Photograph by Shawn J. Soper/Maryland Coast Dispatch

Circumstances have changed since the Hon. Mary Margaret Kent, W’77 and L’80, began hearing cases in 1996. An administrative judge had just appointed her the first family law magistrate in Worcester County, Maryland. The newly created position’s workload was one thing on paper but something else in practice.

“At that time, it was contractual. We were at-will employees, and there were no benefits whatsoever,” she said. “We were getting paid part time, but we were not working part time.”

Still, she recognized it as an opportunity to establish the new position in the county, set policy, and take an important career step, moving from practitioner to the bench. The judge who appointed her had recognized her skill arguing family law cases, often as a court-appointed attorney, and now, she’d be the one hearing them.

She’s been adjudicating cases ever since. Today, she is an associate judge with the Worcester County Circuit Court and the first woman to sit on that bench. Her 2018 transition from magistrate to circuit court judge was largely seamless, given her experience. Juvenile delinquency cases, for example, have a lot in common with criminal law generally, and she had years of practical knowledge of court procedure.

Hearing cases for decades has also meant getting a firsthand look at the attorneys arguing them. For Richmond Law students today, Kent offers three words of advice: “Prepare. Prepare. Prepare.” Read the rules and the annotations that follow, and understand why those cases are cited. She tells her law clerks the same thing.

“Don’t give me this write-up unless you know exactly what these cases in the back stand for,” she said, “and why, when they’re quoted to me from counsel, I may consider them or may not.”