Championship swimmer passionate about law career

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By Sheila Pursglove
Legal News

Yvonne Tirakian wanted a career that would impact people’s lives for the better.

Originally a pre-med student in undergrad at Wayne State University, she changed her major to sociology at the end of her freshman year, and graduated with honors.

Tirakian also was accepted into the Wayne Law “LawStart” 3+3, a competitive program that allows two students from Wayne State University to begin their legal studies at Wayne Law during their fourth year of undergrad.

So, she received her bachelor of arts in 2020 and simultaneously completed her first year of law school.

“As I delved deeper into sociological theory and research, I realized the societal problems we face are largely influenced by the legal atmosphere — and realized I could do more for others and make greater systemic changes by pursuing a career in law,” Tirakian said. “That’s what brought me to where I am today, and I’m so glad I made that decision.”

Tirakian is now a 2L student at Wayne Law, which she describes as a unique place.

“It’s a tightly-knit community where everyone knows everyone — in many ways, it’s like a small town,” she said. “Upperclassmen are always happy to help first-year students. The professors are caring and love what they do. The student body is filled with individuals from different backgrounds. I learn something new from each of my classmates every day.

“My favorite part is the emphasis placed on public interest practice. Wayne Law places tremendous value in community service and leadership, which aligns closely with my own values.”

Tirakian’s particular passion is constitutional law, protecting and expanding civil liberties guaranteed by the Constitution, especially for marginalized individuals. She would eventually like to get an LLM in the subject and perhaps even pursue a career in legal academia in that area.

Tirakian is especially interested in constitutional torts, personal injury claims based on a violation of a person’s constitutional rights. She has worked on constitutional torts against government officials using the federal statute 42 USC 1983.

“There are massive ‘access to justice’ gaps that have resulted from years of discriminatory practices,” she said. “I feel the U.S. Constitution is a weapon that can be used to be the voice of the voiceless.”

Tirakian worked as a teaching assistant to Distinguished Professor of Law Robert Sedler, a world-renowned expert in Constitutional Law, helping facilitate his 1L Constitutional Law I class.

“I admire Professor Sedler in so many ways, and I’m constantly learning from him,” she said. “I assist students in studying, coping with the transition to law school, and even act as a mentor. Constitutional law is my all-time favorite area of law, so working for someone who litigated before the U.S. Supreme Court
and taught law for 60 years is a dream come true. I’m honored that he chose me to be his teaching assistant.

While her long-term dream is to practice for the ACLU, Tirakian’s current goals are not as specific.

“I genuinely want to make meaningful change in our world, whether limited to the City of Detroit or expanded to change our nation,” Tirakian said. “By meaningful change, I mean increasing access to justice, ameliorating social inequalities, and protecting our most vulnerable populations.

“I was raised in a household that values hard work, integrity, and dedication. I was also taught to recognize my own privilege, understand there are some things I can’t and will not experience, and use that knowledge to be kind, caring, compassionate, and do right by others, especially those in need.”

Tirakian is the social media coordinator for the Wayne Law chapter of If/When/How, a national organization dedicated to training and educating lawyers to become effective advocates for reproductive justice.

The organization recently hosted a national event where medical sociologist Dr. Janet Hankin presented her research on infant mortality rates in the City of Detroit.

“Her research showed Detroit’s infant mortality rate is almost three times higher than the rest of the United States, which is huge, considering the U.S. has one of the highest infant mortality rates in the world when compared to other well-developed nations,” Tirakian said.

A student attorney for the Elder Law Advocacy Center in Redford, Tirakian finds it rewarding to solve legal problems for the elderly.

“Many of my clients have been taken advantage of, live alone, or have disabilities,” she said. “Our elderly population is important, and it’s astonishing to see how poorly they are treated at times. Elder abuse is real, and it’s important to stand up for these individuals.”

Tirakian enjoys representing the student body in her role as a 2L governor, as well as interviewing potential faculty candidates and providing feedback. As an article editor for the Wayne Law Journal of Law in Society, she has been exposed interesting legal scholarship. Her favorite part is writing her own article that focuses on reparations for African-American slave descendants.

Earlier this year, Tirakian clerked for Excolo Law. She is now clerking at the Law Office of Keith Altman in Farmington Hills, doing legal research, drafting complaints and motions, and sitting in on court hearings.

“The cases are very vast, but the majority are tort-based and very exciting,” she said.

Tirakian didn’t find it too difficult to switch to online learning during the pandemic.

“From kindergarten to college, I did my homework at the kitchen table, and that didn’t change much when I got to law school, so the studying aspect hasn’t been too hard on me,” she said. “That said, the act of physically going to an office or a classroom makes it easier to create a structured schedule. Now that everything is done remotely, I rely on a planner to organize my days.”

A native of Algonac in St. Clair County, Tirakian now makes her home in the Motor City.

“My hometown is very small and rural. I loved growing up there, although I craved diversity and culture. So, when I came to Wayne State in 2016 to begin my undergraduate studies, I had a hard time adjusting. Now, I’ve lived in Midtown for about five years and I like it a great deal,” she said.

Swimming has long been a passion and, during her undergraduate studies, she was a three-time national medalist with the Michigan Masters and Grosse Pointe Gators Masters.

While law school studies have somewhat curtailed her swimming, Tirakian noted that when she is in the water, it clears her mind. She also enjoys teaching swimming lessons, coaching and teaching water aerobics classes when the opportunity arises.

““I hate slacking, so I’ve always been labeled the ‘work horse’ of my group, even if I’m the slowest one in the lane,” Tirakian said. “Whether you’re alone or with a team, it’s important to be able to start and finish a task, no matter how difficult.

“This also carries over into my academic life. My drive carries over into the classroom and my work in the legal — always give your best, always push yourself, and always do what is right, even if it is unpopular.”

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