Prestigious Women Awards Honorees: Michelle Otero Valdes

Otero Valdés has been engaged exclusively in the practice of maritime, admiralty and marine insurance law for over 25 years, is Board Certified in Admiralty and Maritime Law by the Florida Bar since 2007 and is experienced in all facets of admiralty and maritime civil and criminal litigation. Otero Valdés is licensed to practice law in all the District Courts in Florida, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit and the U.S. Supreme Court. Otero Valdés has authored numerous published articles and books focused on maritime issues, is regularly asked to speak at conferences throughout the world on a variety of topics of interest to the maritime industry and routinely blogs on a wide variety of topics related to the maritime industry.

Favorite quote: Under promise and over deliver

Fun fact: I used to play numerous wind instruments including the clarinet, oboe, bassoon and others.

How do you unwind after a long day of work? Esoteric discussions out in the backyard of my house with my daughters, aged 17 and 21. Seeing the world through their eyes is so exciting and calming at the same time.

What challenges have you faced in your career, and how did you overcome them? The Admiralty Bar was very much a “Boy’s Club” when I barged in. No maritime law firm would hire me, claiming I needed to be ex-Navy or ex-Coast Guard—branches of the military which were also discouraging to women. One lawyer during an interview suggested I should change my focus towards family law. I negotiated a ridiculously low salary to start work at a maritime law firm but said that if I did not get a 50% raise the next year, I would walk. Well, I got that 50% salary raise and remained at that firm for another two years before landing my dream job.

What has been the most monumental moment of your career thus far? Having an opposing attorney in a case that was bitterly fought recommend me after we resolved the case to his clients. There is no better adulation than your own peers respecting your abilities and trusting you to handle work for their clients.

Who are your role models? Margaret Thatcher, Elaine Chao, Sandra Day O’Connor, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever gotten? Drown out the naysayers, its just noise.

What advice would you give a young woman at the start of her career? Never, ever, ever deviate from your moral compass. It will always guide you when there are others out there ready to try to guide you down the wrong path.

How does being a woman has impacted your career? Being consistently underestimated in a male-dominated area of law is my not-so-secret weapon. As a woman, I feel that I have had to constantly prove myself, working harder, smarter and better than every other guy in the room. I feel like I am judged for my appearance as well as my work product. Nevertheless, being underestimated, while being a challenge, is also a great asset.

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