As a graduate of one of the first BSN classes from UF, Kathleen Touby (BSN 1965) was impressed by how accomplished and respected the College of Nursing’s founding dean Dorothy M. Smith was among colleagues, students and throughout the health care industry. Without realizing it, Touby modeled her own career after Smith’s, albeit in a different field.
“When I was in school in 1963, it was not a time when nurses, teachers or women in general were considered more than a disposable commodity,” Touby said. “Seeing someone like Dean Smith who had chosen more than just a mainstream marriage and children with a career as a sideline was very unique. She had a large personality and moved and spoke with authority. I was attracted to that role model.”
Touby graduated with the intent to continue with the Master of Science in Nursing program, but fate had other plans. After an internal dispute resulted in Touby’s delayed admission to the program, she decided to redirect her career path. She entered the graduate program in vocational rehabilitation at UF, which offered courses that combined her passion for medicine with her interest in helping others through counseling and psychological training.
After completing her master’s program, Touby married and worked as a rehab counselor in Chicago. She then returned to Miami, her hometown, to work for the department of vocational rehab. The next several years were spent working and starting a family.
After her second son was born, Touby’s personal and professional lives collided. A law school opened at Nova Southeastern University, not far from her house. This gave her the opportunity to pursue her interest in law. But, she was unsure that the years since college and the demands of her marriage might have made that desire just an empty dream. She decided to take the required Law School Admissions Test, or LSAT, and let that result show her whether this was the right path. At that time, she had a toddler, a newborn and her husband was recovering from a bleeding ulcer. He had been restricted to his bed for an entire year.
Although Touby was doubtful that she could perform well enough on the LSAT to be admitted to a law school, she took the test and scored the highest in her law school class. She entered Nova’s first law class in 1974.
In her last year of law school at Nova, Touby took an internship with the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Miami. She hoped to be hired at the end of the internship.
“At that time, they didn’t hire interns or women,” she said. “I had a lot to overcome.”
While she was there, she said she worked herself to the bone hoping to make a good impression. After graduating in 1977, the government imposed a hiring freeze, so her dream looked remote. But the hiring freeze also meant that there were fewer lawyers to do the work, so Touby offered to continue to work full-time without pay.
“I showed up at 7 a.m. after dropping the kids off at school. I worked all day, took work home. They were impressed. When the hiring freeze was lifted after eight or nine months, I was offered a job.”
After working for several years in the public sector, Touby made the shift to the private sector. She was the first woman hired by a prestigious defense firm. This was notable, since 40 years ago there were very few women in the courtroom.
After a few years as an associate in that law firm, she left and joined another firm as a named partner. A few later, she founded her own litigation firm. Eventually, her firm grew to 25 people and moved to downtown Miami. The firm represented insurance companies, as well as individuals who had been injured or damaged. This included personal injury, medical malpractice and product liability cases. Touby retired from Touby & Woodward, P.A., in 2014.
She said nurses make good lawyers because they are organized, insightful and determined.
“To me, law was one endless puzzle and a natural evolution because the thing I liked about nursing was helping people who couldn’t help themselves,” she said. “But I was only able to do that as a nurse in such a small increment, one person at a time. As soon as a patient got interesting and I got invested in their lives, they got better and left the hospital. I wanted to help people on a bigger scale. The law was a way for me to help more people in a more serious fashion and in a larger way.”