American Dream


Great-grandfather’s career sparked her interest in law

by Sheila Pursglove
Legal News

Jen St. Amant’s great-grandfather was a lawyer in the Philippines—a family legacy that sparked her interest in the law.

“Whenever I visit the Philippines, I see all of those that are in need of help, not only in the legal sense but in general,” she says. “My parents and I have always done what we can to help our village whenever and in whatever way we can. I’ve always wanted to continue that work even though I’m not studying the law of the Philippines, at least I can help people here in the U.S.”

After earning her undergrad from University of Detroit Mercy—double majoring in political science and criminal justice, with a minor in psychology, and a certificate in pre-law—St. Amant remained a “Titan” for her law study.

“Detroit Mercy Law provides so many opportunities for current students and alumni, whether you’ve graduated last semester or 10 years ago—I love that! You can even audit classes after graduation,” she says. “There are so many valuable resources at this school, and countless networking opportunities to connect with practicing attorneys, judges, and others in the legal field in order to get a foot in the door or seek advice.”

The 3L student is particularly interested in public defense, and in helping indigent clients.

“They are just as entitled to a fair, well-represented trial as anyone but are also the least able to obtain it,” she says.

“I think this stems back to seeing those in need in the Philippines. The area my mom grew up in, a small area in Southern Leyte called Amparo, is very rural. The view from my room is beautiful with the coconut trees in the backyard overlooking the ocean. But it’s in a very poor area.”

St. Amant also is interested in The Innocence Project, something she focused on in her psychology and criminal justice undergrad programs.

“I always thought that if I’d be able to help one client prove his innocence, it would make my career worth it, “ she says.

St. Amant, who interned at the Washtenaw County Public Defender's Office this semester, enjoyed an earlier internship at the Federal Defenders Office in Detroit.

“Not only did I get real world experience as to what it’s like to be a practicing attorney, but we had intern training sessions that have helped me out in classes this semester,” she says. “Some sessions were in combination with the courthouse, SADO, and other interns.

She found the interoffice sessions to be the most helpful.

“We took a real case that went through the FDO and worked through things such as cross-examination. I may not have been able to do this in court, but it was a great experience,” she says. “I was also awarded the opportunity to watch many of the lawyers from the office in court.  I saw a variety of hearings from evidentiary, sentencing, ticket duty – you name it!  The whole interning experience was great and further solidified my path towards criminal defense.”

St. Amant serves as vice president of the law school’s OutLaws organization.

“I’m a strong advocate for the LGBT+ community, as a member of the community myself, but also for all those that feel they do not have a voice,” she says. “To be part of an organization that seeks to help those in the minority during a presidency, during a time, in general, when there is so much divide, that's what I enjoy. “

St. Amant particularly enjoyed an OutLaw event with speaker Dana Nessel, managing partner of Nessel & Kessel Law and a candidate for Attorney General, who in 2012 spearheaded DeBoer v. Snyder, which challenged the bans on adoption and marriage for same-sex couples in Michigan. Prior to the event, the group held a bake sale to raise money for the OutLaws and to raise awareness for the event.

“Ms. Nessel spoke about the case revolving around same-sex marriage and adoption by same-sex couples—it was amazing hearing her discuss the struggles of this couple and it was probably the biggest turnout for one of our events,” St. Amant says. 

A CSO Peer Adviser, St. Amant also serves as Day President for her 3L class, and hopes to bring in speakers from the Michigan Legislature to talk about politics and the law and how being a lawyer helps when entering the political realm.

She also aims to work with Director of Bar Preparation Sarah Garrison, to help 3Ls prepare for the bar application.

“We're also working to improve that program for future 3Ls to help ease their nerves as they apply,” she says. “This field is close-knit. I want to make sure that we as classmates feel we can reach out to one another after graduation.”

A dancer since the age of three, St. Amant has taken everything from ballet and tap to hard hitting hip hop and jazz funk, is competing in a hip solo competition this year, teaches jazz, hip hop, and tap classes at Great Technique Dance Academy for ages 3-10, and coaches the varsity dance team at Gabriel Richard.

She also enjoys painting, drawing, sewing, arts and crafts, playing the piano, and karaoke.

“It's like a rule as a Filipino that you have to own at least one karaoke machine--my household has three. And let me tell you, I rock out,” she says. “I even drag my boyfriend to karaoke nights downtown when I can. I love those!”
The Southgate native makes her home in Brownstown, and is a long time member of St. Cyprian Catholic Church in Riverview where now she is a member of the Ladies Guild and a lector. 

“I’ve been living Downriver my whole life,” she says. “I only moved from a one-story house to a two-story, suburb house 10 minutes away the summer before 9th grade —thus fulfilling my mom’s ‘American Dream.’”