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Profile: First Latina Takes Key Role in NJ Law, Finds Time to Juggle Plenty More

Evelyn Padin, new president of the New Jersey State Bar Association, runs a private practice and a real-estate business; she’s also a restaurant owner

Evelyn Padin

Who: Evelyn Padin

Hometown: Mountainside

Family: Daughter Sophia

Job: Lawyer

Why she is special: Padin is the first Latina to serve as president of the New Jersey State Bar Association; she was sworn in May 16 at the association’s annual dinner in Atlantic City.

Her background: Padin has deep roots in Hudson County. She was born in Jersey City and raised in Hoboken. She established her private law practice in Jersey City and also owns a restaurant downtown. She earned a bachelor’s degree in psychology from Rutgers University and a master’s degree in social work from Fordham University.

Padin worked for several years as a social worker in a hospital, but she found it frustrating and felt that she wasn’t making much of a difference in people’s lives. “I wanted to advocate more for people who didn’t have a voice,” she said. She credits her father with steering her into law, saying he always wanted her to be a lawyer. She got a law degree from Seton Hall University and was admitted to the bar in 1992.

Her many roles: Padin’s practice focuses on family law and personal injury matters; she finds it very satisfying to be able to help people, “to give them a voice in court.” She is a former Jersey City municipal court judge who also served as counsel for the Jersey City Office of Landlord Tenant Relations. Padin has been active in the county and state bar associations and is a former trustee of the Hispanic Bar Association. She also serves on the board of governors of the New Jersey Association for Justice. And she is a founding member of the Justice Virginia Long Family Law American Inn of Court, an organization of legal professionals working to enhance and improve the professional and ethical quality of family law practice.

“What I love about the law is that it gives people the opportunity to resolve their differences in a very civil manner, with dignity and fairness,” Padin said. “We play an important role in ensuring the fundamental importance of the role of the law in our society.”

Getting involved: When Padin became an attorney, there were not many Hispanic lawyers, and particularly not Latina lawyers. She joined the Hispanic bar to network and assist other lawyers. Another member of the Hispanic bar brought her to a state bar meeting. Getting onto the bar’s board of trustees was difficult and required her serving as a county representative first. She eventually made it onto the board and moved up the ranks. Padin said it is “getting way better” for Hispanics to get involved in the state bar, but she wants to improve that further.

Major goals: In her time at the helm of the state bar association, Padin said she wants to work to open up the bar to “everybody,” regardless of their race, ethnicity, religion, disability status or sexual orientation.

“I want to continue to work on this issue of diversity and inclusion,” she said. “I look forward to working to continue to remove barriers and keep them down in society and the legal profession, to ensure people of diverse backgrounds are treated with respect and have access to opportunities in our communities and profession; and to encourage everyone to put their talents to use for the common good.”

Padin also is pushing for malpractice insurance reform for attorneys. She said only five companies insure New Jersey lawyers and the premiums are “very high.” About seven of 10 attorneys are solo practitioners or in very small firms and getting insurance is their “biggest challenge,” she added. “The way things are going right now, we need the system to be revamped,” Padin said.

She is also promoting an effort that involves the bar’s Lawyers Helping Lawyers initiative. In small and solo practices, when an attorney gets seriously ill, their clients can suffer because there is no one to take over the caseload. This effort helps lawyers to plan for such an emergency, as well as encouraging lawyers to help those members with cancer or other long-term illnesses.

And she wants to continue to promote and expand the popular Law Day program currently operating in Union City. Through this program, members of the community come to a location and can talk to lawyers about issues ranging from family law to immigration. “It’s for people who customarily cannot afford to see an attorney,” Padin said. “That’s the key component.”

What else she does: Padin says she is “always on the go.” She is also a businesswoman who owns real estate and currently is building a 17-unit building in downtown Jersey City. She owns the Hard Grove Cuban restaurant in the city and was named one of this year’s 20 Women’s Entrepreneurial Leadership fellows by the James Beard Foundation, which supports woman food industry entrepreneurs, restaurant owners, and chefs to grow their careers and scale their businesses.

And as co-chair of the Carevel Foundation, which works to enrich the lives of children, woman and men by supporting initiatives in the arts, education, youth development, affordable housing, health and human services, Padin shapes and approves the foundation’s strategies and sets the overall direction of the organization.

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