Students Honor Good Works Of Jefferson
Date: May 16, 2002
By: Carey Hoffman
Phone: (513) 556-1825
You never know where old classmates will turn up.
Mina Jones Jefferson, a UC Law grad from 1990, found one of her classmates, Tracy Cook, heading up the ProKids organization in Cincinnati. Conversation revealed that Jefferson, now the College of Law's assistant dean for Public Service and Professional Development, knew students who would be interested in helping ProKids, but would have a difficult time fitting training into their academic schedules.
Together, Cook and Jefferson worked out a program of accelerated training over three weekends last winter, and now, at-risk children in Hamilton County have gained 21 new advocates to help represent their interests in legal situations.
It's the kind of victory that convinces Jefferson she has one of the best positions within the college, with its own special brand of rewards. "My overall game plan," she says, "is to increase student awareness of the prestige in public service. What I mean is, most students come in here and think getting a great job with a big firm downtown is the be-all and end-all, but don't really understand that getting a judicial clerkship or a post-graduate fellowship for a public interest group are also really great opportunities."
Jefferson's message is clearly getting across - this year's graduating class is honoring her with the Nicholas Longworth Award, given by the graduates to an alumnus whom they most admire. The award will be presented at the College's Hooding Ceremony on Saturday, May 18, at 1 p.m. in the Shoemaker Center.
Jefferson's own story mirrors what she advocates. She attended the College of Law during an era when there wasn't great emphasis on public service. After graduation, she went to work as a commercial litigator for Frost & Jacobs. But the aspects of her job she found most rewarding were her involvement with young attorneys and their professional development.
When an opportunity in that area opened up at the College of Law, she quickly realized it would be right for her. "I always knew there was going to be something else I would do," Jefferson says. "I wasn't going to live and die at a firm. Finding the courage to do it was difficult, because law firms give great comfort to risk-averse people. Also, at the time, I felt it was important for a minority to go to work for a large firm and attain partnership, because there just aren't that many in those positions." (Jones remains one of only two African American females to have attained partnership among Cincinnati's largest law firms).
Jefferson uses her professional experiences and contacts to advise College of Law students on career matters. She also serves as the faculty adviser to the Public Interest Law Group, the Tenant Information Project and the Volunteer Income Tax Association.
Besides the ProKids project, other new public service successes this year at the college included a 5K race called Race Judicata in September, which raised almost $5,000. The money will go towards supporting 15 public interest fellowships this summer, including sending students to work with The Netherlands Institute of Human Rights and legal aid organizations in Belize and Capetown, South Africa.
"We are really trying to increase the level of awareness that public service opportunities are not second-choice opportunities and, at the same time, increase awareness that pro bono work is a professional obligation, something we need to do just by being a member of the profession," Jefferson says.
The fact that her dedication to those beliefs has been recognized by the graduating students is gratifying. "Considering I left private practice to come here and work with the students, receiving this award makes me feel like I'm on the right path," she says. "It's awesome. I'm very enthusiastic and committed to what I'm doing, and I guess it shows."