Local Hero Vickie Turner Dreams With Her Eyes Open
Women's History Month: 2014 Honoree
For Vickie E. Turner, becoming a lawyer wasn’t a childhood dream, but as an accountant for the Las Vegas Gaming Commission, she felt that something was lacking and wanted more. Then a friend told her he was heading to San Diego for law school. The thought intrigued her, so she went along, figuring she'd just test the waters.
After auditing a course, Turner realized pursuing a law degree was right for her, so she applied to the University of San Diego School of Law and was accepted. Today, Turner not only is partner at Wilson, Turner and Kosmo, the largest female-owned law firm in San Diego, she is being recognized as a 2014 Women's History Month Local Hero honoree for the work she does in mentoring women and youth, and encouraging them to "dream with their eyes open."
“I had no idea this was going to happen,” Turner says in regard to her change in careers. “Which is why I tell people that it’s important to be prepared, so when one door opened for me, I was able to walk right through.”
Turner chose product liability as her specialty, which is an area largely dominated by men.
“Product liability is engineering and science based, and there were not a lot of women doing it,” observes Turner. “In my first year or so when I would meet with experts, they would naturally assume that I didn't know much or that I wouldn't be very effective in working with them. I knew that as soon as they saw me, there would be issues as to whether they'd want me, a young attorney, or if they'd prefer a male counterpart who was more senior and could do what they perceived to be a better job. That made me determined to be accepted and taken seriously. In order to be credible, I had to spend more time learning, so that when I got into a courtroom I’d know as much about the car as any male was going to know.”
Turner is grateful that throughout her career, there have been people who've been willing to guide her.
“I learned because of people taking the time, and telling me about the resources” she says. “I was fortunate to have some lawyers help me, but also some of the experts in product liability. For example there’s a green book on my shelf on metallurgy. An expert gave it to me and said, ‘If you’re going to cross-examine me, you need to read this.’ You can’t put on a product liability case unless you’ve had the educational background.”
The support she has received along the way, inspired her to pay it forward—through mentoring, by serving on boards, and also by setting up a family foundation. Among the organizations that she's been involved with are the Earl B. Gilliam Association, the San Diego Chapter of Links, Inc., the Lawyers Club of San Diego (www.lawyersclubsandiego.com/), Fund for Justice, Pathways 2 College, and the San Diego Volunteer Lawyer Program. Add to this, the hours Turner has spent teaching at both California Western School of Law and her alma mater, USD School of Law, and it’s clear Turner has a full plate. Luckily, she loves what she does.
"There’s no doubt in my mind why I do it,” she says. “It's because every step of the way, whether it’s been a male or a female, somebody has helped me. I acknowledge that freely, and feel it’s important to be out there helping someone and giving back. I love working with students, and have an interest in youth-related and women’s causes. Those are my two passions.”
Turner mentors women through her work with the Lawyers Club of San Diego, an organization with a purpose to advance the status of women in the law and society. Recently, she was overjoyed to learn that three women she’d been mentoring had passed the State Bar.
For three years she’s participated in the STEPPS Program at California Western School of Law, a simulation course where students gain knowledge and hands-on experience for the ethical practice of law.
“We bring the students into my office and they go through various practical tasks,” she explains. “The students interview a client, played by an actor, and find out how to write a fee agreement. They'll actually do some oral arguments. To me, it's that bridge that I didn't have in law school. Working with the students makes me feel invigorated. When you've been doing something a long time, it’s nice to have a fresh look at whatever you're considering at the time.”
In 2012, Turner and her family created the Turner Dream Foundation, to support leadership and educational enrichment programs for African American students. The foundation is a family affair that includes her husband, George, and their three sons, Marcus, Matthew and Maurice.
“We identify youth-related causes that are worthy of support and provide some funding,” explains Turner. “Sometimes, it's something I've read, and sometimes people send us letters. Sometimes it's just being out in the community and seeing a need.”
As she sits in her tony downtown office on the tenth floor, where she takes in a spectacular view of the city, Turner thoughtfully sums up why community service is so important to her.
“There are many opportunities that I want people to have access to,” she says. “And if you're not helping create those opportunities for them, then you really can't complain when they don't have them. For me, it's all part of my vision. I look at my kids and I see all the possibilities and I'm always telling them, 'Dream with your eyes open. Get out there and understand where you want to go.’ If you dream with your eyes closed you can’t see how to get where you're going.”