Imagine knowing the law from both sides of the career fence. Lawyer Nadine Atkinson-Flowers has been both a prosecutor and a defense attorney, racking up over 15 years on her professional belt. Today, the accomplished legal practitioner specialises in criminal and family law here in Jamaica as well as immigration law in the United States. She is also paying it forward with the recent release of her first book, On Your Feet Criminal Law Practice in the Jamaican Parish Courts.
“Every criminal case starts in the Parish Court, and I think it is imperative that we all know what happens there as members of the citizenry and persons who are interested in the Jamaican justice system,” Atkinson-Flowers told The Sunday Gleaner. Her book is a reference not only for newcomers in the field, but for seasoned attorneys. And if others are interested in learning about legal practices and procedures, this book right up their alley.
Her dreams of becoming a lawyer first began during that crucial year of high school: fifth form. It was her hope while attending St Andrew High School for girls to make that dream a reality. And it took pursuing and achieving her bachelor’s and a masters of philosophy degree before she graced the halls of the faculty of law.
“I decided to become a lawyer because I was and still am excited by the fact that if I can help one person with a legal problem, I have done a good job. I was always an avid reader, and I love to do research. Law lends itself to both prolific reading and substantial research. Contrary to what one sees on the TV dramas, law is so much more. It requires hours of research, legal writing, finding cases, talking and listening to your clients and putting your case together,” she explained further.
As a local lawyer of 16 years, five of which have been spent also working in the United States, she attributes her strong work ethic to her upbringing.
“I have a very large extended family who are always very supportive of each other. We support when there are achievements and when there are disappointments. I was always taught that education is the key to success, and every academic success was celebrated,” she revealed.
Always striving to give it her all, Atkinson-Flowers tries her best to remain positive, noting that while she gets down, she never dwells in that state for too long. “It is your personal willpower that will propel you forward, with support from your family and friends and God’s guidance. I don’t buy into this feeling of permanently feeling sorry for myself or forever wallowing in self-pity. I have had disappointments like everyone, I am sure, and I always think that I can get back up and shine,” she added.
Prior to becoming a lawyer, Atkinson-Flowers was a researcher, teacher, a public-education officer, and she worked in tertiary education as well. These work experiences, and the lessons they taught along the way, prepared her and pushed her to persevere and strive for excellence.
Honoured to have experienced both perspectives of law working as the prosecution as well as in the line for defence, she shared that she is a lover of the cut and thrust of a criminal trial.
Additionally, she enjoys, “the repartee in the courtroom. The adrenalin rush of addressing a judge or a jury. And of course, at the end of the case, my learned friends on the other side and I know that it is nothing personal as we are all doing our jobs, just from opposite sides of the coin as it were.”
Family law is most rewarding for Atkinson-Flowers because of the joy it brings to clients for getting their lives back on track, being reunited with their children. The satisfying feeling is similar for immigration law.
“Taking on a client who was hopeless about their situation and seeing that look when they realise they are getting their lawful permanent resident card, or their US citizenship, or whatever it is ,there is no greater feeling. Sometimes some of these clients have been away from their homelands for years, and they are finally going to be able to visit without fear or worry,” she said.
So how does she balance working in two different countries? With the help of a great support system. She went on to share that if the emergence of COVID-19 has taught us anything positive, it is that we can use technology to bridge gaps in distance.
Having already written three books, her fourth has to do with her aspirations to get the general public to have an understanding of the judicial system.
“Access to justice begins with an understanding of what the legal system is about. I literally started writing that book when I became a clerk of the court at what was then the Corporate Area Resident Magistrate Court Criminal Division at Half-Way Tree. It is now the Corporate Area Parish Court Criminal Division although I think everybody still simply says, ‘Half-Way Tree Court’,” she said.
As a new clerk, although she was armed with her degree from the Norman Manley Law School, she had no knowledge of what happened in the court. After asking questions and learning along the way, she made her necessary jottings. Those became notes that were transformed into a book released in June of last year by Ian Randle Publishers in Kingston.
“The response so far has been very positive. The book is also on Amazon, and persons from all walks of life have been telling me that they appreciate the effort to make it a scholarly text yet one that has information that is easily understood. I know of at least one tertiary institution that has put it on the list of required reading for the students on one of their law courses,” she revealed with great joy.
She hopes that the book will continue to educate and that she can continue to change life in all facets of her careers.
Outside of winning cases and writing books, Atkinson-Flowers has also been actively involved in volunteer mentorship with several young people over the years who have gone on to become successful in their areas of expertise.