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 Attorney co-chairs Judicial Externship Program

By Sheila Pursglove
Legal News

Mitra Jafary-Hariri’s interest in pursuing judicial clerkship opportunities was sparked after her first year of law school, when she did an internship for the Hon. Denise Page Hood, U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan. 

“My writing skills improved dramatically because Judge Hood and her law clerks took such an interest in mentoring me,” she says.

Now an associate with Honigman in Detroit, Jafary-Hariri went on to clerk for two of her “heroes,” Judge Arthur Tarnow and Judge Damon Keith, and got involved in cases that had local and national impact.  

“Both judges instilled in me the confidence to be an advocate for the causes I believe in and both have inspired me by their unwavering commitment to the City of Detroit,” she says. “And both have mentored many law clerks, like myself, instilling a confidence I’m not sure I would otherwise have been able to develop.”  

According to Jafary-Hariri, both judges give law clerks a tremendous amount of responsibility.  

“To know the judges trusted me so much with making recommendations on important issues built up my confidence — if they believed in me, then I knew I could meet their expectations,” she says. “Both are fierce protectors of the Constitution and gave me the courage to be strong in my opinion. Judge Tarnow used to say that a good law clerk is one who is not afraid to disagree with the judge or tell him when he is wrong. At the same time he taught me the importance of being patient and listening.”

Jafary-Hariri, who encourages others to seek out judicial clerkship and internship opportunities, has volunteered for the past two years on the Judicial Externship Program (JEP) committee under the leadership of Judge Victoria Roberts, working with Roberts’ former law clerk Sharika Robinson, now law clerk to Judge Keith. JEP places law students in judicial internship positions for the summer. The program is also developing a new component this year with JEP.  

“It’s a clerkship panel and program for law students to learn what a judicial internship/clerkship is, why it’s beneficial, and how to apply,” explains Jafary-Hariri, who with Robinson was recently named co-chair of the JEP program. “It’s a wonderful program that’s a counterpart to the Wolverine Bar Association Summer Clerkship Program.”

Jafary-Hariri describes a law clerk’s role as that of  “the judge’s lawyer,” responsible for certain cases, reading court filings, conducting legal research, and making written recommendations. 

“I would explain what a dispute was, what the state of the law was at the time, and make a recommendation,” she notes. “I drafted proposed opinions for the judges to review, and also attended court hearings, trials, and settlement conferences with the judges. Those aspects were sometimes the most interesting parts of the job.

“Each day it was rewarding to know you were helping someone get his or her day in court,” she adds.  “It was also exciting and interesting to help resolve a dispute and to be a part of cases that had local and national significance. I had the chance to work on many cases of first impression.”  

While clerking and interning for a judge is a wonderful opportunity overall, the most important aspect for Jafary-Hariri was the mentor/mentee relationship. 

“It was a delight to have the chance to work one-on-one with the judges on legal issue and analysis,” she says. “My legal research, writing, and analytical skills improved dramatically. Not only do you learn from the judge, the other law clerks, and staff, but you also have an opportunity to see many types of lawyering. It’s a great opportunity to see different lawyering styles and strategies. It also gives someone the opportunity to learn about many different areas of law.”  

Jafary-Hariri has carried those experiences forward to her associate position at Honigman, where she assists with commercial litigation matters. 

“I’m passionate about advocacy,” she says. “I love the fast-paced and unpredictable nature of litigation — it’s intellectually stimulating and rewarding to advocate on behalf of a client.”

Her zeal for the law dates back to her student days at Wayne State University, where she earned her undergrad degree in education, cum laude — and met Faye Nelson, then the WSU Vice President of Governmental and Community Affairs. 

“Faye was the first woman lawyer I had the chance to know well,” Jafary-Hariri says. “I always had an interest in the law and how it could be used to effect change — and Faye is the person who helped me realize that becoming a lawyer was a real possibility.”

But before venturing to law school, Jafary-Hariri earned a master’s degree in education from Pace University in New York City, with a focus on teaching students with disabilities — and spent two years as a Teach for America Corps member, teaching special education in a public middle school. 

“TFA was very supportive of my decision to pursue law school, and my teaching experience has been valuable in the practice of law,” she says.   

She went on to earn her J.D., magna cum laude, from Howard University School of Law, where she was honored with the CALI Award for Outstanding Academic Achievement in Torts II and Education Law, and served as managing editor of the Howard Law Journal. It was at Howard that she was first introduced to clerkship opportunities, panels and events.

Jafary-Hariri credits much of her success to her mother, Simin Hariri, who immigrated to the United States from Iran in 1979. 

“We’re extremely close,” she says. “My mom raised me by herself and provided wonderful opportunities for me. The sky was the limit, and she’s the one who taught me how important it is to give back to the community and to stand up for what I believe in.”

Jafary-Hariri’s enthusiasm for giving back includes serving as co-chair — with attorney Kristin Lusn — of Rivière28, an auxiliary group to the Detroit RiverFront Conservancy for active professionals. Seeking to cultivate a new generation of supporters for the Detroit RiverFront Conservancy by organizing fun and exciting experiences on the riverfront and the Dequindre Cut Greenway, Rivière28 includes two signature events — Light Up the RiverFront and Soiree on the Greenway. 

“We’ve had huge success in the past three years,” Jafary-Hariri says. “We’re committed to developing public access to Detroit’s international riverfront and raise awareness of the Conservancy.”  

In her role as Rivière28 co-chair, Jafary-Hariri has commissioned gallery-quality murals for the Dequindre Cut with the assistance of Street Culture Mash. 

“We’ve essentially turned the Dequindre Cut into an outdoor, public art gallery,” she notes.

Her community work for the city resulted in her being one of 15 people honored with a Vanguard Award from Detroit Young Professionals. The October 2 ceremony, hosted by WDIV-TV Local 4 meteorologist and reporter Andrew Humphrey, was held at Andiamo Detroit Riverfront.

A native of Waterford who is committed to the revitalization of Detroit, Jafary-Hariri enjoys dancing, music, and movies. 

“I love the arts,” she says. “And I’m very social and love to meet new people.”

She also enjoys travel; and during high school and college, travelled abroad almost each year. During college, she had the opportunity to spend two semesters abroad: a Holocaust Field Experience in Poland and Denmark, and a literature, language and culture study in Spain. 

“I took classes at the Universidad de Extremadura and lived with a host family. It was a wonderful experience,” she says.