Second career: WSU Law student on track to achieve lifelong dream

By Sheila Pursglove
Legal News

Linda Girard always dreamed of becoming an attorney, but got repeatedly sidetracked by other interests and a lot of geographic mobility. She’s finally on track to achieve that dream as a 2L student at Wayne Law School.
“The professors make it great —their breadth of experience, expertise, and excellence in teaching make me glad I chose Wayne,” she said. “I’m a Michigan native, so it was important to me to come to Detroit and be a part of its metamorphosis. I relate to the edgy determination that the people of Detroit should be more famous for.”   

Heading to college right out of high school on a full academic ride, Girard dropped out as a junior.

After a few years of dead-end jobs picking fruit and waiting tables, she started taking classes part-time, earning a bachelor’s degree after 16 years, from San Diego State University-California State University — and made up for lost time by following this with a master’s from the same university and a Ph.D. from Kent State University, both in English Language and Literature.    

She worked as an Associate Professor of English, then a Liberal Arts & Sciences Dean, in Michigan, California and Indiana – until leaving this field to take care of her ailing mother who had several spinal surgeries.    

“When my mom could live independently again, I started thinking about what to do next and began seriously regretting not having gone to law school,” Girard said. “I told a supervisor my idea of going to law school after retirement and he said, ‘Why don’t you just go now?’ So I did.   

“It’s great to be in classes with people who are committed to making the world better – it gives me hope for the future,” she adds. “I’ve learned a lot from my classmates, about the law, modern life, and current slag. They often kid they are ‘livin’ the dream’ in law school, but for me it’s not even a joke.”   

The first in her working class union family to attend college, Girard recalled that when she dropped out as an undergrad, her mother was angry and disappointed.

“Now, she’s incredibly proud — she tells strangers I’m in law school — and she has helped me move into my dorm two years in a row,” Girard said.   

Not that it’s an easy path, despite Girard’s impressive academic background.

“While I was a dean, I took classes, but law school is another beast entirely, more difficult and stressful than anything I encountered during my Ph.D., even dissertation defense,” she said.    

Between her academic career and entering law school, Girard worked as a sales clerk in a mobile tack shop on the southeastern U.S. Hunter-Jumper (show horse) circuit.

“I thought it was the lesson in humility that would prepare me for law school. In a lot of ways it did, but learning to write all over again has been difficult,” she said. “I went from being really good to incredibly mediocre. When I got my first draft back in Legal Research and Writing, I thought of the time I overheard one of my English Composition students say, ‘She wrote more on my paper than I did.’ I enjoy it, though.”

An internship at Legal Services of Eastern Michigan in Flint this past summer was particularly meaningful for Girard, giving her an opportunity to give back to her native city.

“To see people who have lost faith — and rightly so — was difficult, but knowing we could often provide immediate relief to their legal problems was rewarding,” she said. “This year, I’m participating in the Civil Rights Clinic, which also serves a population with little access to justice.”   

Girard, who serves as a Residence Hall Governor, belongs to several progressive student organizations — but the most important to her is If/When/How, formerly Law Students for Reproductive Justice.        

“A woman's right to plan to have children or not is central to economic and educational freedom,” she said. “My life, as I’ve lived it, has been possible because I was at liberty to choose to be child-free. I want to support other women in their reproductive choices — whatever those choices may be.”

A member of the National Lawyers Guild, Girard serves as a legal observer of police interaction with political protesters.

“It makes me feel as though, in a small way, I’m serving the constitution and preserving freedom,” she said.    

After law school, the Lincoln resident’s goal is to work with women who don’t have access to justice.

“I’m trying to keep my options open about where I'll land,” Girard said. “Ultimately, I see myself as a country lawyer, back in northeastern Michigan where I grew up. There’s a lot of rural poverty in my home county of Alcona and I’d like to help people who haven’t had the advantages of education that I have.”