Updated: Jan 8
When I first began my conversation with Magnolia Movido, she told me that you could write a book about her life experiences. By the end of our interview, I was in complete agreement, and I hope she writes that book one day!
Magnolia grew up in the Philippines, the daughter of a journalist. Her father’s work meant that congressmen came and went out of their house, and she got to see the country’s politics play out firsthand. The political side fascinated her and sparked her interest in a career in the law. The profession also ran in the family as her great uncle and uncle were also lawyers. More than anything, she saw being a lawyer as a good opportunity to help people, like being a doctor.
Magnolia studied political science as an undergraduate student and envisioned being a traditional litigation lawyer when she went to law school. However, the Philippines bar exam includes tax law, which was considered a “killer subject” and caused many aspiring lawyers to fail the exam. She decided to befriend her tax professor, Professor Ricalde, to get extra help with the subject. Professor Ricalde had also been a political science major and encouraged Magnolia to pursue tax law like she had. When Professor Ricalde was later tragically murdered, Magnolia was devastated and applied to Arthur Andersen to pursue a career in taxation law, in honor of her late teacher. She ended up replacing her mentor as tax professor from 2000 to 2009, even teaching two of Professor Ricalde’s children in her last semester.
In 2009, Magnolia moved to the United States to pursue a better life for herself and her three children, who were 7, 12, and 13 when the family came to the United States. In particular, she felt more resources would be available for her son, who has autism. The kids experienced bullying because they didn’t speak English well yet, but the family was determined. Magnolia attended the University of Denver and earned her LLM in taxation. She found herself competing with students in their 20s and 30s while trying to learn and understand a new culture at the same time. However, the scariest part of this period for Magnolia was the ongoing recession and not knowing what would happen when she graduated. In the end, all went well, and in August 2010, she graduated and went to work for Ernst and Young in Chicago for a year and a half.
While in Chicago, Magnolia took the exam to be an IRS enrolled tax agent. She describes the test as an extremely difficult exam with three parts: individual tax, corporate tax, and ethics. She knew a tax accountant who took it five times and failed, but she also knew that to move up in her career at the Big Four, she would need to be either a lawyer, a CPA, or an enrolled agent. With her new credential in hand, Magnolia returned to Denver in 2012.
Back in Colorado, Magnolia spoke with a gentleman who had worked for Ernst and Young’s predecessor, Ernst and Whinney. He now had a private law practice, and he encouraged her to take the bar exam because she never knew when she might want to use her legal skills. He also reminded her that she had worked hard to be a lawyer in the Philippines.
Magnolia finally decided to contact the Colorado Supreme Court regarding the process for taking the bar exam given her foreign education. They explained that she would need to submit a petition to be allowed to take the exam, and Magnolia went about preparing the application. Her application was approved, with the condition that she take the exam in 2013. She looked into bar review courses that recommended she devote 16 hours per day to studying. With a full-time job, Magnolia didn’t see how she’d have time to prepare for an exam where the laws were completely different from those of the Philippines. Ultimately, a colleague offered review materials, and Magnolia set about studying from 8:00 p.m. to 3:00 a.m. each day from November to February. Doing self-study, she wasn’t at all sure she would pass, especially as this was all taking place during the tax busy season.
When the day came to take the bar exam in February 2013, Magnolia faced other challenges. Her computer crashed while answering the third question of the essay portion, and she lost 45 minutes. But she figured the most important thing was to try, and she always had another chance to retake the exam in July. She wanted to leave a legacy to her children to realize that this country is the land of opportunity. She was grateful the Supreme Court had opened doors for her, so she took the opportunity . . . and passed during the first try!
Magnolia never thought she would practice law in the United States, but after 16 years with Ernst and Young, she is reaping the benefits of her hard work. She says the best part is meeting people in the legal community, which she describes as “fascinating” and very different from the accounting world. Most recently, Magnolia has become involved with the CWBA’s professional advancement committee. She was a member working on the due diligence for Laura Wolf’s application for the Davis Award. She said it was a very tedious process — calling people, writing, and presenting to the Professional Advancement Committee. However, she enjoyed the process immensely, especially learning how incredible Laura is. She looks forward to continuing with the Committee and getting to know others who are deserving of the award.
Magnolia also has an impressive resume of talents outside of the law. As a single mother in the Philippines, she didn’t want to be vulnerable if her car broke down, so while working as a law professor in 2008, she enrolled in trade school and earned her auto mechanic’s certificate. She also attended a different school to become a certified electrician. As if she weren’t accomplished enough, Magnolia has a passion for flying that dates back to her time as a 16-year-old ROTC representative to Canada where she flew planes with the Canadian Airforce. As a gift to herself, Magnolia enrolled in flight school after passing the bar exam in May 2013. She now has the required hours for her pilot’s license and is just waiting to complete the final exam.
These skills have come in handy at various times. When interviewing with Arthur Andersen Philippines, her experience forming a band with her sorority (she was the drummer) to raise money for law school scholarships got her hired on the spot when she agreed to put together a band for their holiday party. Thanks to her mechanic’s skills, her 23-year-old daughter now knows what is wrong if she hears something with her car and can catch problems early. And, during a 2019 car crash where an 18-wheeler hit her small Honda, Magnolia credits her pilot’s skills for keeping her from panicking and helping her maintain control of her car.
With all she has done, how does Magnolia balance her career with motherhood? She feels that women who are mothers need time for themselves as well. If you’re not happy with your own life, you’ll just be going through the motions. But, if you find something you’re passionate about it, put your heart and soul into it. Once you’re happy with yourself, you’ll be happy with others. She likens this philosophy to putting your mask on first in a plane emergency before helping others. She admits that sometimes she doesn’t take care of herself, but she tries. Every week during the current pandemic, she tries to have a Zoom call with someone she doesn’t know, and she describes meeting new people (or reconnecting with others) as the highlight of her day.
Magnolia says she ended up being in a place she never thought she would be. In the Philippines, she only had one meal a day because that was what her parents could afford. Milk in the fridge was a luxury. She has a lot of gratitude and describes her story as one of perseverance and gumption. She reminds us to always remember to say thank you and be grateful for what you have. She also says that her wealth comes from the amazing relationships she has made along the way.
While she has come so far and accomplished so much, Magnolia says that she is still on a journey. Married last year, Magnolia now has a new partner on that journey. Unfortunately, just two months later, they learned her husband has a rare and aggressive form of cancer. She doesn’t know what will happen next, but says she is blessed to have such a great man in her life for however long they may have together. We wish Magnolia and her family all the best!
Kate Noble is a CWBA Publications Committee member and a legal editor with Colorado Bar Association CLE, the nonprofit educational arm of the Colorado and Denver Bar Associations.