UC Law fellow Shantya Goddard finds her purpose

Ever since she was a little girl, Shantya Goddard’s North Star was being intentional about the choices she made. One could say “being intentional” is what defined her.  

“I’ve always been very intentional about having a career that I would love… which classes I would take, what to major in, and which experiences to apply for,” she said. This mindset stemmed from watching what her mother went through while Goddard was growing up. Her mother worked several jobs she hated and that paid little money. “She could never quite figure out what she wanted to do,” Goddard said. “I saw how this impacted her mentally, emotionally, physically, and financially. My siblings and I also lived through the impact of it. So, I knew I wanted to do something different.”

When she was just 10 years old, Goddard knew that the “something different” would mean going to college. At the time, however, none of the men and women in her family had gone to college. (Her father would later attend college and law school, becoming an attorney when Goddard was a teenager.)

Goddard’s mother enrolled her in the Dayton Early College Academy (DECA), a college preparatory school in Dayton, Ohio, focused on helping students gain the necessary skills to be successful in college and beyond. She graduated from DECA and began thinking about her next steps. But like many students, Goddard had no idea about what she wanted to do or what she would enjoy as a career. This search for a career path led her to the University of Cincinnati and its Exploratory Program.

As part of the program, Goddard took the course “Discovering UC" which helped her identify her major—criminal justice. “I really enjoyed learning about the criminal justice system, but I was not interested in most of the job opportunities associated with criminal justice. That’s when I started thinking about law school.”

Shantya Goddard, Dinsmore Procter & Gamble OIP fellow

Shantya Goddard, Dinsmore Procter & Gamble OIP Fellow

Being intentional about her next step, Goddard took Cincinnati Law’s “Introduction to the Law and the Legal Profession” course, an introductory class designed for undergraduate students. The class opened her eyes to the many possibilities that a law career could provide. Indeed, she could see herself doing the work. But she hesitated. “I actually steered away from the thought of law school because I didn't want to feel like I went into law just because my dad did, but it ended up happening for me anyway,” she laughed.

“I didn't always want to be an attorney. I wanted to be a doctor, a veterinarian, and a counselor at some point. But I became a lawyer because I love the work. As an attorney, you get to play the role of a confidante, a negotiator, a counselor, and a problem solver. You are constantly being challenged and overcoming those challenges. These are all the things that I love being in my personal life so being an attorney made the most sense to me. It also opens many doors to helping people with a variety of issues, which is something I hope to do throughout my career.”

I became a lawyer because I love the work. As an attorney, you get to play the role of a confidante, a negotiator, a counselor, and a problem solver.

Shantya Goddard (JD '23)

The Cincinnati Law difference

Once the decision was made to focus on a legal career, Goddard knew Cincinnati Law would be a great next step. “Cincinnati Law and the Cincinnati legal community in general are so supportive,” she said. “I have had people from Cincinnati Law and the legal community help me at every step of my career in some capacity whether it has been making a connection, offering advice, or just being a listening ear. Cincinnati Law seemed to be huge on diversity and that was really important to me. I felt a sense of comfort seeing an African American woman, Verna Williams, as the dean of the law school and Staci Rucker, [another African American professional] as the Assistant Dean for Academic Affairs, Student Affairs, and Diversity [when she started law school].” 

She was also motivated by the many and varied clinical opportunities. Goddard was intentional about participating in many clinics and externship experiences to prepare for a legal career. She was an Ohio Innocence Project (OIP) litigation fellow, legal intern with the Motion Unit at the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit, an extern with Magistrate Judge Candace Smith at the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Kentucky, and a fellow with Cincinnati Law’s Domestic Violence and Civil Protection Order Clinic.

“Each experience helped me sharpen important skills such as legal research and writing. They also helped strengthen my ability to work alone and with a team. Because of these experiences, along with my life experiences, I am able to view things from different perspectives and easily adapt to situations. I have learned the importance of being intentional and to never stop learning. All of these things have prepared me for my current work with OIP and beyond because research and writing will always be a part of my career.”

“I will always work with a variety of different people from a variety of different backgrounds; and I will never know all there is to know about the law. As a lawyer, reaching a goal for yourself or your client is not always easy or straightforward but if I remain intentional, driven, and open-minded, I do believe the number of challenges I overcome will outweigh the number of challenges that defeat me.”

Because of these experiences, ... I am able to view things from different perspectives and easily adapt to situations. I have learned the importance of being intentional and to never stop learning.

Shantya Goddard (JD'23)

The road to the Dinsmore Procter & Gamble OIP fellowship

Fortunately, Goddard’s connection to Cincinnati Law didn’t end with her 2023 graduation. She has since returned to the college, this time as the second Dinsmore Procter & Gamble OIP Fellow. Taking on this role, again, was very intentional. “My interest in criminal law came from majoring in criminal justice. Criminal law just felt like the natural thing to dive into after seeing people either being arrested or being victims of a crime.”

“Shantya is a quiet but powerful presence both in OIP and outside it.   Although she is only in the beginning of her fellowship, she already has made important contributions to the policy and engagement team, speaking with students in the OIP-u program, of which she is an alum and ambassador.  She also has been instrumental in some of my work that tries to reach high school students and other young people, many of whom are at risk for wrongful convictions,” said Pierce Reed, director of Policy, Legislation and Engagement at the Ohio Innocence Project.

Returning to OIP in this new role also enables her to focus on litigation, which is a professional goal. “I hope to become a better advocate and strengthen my skills as a lawyer. I also hope to learn more about myself and determine the best career path for me by the end of my fellowship,” she said.

“Shantya is a top-tier young attorney with a very bright future,” said Mark Godsey, Daniel P. and Judith L. Carmichael Professor of Law | Director, Ohio Innocence Project. “She's got all the tools—tangible and intangible.  Shantya will be able to accomplish anything in this career she sets her mind on.  She is going to do great things; we are lucky to have her here.”

Shantya Goddard works in her office.

Shantya Goddard works in her office at the OIP.

The genesis of the Dinsmore and Procter & Gamble OIP Fellowship

The Dinsmore and Procter & Gamble OIP Fellowship is a unique Fortune 500, Am Law 200 partnership for recent law grads to join one of the most successful Innocence Projects in the country. The partnership—the brainchild of Dinsmore & Shohl LLP, Procter & Gamble, and the Ohio Innocence Project—is designed to give recent graduates the opportunity to hone lawyering skills and gain experience in civil rights litigation and policy making.

Unique to this fellowship program is that it takes the corporate/law firm fellowship model and applies it to Innocence Projects. In addition to opening doors for new attorneys, the program helps establish a pipeline to attract and train candidates on how to litigate and advocate in the context of a dynamic civil rights organization.

“We are thrilled to continue our partnership with Dinsmore and the Ohio Innocence Project. OIP’s work is critical to address multiple challenges that exist in our criminal justice system, and training fellows like Shantya in civil rights advocacy and policy making will have a multiplying effect,” said Susan Whaley (JD ’99), Chief Legal Officer at Procter & Gamble. “Like Shantya, we want to be intentional about making an impact in the areas of diversity, equality and access to justice, so it is an honor to support her work on behalf of the wrongfully convicted.”

“This fellowship is important because not only is it bringing diversity to the legal field, but it also helps to address some of the injustices that lie within our criminal justice system,” said Goddard. “So many people are wrongfully convicted of crimes. This stems from a variety of different factors at all stages of the criminal justice system. Having a fellowship of this nature is important for addressing those issues, preventing them, and spreading awareness.”

“Dinsmore is honored to continue to support outstanding lawyers like Shantya in the passionate pursuit of delivering justice to the clients in the Ohio Innocence Project. Her personal resolve and steadfast professional commitment make all of us exceedingly proud. We are heartened to see Shantya uphold a growing tradition that Kanisha began so wonderfully,” said Marty Dunn, Partner and chair of the Diversity Committee, Dinsmore & Shohl.

“This fellowship is important because not only is it bringing diversity to the legal field, but it also helps to address some of the injustices that lie within our criminal justice system.

Shantya Goddard (JD '23)

Looking to the future

After the two-year fellowship is completed in 2025, Goddard is open to her next step. “I'm not totally sure where I want to go from here. Right now, I'm just keeping an open mind and expanding my network. I am being intentional about figuring out what is next for me. Wherever I do go, I hope to get better at what I know, broaden my skillset, and progress in my career. Many of my experiences have prepared me for litigation but I would like to get my feet wet on the transactional side as well and hopefully work at a law firm.”

Shantya stands in front of the OIP sign at UC Law.

Shantya Goddard stands in front of the OIP sign at UC Law.

An update on Kanisha Ervin, the first Dinsmore Procter & Gamble OIP fellow

After her fellowship ended, Ervin took a position as an Intelligence Fellow for the Southern Poverty Law Center. She began the new role last summer. In a previous interview, Ervin said of her plans for the future, “Seeing the many life-changing impacts of incarceration I want to help returning citizens regain their rights and assume a respectable quality of life. I want to inform them of the processes they can go through to get an education, driver’s license, or their records expunged.” 

Photos: Lead photo: istockphoto.com;  Goddard photos: Joey Yerace

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