Christina Utley began her legal career as a prosecutor in the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office in Chicago, rotating through several divisions including Appellate, Traffic, Juvenile Delinquency and Abuse/Neglect, and the Second District. After relocating to Michigan and opening her own firm (Law Offices of Christina Utley PLLC), Christina did criminal defense work as she transitioned into civil litigation areas such as personal injury, employment and contract law. Over the years, she has tried more than 75 cases to verdict, presented oral arguments before the Appellate Court, and acted as co-counsel on a high-profile criminal case that received national coverage. Christina also has provided pro bono representation to underserved clients through the Family Law Assistance Program.
During her spare time, Christina enjoys discovering new places and cultures, playing competitive tennis, experimenting in the kitchen, and exploring the DMV local scene. She also loves spending time with her two children who currently attend college and graduate school on the east coast.
When did you join the WBA?
Why did you join the Women’s Bar Association?
In spring 2021, I relocated to DC knowing only a handful of people. I made a major lifestyle change moving from Midwest suburbia to a thriving center of cultural, political, intellectual, and social activity. Recently, I joined the WBA to meet interesting, remarkable women who are also in the legal field, not only for professional relationships but new friendships as well.
What benefits do you get from being a part of the WBA and why do you think others should join?
Although I joined the WBA just a few months ago, I’ve already experienced some invaluable benefits of membership. Through the mentorship program, I was introduced to a seasoned attorney who offered good ideas and connected me to various other attorneys in DC; my mentor also proved to be wonderfully supportive. I also discovered that there are helpful webinars available to members as well as interesting guest speakers scheduled regularly. Finally, I’ve attended a few WBA events and have really enjoyed meeting so many friendly and dynamic women who have extended a warm welcome.
How has being a parent enhanced your career?
I think many parents would agree that time management skills improve greatly when you have kids. It’s not easy to draft a document to meet a filing deadline, drop off tennis shoes for P.E. class, attempt to figure out “new math” homework, and prepare for a motion all within a relatively short window of time. Along with that comes the need to prioritize in a meaningful way and find creative solutions in tough situations.
While my children sometimes tested my patience when they were younger, I think I’ve made an adjustment in terms of expectations and realized that remaining calm, patient and yet firm is usually more effective. Apparently, this disposition works well in negotiations with most opposing counsel as well.
Do you have a mentor/hero?
Both of my parents have very much influenced me in different ways and on many levels. My mother was very artistic and continuously explored her artistic interests including oil painting, Chinese calligraphy, piano, and cooking; she attended a well-known culinary institute and eventually became a master pastry chef. In contrast, my father was an avid reader all of his life, thrived on intellectual stimulation and encouraged critical thinking as a challenging approach to knowledge. I think my mom inspired me to follow my passions and my dad taught me how to reflect and analyze with reasoning.
What words of advice do you have for women new to the profession?
If I could go back in time and advise my younger self, I would encourage trying different areas of law and/or related career paths until you discover the type of position and law that excites you. I think the early years are a great time to explore and transition into other areas before gaining years of experience in one specialty area only to discover there might be a better direction for you.
What is the best advice you have received?
As a prosecutor right out of law school in the State’s Attorney’s Office in Chicago, I received an impactful piece of advice: protect your reputation. While it may seem obvious, I’ve never forgotten and, after 28 years, believe that it’s still sound advice regardless of your career path. Professional relations are key, and a sterling reputation is certainly helpful in fostering them.