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JIOP Alumni Spotlight with Janea Hawkins

Lillie Graham

JIOP Alumni Spotlight with Janea Hawkins
ferrantraite via Getty Images

Q: Please tell me a little about yourself generally and specifically what compelled you to go to law school.

A: A lot of who I am is this pathway to becoming a lawyer and what compelled me to go to law school in the first place. I planned out my life when I was 11 years old. I was thinking about all the different options I could pursue as my career. My aunt always called me “LW” for “Last Word” because I had to have the last word in arguments. I asked myself, “How can I use this knack for arguing to the benefit of others? . . . I’ll go into law!” I started doing research about how to get into colleges and how to get into the legal field, because I did not have any lawyers in my family. At 18, I knew that I wanted to be a successful lawyer and that I could study anything in college before going to law school.

Thus, I studied psychology and French studies. I did a study abroad program in Paris, France, for my entire junior year of college, and there I had a change of heart. I concluded that I absolutely did not want to be an attorney. I did not want to sit in front of a computer all day and write, read, and research. I tried to create a romantic life for myself in Paris. I thought maybe I would teach English as a second language, join the Peace Corps, or do public relations, communications, or entertainment journalism.

As I was looking at all of these possibilities over the next year, I kept coming back to the law. My senior year of college I said to myself, “I have loved the law this long already, and I keep coming back to it. I am going to apply to law school and graduate school and let the fates determine where I am supposed to go.” I applied to joint degree programs that required that I be accepted to the law school and the graduate school at the institution. I kept getting accepted to one or the other, but not both. It occurred to me that I absolutely needed to have a law degree in order to practice law, but I did not have to have a graduate degree if I wanted to get into public relations, communications, or journalism. That is when I decided to focus on law school. I took a year to refocus, get my LSAT scores up, and get better letters of recommendation, and I joined AmeriCorps. I got accepted to Loyola University Chicago’s School of Law. The opening line to my law school admittance essay was, “All of my plans failed.” I feel then and now that it is a blessing when all your plans fail, because it puts you on the path to where you need to be.

Q: What made you want to pursue an internship through JIOP? Please also tell us about your experience.

A: The summer after my 1L year, I needed a job. I did not know what I wanted to do, but I knew that I had a fascination with judges, the courts, and how cases are litigated. I was in my career services office when I saw some information about JIOP . I said, “I can work with a judge and get paid for it? OK, I’ll apply!” I did not know what to expect. I got a call quickly thereafter and did an initial interview with Chantal Kazay, who is still involved with the program to this day. I then got a call from Magistrate Judge Arlander Keys’s chambers saying that he would like me to join him over the summer. They hired me on materials alone. They did not even bring me in for an interview. I thought, “Oh my goodness, a judge wants me to work with him this summer!” I was starstruck.

It was one of the single best experiences that I have had. What I appreciated about JIOP was that if you had a tough first year academically, like I did, you did not have to be in the top 5 percent to be considered for JIOP. They saw my potential. They saw my writing sample. They saw my résumé, and they chose me. That is why I am very grateful to JIOP. I got to work hand in hand with the judge. He was very good at giving us briefings of the cases and asking us what we thought about them. We also got a writing assignment to complete by the end of the summer. At the time, the Rod Blagojevich corruption trial was taking place, and we would try to catch proceedings when we could. It was an eye-opening experience for me, and it affirmed for me that I knew I wanted to be in a courtroom, present cases, and advocate on people’s behalf. It ignited my love for litigation and also sparked my desire to become a judge one day. That experience informed my work and the things I wanted to pursue after that, and for that, I am always grateful to JIOP.

Q: What was something that you learned through your judicial internship that influences you still today as an attorney?

A: Most importantly, being in the courtroom during that summer, I saw the good, the bad, and the ugly. I had originally thought that this was federal court, and you had to be the best of the best to argue there. Well, . . . I learned what to do and what not to do. I had a bird’s-eye view of the judge’s receipt of the attorneys’ behavior as well. The way a judge perceives you as an attorney and your representation of your client is very important with building your credibility. There are judges who, if they see you often, know that they can take what you say to the bank. If they can’t trust you at your word because you have shown them that you cannot be trusted, you will be scrutinized. It can be to the disadvantage of your client. That is the one lesson that I learned that has stayed with me to this day.

Q: The goal of JIOP is, of course, to provide opportunities to students who are members of groups that are historically underrepresented in the legal field. As a strong advocate for diversity and inclusion and as the Alumni Committee cochair of the ABA’s Judicial Intern Opportunity Program, do you think that the program has been integral to achieving better inclusion in the legal field?

A: Yes! I think that our biggest success stories are when our alums become judges. The goal and the mission of JIOP is to diversify the legal profession through the judiciary. A lot of times, for many people who become judges, they have to have clerked first. A lot of students from underrepresented backgrounds don’t get the opportunity for the clerkship without having built those relationships or having completed an internship or externship with a judge. Getting that much-needed hand their first or second year of law school allows students to build a bridge and translate their experience into a clerkship. Seeing so many students apply each year just affirms to me that the program’s mission is coming to fruition. When I see judges who were once in my shoes as a JIOP intern now running their own courtroom, that is affirmation to me that the program is truly bringing diversity to the legal profession. That is what keeps me so passionate and involved in this program year after year, because I believe it works.

Q: What advice do you have for law students contemplating doing a judicial internship through JIOP?

A: Do it! Apply! Even if you are not sure if you want to be a judge or if you want to clerk, a judicial internship gives you an insight that you cannot get anywhere else. You cannot get a judge’s insight working at any firm, any government agency, or any nonprofit organization. You can only really get a judge’s insight from the judge’s chambers working hand and hand with the judge. It would really behoove you to take advantage of this amazing opportunity and make the sacrifice. It is an investment in yourself. It is worth making that investment.

Q: What advice do you have for women who are entering the legal profession? Any landmines we should miss as we start out?

A: I was just listening to a podcast called Climbing in Heels. I feel that is what I am doing. The legal profession is still male dominated in many ways. Being a female coming into this profession, you have to be willing to stand alone or to be one of the few. You have to be OK with not being a member of the so-called “boys’ club.” Men socialize differently. They make business deals differently. You have to say, “They may have a ‘boys’ club,’ but what do I have?” As a woman, you need to learn to be creative, use your network, and tap into the resources of people who support you and want to see you succeed. You are going to see a lot of injustices in the legal profession and in society as a whole. One must decide what role one is going to play in that. Are you going to be a social engineer or a parasite on society? Are you going to be the change you want to see in the world or continue to let the system churn and not do anything about it? I think you should use what could be looked at as a disadvantage to your advantage.