Law grad is passionate about juvenile justice reform

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By Sheila Pursglove
Legal News

Kiara Swinton, a May graduate from Michigan State University College of Law, got an inside look at the nation’s legislative system last summer as an extern at the House of Representatives Minority Committee on Oversight and Government Reform in D.C. The highlight was working as a hearing team member for the Committee’s bi-partisan criminal justice reform hearing.

“I’m particularly passionate about juvenile justice reform and the opportunity to research the topic, to engage with leaders in the field who were potential hearing witnesses, and to hear legislators thoughts on necessary changes was invaluable,” she says.

Along with other externs/interns, she also had the opportunity to sit down with Democratic Congressman Elijah E. Cummings from Maryland, Ranking Member of the OGR.    

“Rep. Cummings shared his wisdom about finding our passions in life, what pained us about our society, and how to use those to determine our purpose,” she says. “This is a lesson I will keep with me for the rest of my life.”

That life will include a career as a litigator, with an ultimate goal of becoming an appellate court judge.

“There’s something so powerful about being in a courtroom,” she says.  “A litigator has the opportunity to bring skills to bear before a judge to skillfully fight for clients’ rights – and that’s what I want to do.”

Swinton set her sights on a legal career as early as middle school, wanting to use legal knowledge to advocate for others.

“I’ve always been passionate about fighting for others, especially those our society tends to devalue – children, the elderly, and the disabled,” she says.

A 2013 graduate of the University of Virginia, where she earned her bachelor’s degree in political philosophy, policy, and law, Swinton got a taste of the law in 2012 when she spent three months interning at the Commonwealth Attorney’s Office Victim Witness Department in Portsmouth, Va.

“I enjoyed working with victims and witnesses and the opportunity to spend every day in the courtroom watching trials and hearings play out,” she says.

At MSU Law, Swinton enjoyed the community environment, especially within the Black Law Students Association.

“The atmosphere of MSU Law isn’t like what one sees on television or hears about other law schools – it’s not highly-competitive or lacking collegiality,” she says.

During her time as BLSA president in her 3L year, the chapter was awarded the 2015-2016 Mid-west BLSA (MWBLSA) Large Chapter of the Year award, based on membership and programming, such as events focused on voting rights; community service projects including a canned food drive; and law school and undergraduate mentorship programs.

“This year, our team worked hard to re-implement successful programs of the past as well as create new ones,” says Swinton, who partnered with Nadia Vann to take first place in the 2016 MWBLSA Frederick Douglas Moot Court Competition. “We revitalized our undergraduate mentorship program by reaching out to diversity directors within the greater MSU community and worked to pair students interested in attending law school with current law students.”

The BLSA focused community service efforts on working with children at local elementary schools and local homeless shelters; and highlighted Black History month by implementing “Black History Mondays” in February, which included hosting a local NAACP director and other guest speakers to highlight the continued importance of remembering and building Black History.

A highlight of Swinton’s studies was participating in the Trial Practice Institute, a program that provided a lot of practical experience.

“As members of the program, we have the ability to walk into our first post-law school jobs with experience in writing complaints and answers, arguing motions before real judges, conducting both a full civil and full criminal case, and so much more,” she says.

Early in 2015, she interned in the Chance at Childhood clinic, and enjoyed meeting and speak with children and working with their parents and caretakers.

She also relished the variety of the work as a law clerk in 2014 at Legal Services of South Central Michigan in Ann Arbor.

“One day I could be working on a housing law case and the next a disability benefits case – there was rarely a dull moment,” she says.  “I enjoyed working with clients and gaining real world legal experience – I was even able to successfully argue one of our client’s cases before an administrative law judge, the highlight of my summer with LSSCM.”

Swinton, whose interests include cooking, poetry writing, playing billiards, and volunteering at homeless shelters, spent five months in the MSU Law Street Law program, teaching legal concepts such as freedom of speech to local high school students.

“I was amazed by the depth of thought,” she says. “While I was sent to teach them, I think I learned as much from them as I taught.”

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