Law student works to bring about social change


By Sheila Pursglove
Legal News

Sean Riddell has not only worked hard towards his law degree, but also has spent his three years at Wayne State University Law School involved in organizations that have an impact on local and national communities.

Riddell spent his 1L and 2L years as co-facilitator of the school’s Chapter of the National Lawyers Guild – and in February, was honored as an Outstanding Law Student of the Year by the National Lawyers Guild Detroit and Michigan Chapter.

He also has been active in the student chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union; and in the Keith Center Students for Civil Rights, the action arm of the Damon J. Keith Center for Civil Rights at Wayne Law, focused on making socially just change in Detroit. 

“I love working with the progressive organizations – we’ve done a lot of good work in my three years here,” he says. “Each organization has a slightly different focus, but they all work towards improving our communities.

“It’s also been great for me because I found a good group of people through these organizations that became my support system in school. My favorite aspect of Wayne is the collaborative culture, both interpersonally and politically.”

Riddell also served as symposium director for The Journal of Law in Society, the scholarly arm of the Damon J. Keith Center for Civil Rights and that builds awareness about issues affecting Detroit, connecting with scholars, jurists, legal practitioners, community organizations, and students.

This year’s Symposium, held in early March, was a tribute to Professor Emeritus Edward J. Littlejohn, a leading expert on African-American legal history who played an instrumental role in the implementation of the Detroit Police Commission and who served on the Wayne Law faculty during tumultuous times in the 1970s.

“I enjoy the managing process and organizing, so putting together the symposium was a ton of fun for that reason,” Riddell says. “I also loved getting to talk with all the people involved in the event, from Professor Littlejohn to the participants to the people working with me behind the scenes.”

As a part of his law studies, Riddell has worked as an extern for Michigan Community Resources in Detroit; as a law clerk for Goodman & Hurwitz PC in Detroit; and as a research assistant to Prof. Kirsten Carlson. He also volunteered as part of a group that researched issues for the DeBoer v. Snyder marriage equality litigation

“The best parts of my job experiences are learning from the lawyers, clients, and community organizers that are involved in the same work,” he says. “Although I took one small portion of a much larger project, I strongly desired and was very excited to be involved with a very important and necessary case.”

Riddell earned his undergrad degree from the University of Michigan in 2009, with a major in American culture and minors in music and history.

“My favorite aspect of Michigan was the opportunity to engage with all the amazing people who attended school there,” he says. “There were so many people with so
many different experiences, and that allowed me to learn much more than I could have just from sitting in class.”

After graduation, he spent four years at Value City Furniture, working his way up from warehouse associate to salesperson and then to assistant manager.

Always interested in the law, he then headed to Wayne Law where his main interest has been constitutional litigation and legal aid; and transactional law for charitable organizations and small businesses.

“I was interested in learning how the world worked,” he says. “It always seemed like no one in my life could explain the legal reasons for things, so I wanted to pull back the curtain. I also felt that attending law school would help me become more involved with the political organizing currently taking place.”

With graduation looming, Riddell is mulling his career options.

“On one hand I’d like to combine my interest in business operations, my passion for social justice, and my legal education to help social movements and charitable organizations,” he says. “On the other hand, at some point in my life I’d like to do impact litigation for an organization like the ACLU.”

Outside of school and organizing, Riddell’s two main activities are renovating his house in East English Village on the east side of Detroit, and playing soccer year-round in the Detroit City Futbol League, where he also does volunteer work and coaching. He is also getting involved in a neighborhood activity.

“A few people that live near me have begun looking into forming a real estate investment cooperative so as to create more community control over the business districts in the area,” he says. “At this point, I’m researching the legal and financial issues surrounding the corporate form and its tax status.”

A native of Byron and Grand Blanc, near Flint, Riddell is a big fan of his adopted city.

“Detroit is great because of the high level of compassion and collaboration I see in the community and the organizations that advocate for the community.”


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