High flyer: Michigan Law alumna lands coveted federal clerkships

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Michigan Law alumna Briaunna Buckner has clerked for two U.S. Court of Appeals Judges. 

Photo courtesy of Jo Darby

By Sheila Pursglove
Legal News

Michigan Law School alumna Briaunna Buckner has racked up many impressive achievements in her academic career—including clerking for two U.S. Court of Appeals judges: in 2021 for  Bernice B. Donald in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit and currently for Robert L. Wilkins in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. 

Both judges are tremendous role models for Buckner. 

“As a law clerk for two phenomenal judges, I have learned a great deal about the rule of law, honing my research and writing skills, and serving the judiciary with the level of meticulousness it requires.  But as a woman of color, I am blessed to call both Judge Wilkins and Judge Donald my mentors,” Buckner says. “In addition to stellar credentials, they are incredible human beings and have invested tremendously in my growth as a lawyer.”  

Buckner started her academic career at Martin Luther King Jr. High School in Detroit. She received a full athletic scholarship to play basketball for the Division 1 program at Jacksonville State University.

During her junior year, Buckner—whose mother was a sergeant for the Detroit Police Department and whose father was a lieutenant in Corrections for the State of Michigan—became interested in a legal career. 

“A career in law enforcement seemed like a natural path at the time,” she says. “But the summer of my junior year, I engaged deeper with the law as several trials were being nationally televised. I remember my father making an observation that none of the lawyers he saw on the television were Black women. After a short pause, he said: ‘Briaunna, you should do that; you would be great at that; you should be a lawyer.’ 

“At the time, I’d never met a Black female attorney. I guess, my imagination regarding my hopes and dreams only expanded to the extent of my exposure. But my father’s confidence in me and in my potential served as a catalyst for me to explore the possibilities.” 

In the fall, Buckner enrolled in a Constitutional Law class taught by professor and Howard Law School alumna Ardie Dial, the sole Black woman on the faculty. 

“That semester, I fell in love with the law and was determined to go to law school,” Buckner says.

In 2015, she graduated from Jacksonville State with a degree in criminal justice. 

Pregnant, Buckner took a few months off to study for the LSAT. Not long after graduation, she gave birth to twins, Zaina and Zola; tragically Zaina died after eight days.  

A month later, Buckner was offered a graduate teaching position at JSU; and pursued a master’s degree in public administration and public policy.

She enrolled in a grant writing class; interned for a litigation boutique law firm in Birmingham, Ala.; attended trials; and was hired as Public Affairs Coordinator by the Calhoun County Chamber of Commerce.  

Launching her law school journey at the University of Mississippi School of Law, Buckner was named 1L of the Year, Bessie Young Scholar, Bradley Arant Diversity Scholar, DRI’s Diversity Scholar, received the Outstanding Student Achievement Award for highest grade in Civil Procedure, won a Trial Advocacy competition, and was named a Business Law Fellow.  

After her 1L year, she transferred to the University of Michigan Law School where she graduated in 2021. 

Honored with the Women’s Leadership Award for outstanding contributions, she was involved in several MLaw organizations, including the Mock Trial team; Student Funded Fellowships; served on the Student Senate her 2L and 3L years; was the first Black female to be appointed the University of Michigan’s Supreme Court; was a member of the Michigan Journal of Race & Law; and was published in the Michigan Journal of Gender & Law. 

Buckner, who plans to move back home to the Motor City after her clerkship run ends, was a law clerk for a ranking member on the Senate Judiciary Committee; at MLaw’s Federal Appellate Litigation Clinic, she advocated for indigenous persons accused of a crime to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit; and as an intern for the Washtenaw County Prosecutor Eli Savit she co-authored an amicus brief urging the Michigan Supreme Court to clarify an ambiguous provision in the Consumer Protection law.

“While I’ve been fortunate enough to be exposed to such amazing opportunities, I’m only getting started,” Buckner says. “My goal is to be what society needs at any given time so I can be effective in helping bring about change.”


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