Kudos: Efforts of law student result in national award

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By Sheila Pursglove
Legal News

Maya Younis has always been interested in the power of storytelling and earned an undergrad degree in communications and journalism from the University of Michigan-Dearborn and a master’s degree in creative writing from Wayne State University.

“Before law school, I set out to preserve and illuminate the stories of the targeted and disenfranchised. However, I quickly recognized that there’s a limit to implementing long-term and material change without a thorough understanding of the law. I hope to use my legal training to help shape public policy to impact those stories.”

Younis is now nearing the end of her studies at Detroit Mercy Law School. As president of the Women’s Law Caucus (WLC), she has made it her mission to increase community outreach initiatives and build partnerships with other student organizations to create networking opportunities and programming that explores the overlapping injustices experienced by marginalized groups.

One of her greatest efforts resulted in the WLC receiving a national award. As a 1L student and general member of the WLC, she led a month-long menstrual hygiene donation drive benefiting homeless and at-risk women in metro Detroit and raised awareness about period poverty. In four weeks, she secured more than $1,000 in monetary donations and roughly 4,000 units in-kind to distribute to local organizations—The Ruth Ellis Center, Vista Maria, Alternatives for Girls, the Pope Francis Center, and YWCA’s Domestic Violence Shelter, Interim House.

Her effort earned the WLC recognition and a 2020 award from the National Conference of Women’s Bar Associations, presented at the NCWBA’s Awards Luncheon at last July’s National Women’s Bar Leadership Summit “Owning the ‘Change’ Reaction.”

Due to the success of the donation drive, and positive feedback from the community, when Younis became WLC president in her 2L year, she made the drive an annual event; and in its second year, the drive provided supplies for two organizations as well as local community members affected by the pandemic.

“As an Arab-American Muslim woman, women’s rights have been central to the work I have done and am drawn to,” she says. “I believe addressing period poverty is one non-negotiable solution to achieving gender equity because it provides a pathway to economic freedom and opportunity.”

As WLC president, Younis organized and secured a grant to host a community lawyering workshop, “How to Be a Movement Lawyer,” with the Detroit Justice Center.

“The workshop was created to diversify the University’s programming and educate students interested in using their legal skills to advocate for vulnerable populations,” she says.

Last October, she worked in conjunction with Judge Michelle Rick and with Zenell Brown, Michigan state chair of the National Association of Women Judges (NAWJ), to host a virtual MentorJet speed mentoring program at the law school. MentorJet drew more than 30 participants, including students, practicing attorneys, and judges.

In addition to providing networking opportunities, Younis is compelled to provide female law students with the necessary skills to navigate their careers; and is working with NCWBA and WLAM attorneys to implement a “Negotiating Salaries” workshop in March.

And last year, WLC collected more than 25 used cell phones and accessories to raise funds for the National Coalition Against Domestic’s (NCAD) programs to end intimate partner violence.

Younis also serves as executive vice president of the Student Bar Association and is involved in the Arab American Law Student Association and the Black Law Students Association.

“I love each organization’s commitment to public service,” she says. “It’s great being in the company of so many other students who share a similar mission—to help make the world a little better than we found it.”

Younis also has kept busy with internships; at the end of her 1L year, she interned with Judge Arthur Tarnow at the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan. “I loved getting a behind-the-scenes look at the inner-workings of the court and the opportunity to learn from various attorneys, law clerks, and judges,” she says. “One particularly rewarding assignment involved a Section 1983 police misconduct lawsuit. It was exciting to apply my legal research and writing skills to a topic that touches so many people I know, and gain practice in weighing in as a neutral party instead of my usual role as an advocate.”  

Later that summer, she interned with The Miller Law Firm in Rochester; and also, in 2019, she enjoyed working directly with clients at the Family Law Clinic.

Younis spent last summer writing policy arguments with Street Democracy, a Detroit-based organization that represents indigent clients and addresses the systems that perpetuate and punish poverty.

She attended outdoor, social-distanced meetings with the  team every week—and the experience cemented her goal of pursuing a career in public interest. “It was great to get to know fellow interns and brainstorm solutions to various issues we were working on,” she says. “I wrote SCAO asking courts to adopt Street Democracy’s landlord-tenant resource sheets to help prepare those threatened with homelessness upon the termination of the COVID-19 eviction moratorium. I also wrote SCAO requesting they amend court forms to address a defendant’s ability to pay court fees before jailing them for not paying those court fees.”

In her leisure time, Younis is an aerialist, a writer, and enjoys playing golf with her father and siblings. She considers her family her greatest supporters. Her mother, an immigrant of Syria, is a doctor, while her father, an immigrant of Lebanon, is an engineer and commercial real estate entrepreneur. Younis shares, “It was always my father’s dream to become an attorney, but when he moved to the U.S. in 1972, language was a barrier.”

Younis and her brothers inherited their father’s passion: her older brother is a Wayne Law graduate, and a younger brother currently attends Wayne Law; while her younger sister attends medical school.



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