Celeste Higgins, J.D. ’90, a double Cane, knew at the age of 13 that she wanted to be a trial attorney. “I was studying the Declaration of Independence and the writings of Thomas Jefferson, Voltaire, Hobbs, John Locke, and Montesquieu,” said Higgins, “and it resonated with me. I was also drawn to the ‘thinking on your feet’ element of trial work.”
Celeste Higgins, JD '90
She chose to attend Miami Law because, aside from being an excellent law school with strong ties to the South Florida community, she is a Miami native who wanted to remain present in her mother’s life.
After classes got underway, she quickly trended toward criminal law and indigent defense work. In addition to a fondness for curricula that could help her serve the public interest, Higgins was involved with University of Miami Law Review, Student Counsel, Moot Court, Mock Trial competitions, and the National Trial Team. When asked whether she recalled a formative experience from Miami law, she harkened back to the Contracts midterm during her 1L year. “I underperformed in the most remarkable of ways,” said Higgins. “That caused me to meet with my professor to talk through how I was studying and how I was distributing my attention. By the time I took my finals, I was much clearer on what I needed to focus on, how to study, and how to take the tests. After that, I never had a problem and was on the Dean’s List a few semesters.”
After graduating in 1990, Higgins clerked for the Honorable Federico A. Moreno, a United States District Judge in the Southern District of Florida. Following her clerkship, Higgins joined the Federal Public Defender’s Office in Miami. Over the next 25 years, Higgins served indigent defendants as an Assistant Federal Public Defender.
In addition to spending a decade as a Supervisor in the office, she litigated over 90 jury trials in Federal Court having to do with drugs, guns, immigration, fraud, rape on the high seas, terrorism, bank robbery, extortion, and slavery. Higgins has also argued before the United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit, filed several Petitions for Writ of Certiorari to the United States Supreme Court, and worked with the American Bar Association Rule of Law Initiative programs as well as other USAID Rule of Law programs.
Higgins encourages aspiring litigators to take the Litigation Skills program while in law school. Then, “work hard, pay attention to the Rules of Evidence, take an opportunity to participate as a second, third, or fourth chair in trials, and go work as a Certified Legal Intern. Also, if you can’t actually participate in a trial, at least go view real trials.”
Higgins, who taught as an Adjunct Professor at Miami Law before assuming her new role as Associate Director of the Litigation Skills program, said that she is “always astounded to find out that my students in the Litigation Skills classes have never gone to court to observe real trials . . . [because] if you want to know what an attorney prepares for—what is at stake if things go wrong—go watch a trial.”
Higgins described the Lit Skills program as “one of the best in the country” and “a strong recruiting tool for the best students” who eventually want to do litigation. She explained that the school is looking to enrich the program with more reach, and it is her hope that, with 18 years of local and international teaching experience behind her, she can help in that endeavor.
Finally, in a message to students who are interested in joining the Litigation Skills program, Higgins encourages them to take advantage of all of the programs that her department offers, and to “work hard and take advice from anyone who will give it” because the Adjunct Faculty in the program “are the best of the best in this city and are a wealth of information.”