'Fields' of Dreams

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A former social worker, Ebonie Byndon-Fields earned her law degree from MSU Law and is studying for her LLM at Wayne Law.

Photo courtesy of Wayne Law

Former social worker pursuing her LLM

By Sheila Pursglove
Legal News

Ebonie Byndon-Fields grew up in a single parent home, the daughter of a teen-age mother.

“Statistically speaking I was never supposed to be as successful as I am,” she says. “I want others to know their goals are not inconceivable, and are achievable.”

Her own academic achievements are awe-inspiring: a first-generation college graduate, she holds an undergrad degree from the University of Michigan, master’s degrees in criminal justice and social work from Xavier University and the University of Cincinnati, respectively, a law degree from Michigan State University College of Law, and is currently pursuing her LLM from Wayne State University Law School.

Byndon-Fields spent 6-1/2 years as a social worker, advocating for children and families. Eighteen months as an investigative caseworker in Cincinnati solidified her desire to practice law, after seeing the influence, power and important role that referees and judges played on cases that went into the courtroom.

“While I always have – and always will – appreciate the important role social workers play in the context of child welfare disputes, seeing there were so many flaws, miscarriages of justice and biases played out against parents who allegedly abused or neglected their children made me want to be in a position of ultimate influence to ensure their rights also remained intact,” she says.

Attracted by the practical clinical externship programs offered, she headed to MSU Law to specialize in family and juvenile law.

During law school, she interned with the Washtenaw County Juvenile Court, and also worked side by side with social work students in the Chance at Childhood Law & Social Work Clinic, where she had the opportunity to complete a full custody investigation as well as experience with guardianship reviews through the court system.      

In two semesters in the First Amendment Law Clinic, teaching first amendment constitutional law principles to students at Renaissance High School in Detroit and Plymouth-Canton High School, she uncovered a hidden passion and desire to teach, something she also did in the Street Law Program, teaching high school students about fourth amendment search & seizure law.

After graduation in 2012, she spent 3 years at the Third Judicial Circuit Court in the Criminal Division (Frank Murphy Hall of Justice). Her work in the Pretrial Services Department included handling arraignment matters, sentencing guidelines, interviewing of defendants, and supervision of pretrial released defendants.

“I gained a wealth of knowledge about criminal law that I’d never given much consideration when I was in law school,” she says. “This job taught me the importance of advocacy when it comes to the basic rights of pretrial detained defendants during the initial process of the criminal court proceeding.”

The job also broadened the scope of career choices. While she had never previously considered practice as a criminal attorney, her experiences at the court opened her up to this realm of opportunity, and also proved beneficial when she made a career move to become a full time lecturer for the Department of Criminal Justice at WSU.

Service as a union steward at the Third Circuit Court piqued her interest in labor and employment law matters, prompting her to pursue an LLM degree at Wayne Law.

“I’ve found myself focusing on issues of injustice within the employment realm as they relate to ex-felons and their inabilities to gain employment after release,” she says. “I’m hoping to research and focus my thesis for my master’s degree around this topical area.”

She enjoys mentoring students, and helping them develop and grow while they explore career aspirations.

“I love the dialogue that occurs within the classroom setting,” she says. “In criminal justice, we discuss so many complex and uncomfortable topics that while part of the classroom experience, for some, might be overwhelming, for most it’s found to be exceptionally challenging in a positive way.

“I always tell my students I’m here to learn from them as they are here to learn from me. I wholeheartedly believe the learning experience goes both ways and that in many regards my students are experts as well, as they are definitely experts on their personal life experiences and the things they’ve had to encounter and overcome along the way as it might relate back to issues in criminal justice. I believe it’s so important to motivate students towards success and to be a source of encouragement when it comes to letting them know they can accomplish anything they set themselves out to achieve.”

Despite her LLM studies and teaching duties – she also is a writing instructor for the WSU Upward Bound Program and a part time adjunct faculty member in the WSU School of Social Work – Byndon-Fields makes time to volunteer as a Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) for the Wayne County Third Circuit Juvenile Court in Detroit.

Although she always plans to teach in some capacity, her long-term goal is to become a criminal defense attorney and eventually make it to the bench.

She also hopes to establish and open a transitional living facility for young mothers aged 18-24.

“What’s most important to me in one word is ‘legacy,’” she explains. “Creating, devising, and building my legacy which will entail helping, serving and advocating for others is what drives and pushes me each and every day. I want to be remembered, not by my prosperity but for my service and my giving to others. This is what both inspires and motivates me to continue to do what I’ve already begun.”

In her leisure time, the Ypsilanti resident and member of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority Inc. enjoys writing, drawing, reading, debating, and spending time with friends, family, and her 10-year-old Beagle.

“I enjoy meeting new people, experiencing some of the great food and entertainment offered to people in the greater Detroit area,” she says. “I love visiting the Charles H. Wright Museum, the DIA, and Belle Isle.”