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Leaders in Law

Meet the Ladies of Crittenden Partners

When Judy Crittenden was growing up, she didn’t have many female mentors – especially attorneys — but she boldly chose to pursue her dreams. After graduating from Judson College in Marion, Alabama, she began applying for law schools. “I wasn't allowed to enroll in some schools,” she revealed. “They told me I'd be taking a man’s spot.” But she didn’t let that discourage her and was accepted into Cumberland School of Law. She obtained her Juris Doctorate in 1970, along with just one other female graduate, and began building her legacy.  

In 1984, while working with a consultant, Judy was presented with the idea that would change her life. “They suggested that because of circumstances in the legal community, I should open my own boutique firm and offer nothing but divorce and family law,” she recalled. 

Judy embraced the challenge and decided to rent space in the same building as one of the larger firms at the time. She began marketing her new niche to anyone on the elevator of the building. Soon, clients who asked about family law were directed to Judy. By 1985, the Crittenden Firm was formed, and its reputation flourished. 

“There were no role models for me; I was the pioneer,” Judy remarked. “And that’s a tough role. I had to figure it all out myself. I realized quickly that the boys didn't want me there. I had to get pretty tough pretty fast, and that’s what I did. I developed a reputation for being tough, and I still have it.”

Judy was the first woman in Alabama to hold the position of Deputy District Attorney. She co-authored "Alabama Family Law," the three-volume, comprehensive treatise on all matters related to matrimonial and family law in the state. The treatise is widely used by both attorneys and judges and is continually updated by the partners.  

Crittenden Partners is an all-woman firm made up of five partners, one associate attorney and Judy as of counsel. The current team began forming more than a decade ago, when Memphis native Laura Lee, now managing partner, graduated from the University of Alabama School of Law. “I realized family law intrigued me after helping a client obtain custody of his child in the school’s law clinic,” Laura recalled. “It was there I learned Judy was the person to know for family law. I started working with her in 2009 and never looked back!” 

In 2012, Paige Yarbrough graduated from Cumberland School of Law and got a phone call from Judy. Paige’s mother, a court reporter in Birmingham, is a longtime acquaintance of Judy, and although Paige didn’t foresee herself working in family law — “I was just going to keep the practice treatise updated while I waited to pass the bar,” she said — she ended up becoming one of the founding members of Crittenden Partners. She credits Judy for teaching her how to be a litigator, which, to her surprise, she grew to love. 

Crittenden Partners was formed in September 2014 with Judy, Laura and Paige as the founding partners. Since then, the firm has added three more partners to their ranks. 

After deciding to pivot from sales to law in her early 40s, Deborah Gregory enrolled at the Birmingham School of Law, graduated and started working for herself. During a case against Laura and Judy, Laura invited Deborah to join the firm. 

“I consider myself fortunate to have joined because I was in another firm that was all-women and very competitive,” Deborah shared. “But we are family here.” 

Then, in 2019, two more attorneys joined Crittenden Partners: Nicole Saia, a Virginia native and graduate of Cumberland School of Law and Kathryn Henry, a Birmingham School of Law graduate. 

“As a child, I wanted to be an actress or an FBI agent — but my uncle was a lawyer, and I looked up to him,” Kathryn said. 

“[When I graduated law school], I was 24 years old, and back then, there still weren't a lot of female attorneys,” Nicole added. “I knew of Judy, but I hadn’t worked with her. I practiced on my own for a long time and briefly worked with different firms before joining.”

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The firm deals in a variety of family law cases, including estate planning, adoption, prenuptial and postnuptial agreements, conservatorships and more. Suffice it to say the partners are never bored — they are pushing beyond their comfort zones on a regular basis and excelling in ways they never imagined. 

“I would advise people to keep an open mind about what they want to do,” Paige commented. “People go to law school — or any school — and have one idea of what they want to do, and they get trapped by that idea. If I hadn't said yes to Judy and given family law a try, who knows where I’d be.”

Crittenden Partners continues to expand both their office and their practice. “Not only are we doubling our office and conference room space, we've added estate planning and mediation divisions,” Laura commented. To enhance these new divisions, Paige has invested time in taking numerous continuing legal education courses in estate planning, and Laura and Nicole have become registered mediators. 

 “Judy is thrilled to see the next generation of leaders manage and expand the firm’s offerings—and our clients benefit from having a diverse set of services,” Laura added. 

When asked about the most rewarding aspect of their work, the partners spoke about their sense of fulfillment when helping clients navigate tough situations. While the atmosphere at Crittenden is fun and social, business comes first, and their unified philosophy is clear: to help clients gain a positive perspective. 

“I'm such a curious person, and family law is raw and personal,” Kathryn said. “My fulfillment comes when I do my job correctly, and I can positively shift someone’s perspective.”

“We’re all different, yet we have the same mindset when it comes to clients,” Deborah added. “We collaborate on each case and determine how we can obtain a positive outcome from a negative situation.”

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Of course, life is more than just work, and the ladies of Crittenden Partners value a healthy work-life balance. 

“Being a mother is my priority,” Nicole said. “Having the ability to leave the office to spend time with my son and attend his activities is something I value.” She also proudly serves on the Board of Directors at Hilltop Montessori School. 

In her off-hours, Laura enjoys traveling, spending time with her family and giving her two goldendoodles plenty of attention. She serves on the Executive Board for Young Lawyers and has held multiple Board positions for the Rotaract Club of Birmingham and The Birmingham Zoo. 

Parenting and traveling are important to Kathryn — she teaches her kids to expand their horizons by exploring and meeting new people. “I tell my kids all the time there's not just one way to do something,” she said. Kathryn is the treasurer for the Homewood Rotary Club and is also on the Family Law Committee of the Birmingham Bar Association. 

Meanwhile, you’ll often find Deborah elbows-deep in a DIY project. “I can tear a room to the studs and rebuild it,” she beamed, adding that she also loves concerts, traveling and spending time with loved ones. Deborah has served on the Birmingham Bar Foundation Board and the Public Service Committee. She frequently volunteers with the Birmingham Volunteer Lawyers, the Birmingham Humane Society and her church. 

“It’s hard to not carry family law home with you,” Paige admitted. “Some clients might need to talk after hours, but boundaries are important for anyone. I’ve been married for 12 years, and I have an 8-year-old son and 2-year-old daughter.” Paige is a former member of the Children’s Hospital Junior Board and an acting Board member of a local private school. 

“Don’t be afraid to have two careers — you can be both a mother and a lawyer. Enjoy life, and don’t feel like you have to sacrifice,” mused Judy. She founded The Birmingham YWCA Domestic Violence Program, is a long-time member of the Downtown Rotary and has been on the Board of Trustees for the Executive Committee of Leadership Birmingham since 1988. 

All five partners, as well as Judy, consider 2022 a great time for women to lead, whether in law or another industry, and look up to a number of inspiring, selfless individuals, from moms to female rock musicians, for paving the road to success for all women. 

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