Workers' advocate . . .


Law student aims for career in Labor & Employment Law

By Sheila Pursglove
Legal News

As a non-traditional, first-generation student, Phaedra Wainaina found the answer to her dreams of a legal career in Wayne Law’s evening program, graduating with her juris doctor in December.

“I was able to maintain my high-paced lifestyle and pursue my studies,” says the Detroit native.   

With a focus on Labor and Employment Law, Wainaina spent this past summer interning for the UAW’s General Counsel’s office, working on a considerable amount of “impact” litigation within the national labor law arena, as well as authoring her first brief in support for a wrongful termination case before the National Labor Relations Board.

In an externship earlier last year for the NLRB, Wainaina conducted investigations of employers and human resources personnel regarding labor and employment practices. Gaining substantial experience, she closed her internship by drafting an advisory memorandum regarding work rules that was accepted by her Regional Director.

Earlier in her law school career, an internship at the U.S. District Court with the Hon. Marianne O. Battani taught Wainaina courtroom etiquette and decorum.

Throughout the remainder of her law school journey Wainaina served as an intern for the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Eastern District of Michigan, a law clerk at Rutledge, Manion, Rabaut, Terry & Thomas P.C. in Detroit, and a law clerk for Wayne County Corporation Counsel.

Each experience has offered her the opportunity to be an “atypical attorney,” and taught a set of skills that will avail her in most legal arenas, ranging from arbitrations to trials, she notes. 

Wainaina also has a heart for service. At Wayne Law, she served as an intern for the Damon J. Keith Center for Civil Rights Detroit Equity Action Lab, a student liaison of the ABA, the programming chair of the Black Law Students Association and the president and co-founder of the burgeoning First Generational Professionals Minority Affinity Group.

“Last year I attended the ABA Annual meeting and built unprecedented relationships with the national leadership,” she says. “Serving as a student liaison exposed me to a reservoir of information and inspiration that has helped me navigate the start of my legal career.”

Wainaina has served as programming coordinator for the Black Law Students Association, and as president and co-founder of the First Generation Professionals (FGP) minority affinity student organization.

“FGP was founded as a result of my overwhelming lack of awareness regarding law school and the legal practice,” she says. “It’s commonly known law school and legal practice are extremely difficult—for a first-generation student that journey is all the more challenging, and there was a great deal about law school I was completely unaware of.

“Wayne afforded me a great deal, far more than my scholarship and my degree,” she adds. “I owe much of my success to the administration for their advocacy, candor and unwavering support. Wayne Law not only offered me the opportunity to learn the law, it also taught me how to be a law student and an aspiring attorney.”

Wainaina calls her work as a research assistant for Professors Peter Hammer and Blanche Cook two of the most life-changing and rewarding experiences of her law school career. As Hammer’s research assistant, she studied both the current initiatives and the unmet need for diversity within the legal profession. In her work for Cook, she analyzed implicit bias outside of the classroom and its long-term implications on society, such as voter suppression and unequal protection under the law.   

An alumna of the University of Michigan with a dual degree in political science and Afroamerican & African Studies, Wainaina spent two years as Pontiac High School's College Adviser through the Michigan College Advising Corps. She helped increase the college acceptance rate by more than 40 percent and helped students secure more than $2 million in scholarships.   

As co-founder and vice chairman of QUAD College Advising, she helps lead the direction of the organization, secures and maintains partnerships, and develops the QUAD curriculum.

“My partner and I started QUAD in 2016 in response to our overwhelming desire to help underserved youth secure the best match and fit for their academic and professional futures,” she says.

The oldest of eight siblings, Wainaina is the granddaughter of a Kenyan immigrant and a West Virginian coal miner.

“My grandparents were able to settle in Detroit and build a legacy that I’m now able to contribute to,” says this Renaissance High School alumna, who does various community service initiatives with the Wolverine and Straker Bar Associations. “Detroit has fostered and forged me into the force that I am today, from DPS to depositions.

“The story of Detroit, pain and power, struggle and success, is the true personification of the woman I am and plan to become.”