Trip sparked student's interest in environmental law career

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By Sheila Pursglove
Legal News

Jacqueline Olson earned her undergrad degree in general psychology, with minors in addiction studies and biological sciences, from Western Michigan University, before heading to the University of Detroit Mercy School of Law, where she graduated in May.

“I’ve always wanted to help people and have an impact on our community and our environment. I enjoy being involved in more than one thing at a time,” she says.

“I also want to help with my family’s businesses as much as I can. I felt like a career in law would enable me to combine all three in a unique way.”

The family businesses have deep roots in the area. In the early 1900s, Olson’s great-grandfather emigrated from Sweden to the United States and started a cement company in Dearborn Heights. Olson’s father eventually took over the company and has since transformed it into a very successful construction business. In the early 2000s, he purchased a building supply company in Taylor; in 2017, Olson and her brother opened another location in Ann Arbor, and last fall, opened a location in Carleton. Her younger brother helps their father run the family’s construction company, and her older brother manages one of the supply yards.

“My dad is hands-down my biggest mentor in my life,” Olson says. “He’s the person I hope to become. He is a phenomenal business owner, friend, and father. It makes me excited to see where my siblings can take our businesses so we can further my dad’s dreams.”

With this background, Olson knew she wanted to pursue some form of business law, and to that end has been serving as vice president of the school’s Business Law Society.

“Growing up in a family that owns its own businesses, I’ve always had a passion for wanting other businesses to succeed, so, I instantly got involved with the Business Law Society,” she says. “Being the vice president has been a great experience because I’ve gotten to network with other students and local attorneys practicing in the field. I’ve also gained leadership experience, which has been an obvious plus.”  

In her 1L year, Olson was paired with an upperclassman as mentor, who was president of the Environmental Law Society, having founded it the previous year. Olson succeeded him as president in her 2L year, and was recently awarded the Community Service Award by Detroit Mercy Law for her work in that role.

“It’s been—hands down—one of my best educational experiences,” she says. “I’ve seen the organization grow so much in the past two years. And this past fall, I organized a park clean up at Cass Park with over 20 people. I’ve enjoyed spreading environmental awareness to my classmates and also giving environmental law the spotlight it deserves.

“Ever since I took a trip to Haiti to install water filters in 2014, I’ve been increasingly aware of our environmental footprints,” she adds. “The environment is so precious, yet we take it for granted. Water, for instance, is so easily accessible to us in the U.S. With a twist of our wrists, the faucet turns on and water is flowing. However, this accessibility is not the case everywhere. People, mostly women and children, have to walk miles to fetch a 3-gallon pail of water for their family every day. During my trips to Haiti, I have done that walk with the kids. I’ve fetched water on the side of the mountain from a well. I walked the pails in the hot Haiti heat. All of this for the same resource we, in America, can all get in a twist of a wrist. This disparity has stayed with me since 2014 and it has continued to grow. I care deeply about the environment and knew a career in environmental law was a necessity for me.”

Olson spent the fall and spring semesters of her 3L year in the Environmental Law Clinic.

“The clinic has been an amazing experience for me to work on both my legal research and writing skills, as well as my professionalism with my supervising attorney and client,” she says. “With the project I’ve been working on all year, I’ve been able to determine legal theories, which venue we should file in, and more. This has been one of the best practical experiences I’ve had thus far.”

In the summer of 2020 she externed at the Sugar Law Center in Detroit, that supports low-income workers, their families and communities through advocacy, education, and research.

“This was my first legal experience and it was excellent,” she says. “I got the chance to interview clients, perform legal research and writing pertaining to employment law, and even conduct an administrative hearing.

“My two supervising attorneys, John Philo and Tony Paris, were both phenomenal mentors. I learned so much from the two of them and I’m glad I had my first legal experience under their supervision.”

Her current legal interests are in environmental, business, and construction law.

“As of now, my goal is to eventually open my own firm, help run my family’s businesses, and pursue other business ventures,” she says.

Also serving as president of the school’s Mental Health Association, Olson and her classmate, Sabrina Srivastava, have distributed resources to students on campus and on social media to bring awareness to mental health; and this past fall, the duo raised more than $200 for a local nonprofit, Six Feet Over, that dedicates time and money to helping those in Detroit affected by suicide.

“Mental health awareness is important to me and I hope to continue these efforts to spread awareness when I enter the field,” she says.

Since Olson was used to taking online classes, her remote studies during the pandemic did not present too much challenge, although she missed interactions with her peers.

The Saline native is an alumna of Saline High School, where she was a cheerleader and played lacrosse, serving as a captain of the lacrosse team with two other girls. She also played one semester on the club team at WMU.

“Playing sports growing up taught me the importance of teamwork, patience, and proper leadership,” she says. “The most important thing I learned is that in order to be a great leader of any group, it’s important to be a good team member first. There needs to be proper communication, and in order to be respected, you need to respect others first.”

Olson enjoys visiting new places and exploring national parks. She has visited Montana (where her older sister lives), Washington, Wyoming, Idaho, North and South Dakota, and next on her travel plan is a visit to Maine. Her goal is to eventually own a cabin in the Rocky Mountains.

Olson currently lives in Dearborn, with her dog, Pavo, adopted from an animal shelter six years ago. When not studying, she enjoys walks with Pavo, going to the gym, listening to music, visiting her grandmother, who lives nearby, going to craft shows with her mom, and watching TV.
“I’m currently binging ‘The Vampire Diaries’—I know, I’m late to the show,” she says with a smile.

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