Inspirational: Student aims to help minority women 'walk in their purpose'

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By Sheila Pursglove
Legal News

Jailah Emerson used to watch fictional lawyers on TV shows and wonder if some day she too could represent clients in court.

"It was difficult to picture myself as a successful attorney because attorneys I saw on television were not black, women, or born, raised, and educated in Detroit, like me," she says. "Through encouragement from my mentors, I built myself up to walk in my purpose and I intend to utilize my law degree someday to help others, especially minority women, walk in their purpose."

A first-generation college student, Emerson started that purposeful walk by earning her undergraduate degree in criminal justice/pre-law and comparative law at Michigan State University.

"Growing up, I saw how laws are such an integral part of society, and became cognizant of how laws affect minority groups like blacks," she says. "I determined a criminal justice degree would provide me with the foundational tools to foster the change I wanted to see in my community."

An undergrad internship at the Department of Justice taught Emerson about bankruptcies.

"I often heard about bankruptcies and I lived in Detroit when the city filed-however, my internship provided a more informed perspective on what exactly bankruptcies entail and showed me how bankruptcy intersects with so many other areas of the law," she says.

An alumna of Northwestern High School in Detroit, Emerson is now in her 2L year at the University of Detroit Mercy School of Law, where she particularly appreciates the downtown location.

"I love Detroit," she says. "I'm a Detroit native so it's always been my dream to attend law school in my hometown and establish life-long connections."

Emerson recently was elected as managing editor of Law Review for the 2019-20 academic year.

"Law Review has taught me to be very meticulous, a skill that will prove beneficial my entire career," she says. "I loved the autonomy of selecting my law review note topic-I enjoyed writing about civil rights excessive force claims in police use of force against fleeing motorists for my note."

Interested in becoming a litigator, she finds moot court helps drive that ambition.

"Having the opportunity to develop my writing skills and verbally synthesize complex issues, while developing relationships with colleagues is intriguing," she says.

A presidential ambassador for Detroit Mercy Law and a member of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority Inc., Emerson serves as vice president of the 2L class, and relishes serving as a leader, with the opportunity to speak on behalf of others.

She also is vice president of the Women's Law Caucus.

"It's provided the opportunity to utilize my connections, experiences, and legal education to contribute to the success of women, minorities, Detroiters, and first-generation college and law students," she says.

She planned and executed the first annual "Q&A Station" event at Alternatives for Girls in Detroit, placing 15 volunteers in five groups of three. Each station discussed a specific topic- women empowerment, college preparation, careers in law, what does success mean to you, and general information about law school-and teens rotated to each station after 10 minutes.

"The young ladies were so motivated after the event. I felt so humbled by the opportunity to actually give back to young women with backgrounds similar to mine," she says.

Emerson will serve as vice president of the Black Law Students Association for the 2019-20 academic year, and is a member of the Wolverine Bar Association, earning a 2019 Wolverine Bar Foundation-Damon J. Keith Scholarship for which she was honored at the 58th Annual Barristers Ball held on April 6. She also is a member of the American Bar Association's Standing Committee on Legal Aid and Indigent Defendants and a liaison for the Criminal Justice Section.

On top of all that, she found time to work at the Warming Center Clinic, and Expungement Clinic.

"It was rewarding to use my education to help others get a fresh start in life," she says. "I know a strong community means a greater quality of life for those around you. That means creating opportunities equally for everyone in society."

At the end of her 1L year, Emerson received a placement at DTE through the Wolverine Bar Association's Summer Clerkship Program, and worked in the general counsel department where she was exposed to several practice groups and gained life-long mentors. The internship provided the opportunity to tackle complex and unfamiliar topics, prepare witnesses, and advocate on behalf of a client's interests.

Currently a judicial extern for U.S. District Court Judge Victoria Robert, Eastern District of Michigan, Emerson's main focus is drafting proposed opinions for Section 2255 habeas corpus petitions, experience she says has taught her how to evaluate her own work product.

She hopes an upcoming summer associate position with Varnum will help her hone in on a specific area of litigation that best suits her interests.

"My career goal is to become a leader in the Detroit legal community and inspire more women, minorities, Detroiters, and first-generation college and law students to join and succeed in the legal profession," she says.

Emerson has even inspired her own mother, a single mom who raised Emerson and her brother-who has cerebral palsy and epilepsy-their entire lives.

"My mother says I motivated her to go back to school," she says. When Emerson earns her juris doctor next year, her mom will be graduating from Detroit Mercy with a business administration degree.

Published: Fri, Apr 19, 2019

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