Higher Calling Cooley student plans to pursue career as prosecuting attorney

A Wayne State University grad, Sukayna Almusawi originally planned to pursue a career in medicine before deciding to enroll in law school.

By Sheila Pursglove
Legal News

Sukayna Almusawi knew from the age of 14 she wanted to be a lawyer—yet many people insisted she would not succeed, not only because she is a woman, but also because she wears the hijab.

“I heard things like ‘No one is going to hire a girl to fight for them,’ ‘No self-respecting man is going to come to you when he needs help,’ and ‘It’s a man’s job,’” she says. “I let it get to me.”

She started undergrad at Wayne State University with a goal of medical school, but changed her mind in her last semester. The sole caretaker of her ill mother since the age of 11, Almusawi no longer wanted to be around hospitals.

“I was sick of being told doctors couldn’t do much for me, that ‘It is in God’s hands.’  I understood that, but teenage me was very mad,” she says. “So, when I was about to graduate, I applied to take the LSAT last minute, took the exam, and ended up at Cooley Law. I wouldn’t change a single thing about that.”

With undergrad degrees in in political science and government; and in psychology, Almusawi feels she brings the skills of being a good talker—”one of the things I was known for as a child”—and she also loved the legal profession for what it represented—justice, integrity, professionalism, and power.
“All of which I knew I can easily represent,” she says.

While her father was unhappy at her drastic change of career path, her mother told her to follow her dreams—“And that if this is what makes me happy, then I should definitely do it. But she did ask me why I suddenly changed my mind. The only thing I could say was ‘The children, mama, I want to save the children.’”

Her change of heart came immediately after Almusawi watched a documentary about Gabriel Fernandez, the 8-year-old boy in California, abused and tortured over a period of months before dying from a beating by his mother and her boyfriend.

“I knew I wanted to be a prosecutor. I want to work on child abuse and neglect cases. I want to give these children hope and a sense of safety,” Almusawi says. “If I fix the life of one child, if I rid them of a fraction of their pain, they will grow into compassionate people. I think that makes the world a better place. These children will be tomorrow’s adults.”

When she started at Cooley in 2022, Almusawi was anxious as to how competitive law school might be.

“Thankfully, I never really encountered it,” she says. “What I enjoy most about Cooley is that we’re a family. The students are some of the kindest people I’ve ever met, encouraging and helpful. We studied in groups throughout our whole first year. We share resources and outlines. We have Dean’s Fellows who are also available whenever.

“The professors are absolutely wonderful, beyond supportive,” she adds. “They have pushed me out of my comfort zone many times in order to get me going. They have stopped classes to explain things to me. They have always been available if I needed to meet and talk, whether it is about class materials or personal stuff. Our professors are truly brilliant people who are the sole reason my sanity was upheld throughout the last two years. I want to thank Professors Richard Henke, Christi Henke, Judge John Gilbreath, and former Dean Erika Breitfeld. They pretty much continuously beautify and edit the legal draft that is me.”

She notes that the rest of the Cooley staff are “beyond helpful.”

“They always like to ask me about my plans and what I want to do,” she says. “They keep in touch and watch me transform into a lawyer each and every day. They urge me to participate in organizations, apply for scholarships, and network, especially Karen Poole from the Career and Professional Development Office.”

Poole encouraged her to apply for a $3,500 Women Lawyers Association of Michigan Foundation scholarship; and Almusawi—who joined WLAM in her 1L year—was one of three 2024 Cooley recipients, and is a Masco Corporation Scholar, sponsored by Masco Corporation.

“Professor Christi Henke wrote me a recommendation that brought tears to my eyes,” Almusawi says. “I couldn’t have done any of this without them and WLAMF. I enjoy what the organization embodies and what opportunities it provides, such as generous scholarships like the one I received. I’m beyond grateful for Masco Corporation’s generosity—their investment in my law career will not be forgotten”.

Almusawi serves as a senator for the Student Bar Association, is a former vice chief justice of the Cooley Moot Court, current vice president of the Organization for Women Law Students, a general body member of the Cooley Environmental Law Society and the Cooley Health Law Society; and is also a member of the Women’s Law Association of Michigan and the National Arab American Bar Association.

With no particular career goal set in stone, she would like to spend her first decade of legal life in public service, in prosecution or with the Attorney General’s office. After that, she would like to join the private sector and work in the field of personal injury and/or estate planning.

“I believe the possibilities are endless and there is absolutely no harm in getting a taste of every field I enjoy throughout my life,” she says. “The good thing about a law degree is that it’s flexible, I can change the field whenever I want.”

She currently is getting a taste of working in prosecution as a Prosecuting Attorneys Association of Michigan (PAAM) intern at the Ingham County Prosecutor’s Office.

“It’s such an exhilarating job but also very traumatizing,” she says. “Good thing I have all summer to figure out if this is what I would like to do after graduation.”

Although Almusawi hopes to become a prosecutor, conversely, she has worked at several expungement fairs, spending hours doing pro bono work to help people clean up their records.

“I firmly believe there aren’t really bad people, there are people who do bad things,” she says. “Occasionally you come across a human that is evil beyond what the human mind can tolerate—those people don’t have a chance to expunge their records. But everyone else deserves a second chance or a clean slate.

“Most of the people I encounter can’t drive due to petty marijuana crimes from the 80s. Mothers who can’t chaperone their kids’ field trips because they had a marijuana charge from 15 years ago. These people cleaned up their act. Some crimes are not crimes any more—why are they still paying a hefty price for these mistakes? It’s true they are not imprisoned, but they are still restricted from doing so many other things everyone else can do freely. I feel the requirements are pretty straightforward and fair. I also meet wonderful people at every one I attend.”

She also enjoys assisting at Ask-A-Lawyer events, where people in underserved communities are given 30 minutes of free legal advice; and at community events where people in need are provided with resources for shelter, food, school supplies, clothing, legal assistance, job opportunities and more.

Originally from Chicago, Almusawi now makes her home in Dearborn, where she enjoys cooking, traveling, reading novels, learning new things, and spending time with family. An Arab-American of Iraqi and Lebanese heritage, and fluent in Arabic, Almusawi says her entire family—both immediate family and even beyond seventh cousins—is a blessing, and always caring, supportive, and generous.

“My mother, Zakia Faraj, teaches me to be resilient and strong every single day. She has endured pain for over 15 years and continues to smile and push me to be the strongest woman I can be,” Almusawi says. “My siblings, Aya, Alaa, and Husain taught me that pure love and loyalty still exist. They love me, support me, and listen to me whenever I need to vent. I could not have done law school had they not volunteered to take care of our mother while I am gone. Although I’m the oldest, they try to help me financially through this insanely expensive process. I hope I’ve provided them with a good enough role model and I hope they know they are my entire world.

“My father, Abdullah Almusawi, sacrificed so much to give us the American dream. For that, I will be eternally grateful. As for the rest of the family, my grandfather, my aunts, uncles, and cousins as well as my friends—I hope I never have to go through life without them. I’m made up of all of these beautiful people.”

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