Q: As a Double Demon alumna, share with us your path to DePaul and then your decision to pursue your legal education at DePaul Law?
I’m from Chicago and grew up in the Englewood community on the city’s South Side. I’m a product of Chicago Public Schools and attended Curie High School. I was recruited to Curie from elementary school to be part of the music program. I was a member of the jazz band and thought that music was going to be my career. I ended up applying to a number of music schools, including DePaul’s School of Music.
I decided to come to DePaul for college, but did not enroll at the School of Music due to financial considerations. After passing on pursuing a music degree, I bounced between a few different programs, before taking a sociology class. I liked that sociology was marketed as a degree that did not pigeonhole the student into one career path. Therefore, I decided to major in sociology and picked-up double minors in political science and women’s and gender studies.
As I was finishing my undergraduate degree, I remembered a long forgotten desire to become an attorney. My grandmother said that you stay in school as long as you can until you figure out what you want to do. With that advice in mind, I began to investigate law school. Teaching myself, I took the LSAT twice and I had a mentor, Professor Robin Mitchell, who helped guide me through the process. No one in my immediate family had pursued a post-graduate degree, therefore Professor Mitchell was instrumental in assisting me. With her guidance, I ended up applying to 15 law schools across the country.
I chose to enroll at DePaul Law due to my connections with the university. I felt familiar with the community and loved my DePaul undergraduate experience. From a financial standpoint, DePaul was the smart choice as well. Finally, I knew I wanted to stay in Chicago, and attending DePaul Law would allow me to start building my professional network.
Q: What were some of your notable experiences at DePaul Law (classes, professors, student organizations, etc.)?
The professors at the law school made a world of difference. Professor Susan Bandes and her criminal procedure class changed my life. Our class was held during the Sandra Bland scandal, and it was a hot topic as it pertained to search and seizures. Professor Julie Lawton, while never my professor, became a mentor. I didn’t have to take her class to benefit from Professor Lawton’s great wisdom and advice. Professor Cary Martin Shelby made business organization, a class I was dreading, make sense. Evidence with Professor Steve Greenberger was just fun. I was also part of the law school’s Domestic Violence Clinic. Being able to assist people in dire predicaments was very important work, and the skills I learned during the clinic have been transferable working with my personal injury clients who have found themselves in similar situations.
Beyond the professors, mock trial stands out. I was on the mock trial team, and that experience was beyond what I thought it could be. The team was coached by a combination of private sector attorneys, public defenders and state’s attorneys. When I was there, our team was run like the military. Early morning sessions and Saturday morning practice trials at 8:00 a.m. It was intense, but impactful. Theo Thomas (’09), who coached the team, was our drill sergeant. I still know all the rules of evidence because of Theo. Competing against other schools and their teams was the best part of mock trial. Today, I run into these individuals in the courtroom, and that shared experience has developed into a unique bond.
Finally, my friends, the events and the organizations we were all a part of were another highlight. Everyone I knew at DePaul Law was involved in at least one student activity. That level of involvement made the law school experience fun, as you felt a connection to all parts of the institution.
Q: As a litigator, how did the law school prepare you for your position at The Kryder Law Group?
DePaul definitely prepared me more than I thought. Without a doubt, mock trial played a significant role in that development. I learned important skills such as knowing when to be aggressive and when to be a team player. I was well-versed in case law and taught to be direct and on-point. These skills have proven to be vital in private practice.
In particular, my civil pre-ligation class was extremely helpful. Much of the work I do today was covered in that class. Also, the value of learning from adjuncts who are in the courtroom everyday was important. They taught me that a good attorney must roll with the punches, and that you can’t control the outcome of every situation.
Q: How has the COVID-19 pandemic impacted your practice, cases and client interactions?
COVID-19 has made everyone patient, as it is beyond our control. Our courts were never prepared for a pandemic. In Cook County, the courts have been operating the same way for decades. While private practice has been making the transition to paperless work, the courts definitely have not.
Everyone has had to adapt in a way that was never expected. Getting clients up-to-speed with technology has been challenging. Our firm quickly realized that many of our clients don’t have access to or know how to use their technology. I’ve had to become a tech person in order to work with my clients to allow their cases to move forward.
The other significant COVID-19 impact is providing timelines to clients and the types of cases we are working on. At present, we can’t provide clients with timelines on their cases. We truly don’t know how long it will take, as the courts are not running anywhere close to their pre-pandemic speeds. Cases that were filed in March were automatically receiving case management dates for April of 2021. Claim-stage cases have taken a priority because I can still talk directly with the adjusters. We have definitely pulled back on new cases that need litigation right away and a precedence has been placed on cases that are currently in litigation or pre-litigation cases still with the insurance companies.
Q: What advice do you have for today’s law students?
I would advise students to take the opportunities that are available. Even if the opportunity is not something you envisioned doing. All employers and law firms are looking for experience. Your value comes from that experience. Prior to joining my firm as a law clerk, I wanted to become a state’s attorney and was not interested in civil work.
That leads to my next point: Don’t be afraid to pivot. Take what you can from an experience and then revisit your plan. I have had many friends who have changed their focus since law school. I never would have thought of becoming a personal injury attorney, but I wouldn’t change the journey that I have had. I tell people, “Test the waters, but if you find a home, stay and build your skills.”
Lastly, don’t be too hard on yourself. You will make mistakes. But that’s the only way you learn. And ask questions. Our firm has an open door policy. Even in a competitive office, find someone you can take your questions to.
Q: You are involved with a number of different community organizations. Tell us more about your volunteer activities.
From my upbringing and being raised in the church, we were always doing outreach. When I came to DePaul, I joined Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc., the largest African-American sorority. Within Delta Sigma Theta, I do a lot of mentoring work, both official and unofficial. Working with students who have the desire to improve their lives and showing them a person from their neighborhood who is successful is rewarding.
In terms of legal organizations, I’m a member of the Cook County Bar Association and co-chair of the Young Lawyers Section. Our goal is to encourage my generation to become active within the bar association, because at some point the older generation is going to sit down. If my generation does not step up to take the reins, what will happen to our bar organizations that have provided so much to our legal community?
Since I have had success and found my career path in plaintiff-side work, I have become a member of the Illinois Trial Lawyers Association (ITLA). I truly love the organization for the networking it provides. People I look up to from afar are part of ITLA, and being part of the association now allows me the opportunity to network with these attorneys. In a male-dominated sector, the ability to connect with powerful female advocates has been incredibly rewarding. Especially during the pandemic, speaking with women who don’t treat you as competition and whom you can ask questions, refer cases and talk strategy with has been invaluable.