By Melinda Rogers
Growing up in Kearns, Utah, Abby Dizon-Maughan always knew she wanted to be a lawyer. When the inevitable, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” question arose, a job in the legal field was always on the forefront of her mind.
Her first experience in the legal field came when she turned 18 and began working as a paralegal for a debt collection firm in Salt Lake City, not long after she graduated from Kearns High School in 1997.
She received a bachelor’s degree in political science from the University of Utah and a master’s degree in business management from the University of Phoenix, before she enrolled in law school, graduating from the S.J. Quinney College of Law in 2012.
Today, Dizon-Maughan’s childhood dreams of becoming a lawyer have come to fruition. She opened her own criminal defense firm following graduation, and this fall, was recognized by the NAACP with the “president’s award,” an honor given each year to a person for outstanding service to the NAACP and to the community. Dizon-Maughan has served as chair of the organization’s criminal justice committee, and in the past year worked on several initiatives and projects. She was recognized at the NAACP’S Freedom Fund Dinner for her contributions.
Dizon-Maughan spoke to @TheU about her experiences at the S.J. Quinney College of Law and how they’ve helped shape her into the attorney —and person—she is today.
Q: What made you choose the S.J. Quinney College of Law as the place to help you launch your career? How did the skills you gained here help prepare you for what you’re doing now?
A: I chose the S.J. Quinney College of Law because I am from Utah and wanted to remain here for school and for my practice. I am married and had one child before attending school (I have two children now). I did not want to uproot my family so that I could chase my dreams. My husband is a teacher and I did not think that it would be fair to ask him to leave his job, obtain licensure in another state, leave his friends and take care of our family so that I could go back to school. I was very excited when I learned I was accepted to attend the U. I worked with many attorneys I had come to admire who had graduated from the University of Utah, and I wanted to follow in their footsteps. I am very proud to be called an alumna of the law school. I look at all of the great graduates who came from our school and am honored to be listed among their ranks.
As a student at the law school, I learned the importance of creating and maintaining a reputation that one would be proud of. I discovered a truly collegial profession, filled with individuals who are curious and committed and passionate about their work. For that I am thankful. I found my peers and mentors who would guide me as a new lawyer.
As I mentioned before, I have always known that I wanted to be a lawyer; this was the only profession I wanted to pursue. But, it was during my 3L year that a career in criminal defense was confirmed. Working along side individuals like Kathy Nester and Kent Hart encouraged me to build a practice in this area.
Q: Tell us about the work you’re currently doing. What do you find rewarding about it?
A: I am currently practicing in the area of criminal defense. I have recently entered my second year of practice and I can sincerely say, without equivocation, that I really enjoy the work that I do. I opened my own practice in May 2014, ADM Legal Defense, which I find very fulfilling. It gives me such pride to tell people that I am successfully running my own law practice.
People often ask how I could do what I do; what they really mean is “how can you defend criminals?” I do not look at my job that way. I don’t look at this career in that way. I don’t defend criminals; I protect the rights of the accused. I am an advocate for those who are facing criminal charges, and I defend each individual’s rights afforded to them by the state and federal constitutions. My job is to ensure that my client’s interests are being protected. I give a name to the defendant, I give a face to the accused. I remind the courts, the prosecutors, the parties who are involved that my client is a person, not someone to be reduced to the label of “criminal.”
Q: You were just awarded the NAACP President’s Award, which is a huge honor. You began serving on the organization’s legal redress committee and are now the chair of the criminal justice committee. You’ve spent time on community issues related to use-of-force and the heartbreaking shootings at a Charleston church this year. What was your reaction in finding out that you would be recognized by this organization?
A: My initial reaction upon receiving notice that I would be receiving this award was shock. Then humility. I know several of the former recipients and it was a truly humbling experience to know that I would be listed among those individuals. Receiving this award has also renewed my commitment to the fight for civil rights and renewed my passion to protect the accused and the convicted.
Q: What are your future goals?
A: I would love to see legislation that would remove “the box” from all job applications. By that, I mean that I would like to see employers remove any questions about past criminal convictions from the application and move the question to a place later in the application process. There are many individuals who are precluded from finding gainful and meaningful employment because of past convictions. Sometimes these convictions are not relevant or pertinent to the job for which he or she is applying. By removing the question from the application, a greater number of individuals can make it past the mere application phase and into the interview phase.
Melinda Rogers is a communications specialist at University Marketing and Communications. If you have an interesting story idea, email her at email@example.com.