or race. When she came home with report cards with five As and one B , her parents told her to apply herself a little more to earn that final A.
“Frankly, I was pushed against myself to work as hard as I could,” she said. “It’s just how I’ve been and it’s followed me until now.”
Regarding her philosophy of law, Montgomery-Reeves’s goal is only to ensure justice is served. Moving forward, she would check whatever personal feelings she may have at the door to find “the right answer under the law for us all.”
Other pieces of advice Montgomery-Reeves offered students was to build their reputations and maintain it. Chandler also taught her to remember that case decisions impact on the people in front of these cases – the attorneys who argue them and the people who work for these corporations.
“How he treated every person that came before him in court is what really stands out to me. It’s something I emulate, and something that I think is important today,” she said.
By Katie Tabeling