Empowerment: Law student serves as co-president of association


By Sheila Pursglove
Legal News

During undergrad at Wayne State University, Ki Lee O’Brien was a student assistant at the Attorney General’s Criminal Division office in Detroit.

“I enjoyed interacting with incredibly passionate and experienced litigators who handled a wide variety of cases,” she says. “I was able to learn about the litigation process, review documents, and assist attorneys with numerous projects. It was an amazing learning experience.”

After graduating summa cum laude from the Irvin D. Reid Honors College, O’Brien decided to remain a WSU “Warrior” and attend Wayne State University Law School.

“I’ve always loved to read and write, and, having majored in English in my undergraduate studies, I knew writing was my strength,” she says. “I’ve also always been motivated by the desire to help and support my local community.

“I recognized that law school would provide me with the skills and training needed to enhance my research and writing and gain valuable legal experience that would contribute to the Detroit community.”

A rising 2L, O’Brien appreciates the community at Wayne Law.

“The professors are brilliant, and they encourage each student to reach their potential,” she says. “Prospective law students hear stories about the competitiveness of law school, but that’s not the case at Wayne Law. Students and professors foster a collaborative environment for learning necessary legal skills and building lasting relationships within the Detroit legal community.”

Knowing the importance of giving back to the community, O’Brien took the law school’s pro bono pledge. As part of the program, she is working at the Legal Aid and Defender Association in Detroit that strives to empower vulnerable and underserved individuals, families, and communities.

“I’ve lived in Detroit for three years, and I’ve gotten to know the community I want to serve,” she says. “From promoting voter rights and community engagement in politics to aiding low-income populations with free legal services, I remain committed to Detroit, and I always look for ways to assist the community. Many Detroiters can’t afford necessary legal services, and it’s a privilege to help individuals who would otherwise not receive the services they require.”

She also is working as a judicial intern at the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan, where she hopes to enhance her strong research and writing skills while being exposed to different areas of law and court proceedings.

“With the chance to see advocacy through the eyes of a judge, I’m excited to gain a new perspective on the legal system,” she says. “With my experience at the federal court, I’d love to clerk for a judge one day.”

In her upcoming 2L year, O’Brien will serve as co-president of the Asian Pacific American Law Student Association.

“With only a handful of Asian-American students at Wayne Law, it’s important to empower minorities to enter the legal community and promote a workforce that’s as diverse as the people it represents,” she says. “I’d like to sponsor social activities and networking opportunities that connect students with the greater Asian-American legal community. It would be great to work with other ethnic student associations to host an event about minority representation in the Detroit community as well.”

A passion for politics was sparked at Dearborn Divine Child High School when O’Brien worked for the Dearborn Heights City Clerk’s office as a precinct chair during elections. The experience, she says, solidified her belief in the importance of voting as a civic duty and an expression of the individual’s political voice. She has served as a precinct chair since 2013, overseeing Election Day set-up, daily protocol and take down, assisting registered voters, and ensuring protection and management of voting machines and voter rolls.

Later interning for Congressman John Conyers in 2015, she assisted constituents of the 13th District with immigration, Social Security, and Veterans Affairs issues.

“This was the first experience that impressed upon me the importance of providing the community with necessary resources,” she says.

In her senior year of college, she served as president of the WSU College Democrats, and focused on voter registration and community engagement in political issues.

Away from her studies, O’Brien enjoys spending time in the Motor City, reading, and hiking. Last year, she and her boyfriend purchased a house near Oscoda, on the shores of Lake Huron in northern Michigan. After renovating the house last summer, they rent it out on Airbnb.

A native of Garden City in Wayne County, O’Brien now lives in midtown Detroit.

“I love the people in Detroit,” she says. “I truly feel at home here, and I couldn't imagine living anywhere else.”