Graduating UVA Law Student Built Solidarity
During her first week of law school, Jasmine Esmailbegui went to the annual student activities fair and signed up for every organization that promoted women's interests and LGBT affinity.
"I wanted to get involved in those [groups] so that the students who come here will feel comfortable here and know that they will always have friends or community to go to," she said.
Esmailbegui, a member of the graduating Class of 2017, has promoted diversity and service to others through her many involvements over the past three years at the University of Virginia School of Law.
Among her leadership roles, she served as president of Women of Color; co-director of Lambda Law Alliance; co-chair of the Feminist Legal Forum; auction co-director of the Public Interest Law Association, or PILA; and co-director of the Libel Show. She was also a member of the Program in Law and Public Service and sought out a variety of public service opportunities. In each role, she was able to bring attention to issues that were important to her.
Through Lambda and Women of Color, she had a platform for planning events to bring the school together.
"You talk to a few people, a few people get on board, you do some logistical work, and then people show up and they are there to listen to things that you care about," she said.
In the summer after the U.S. Supreme Court's landmark decision in Obergefell v. Hodges — which guaranteed the right of same-sex couples to marry — Esmailbegui began contemplating what the next steps would look like for the LGBTQ movement. That fall, in her role with Lambda, she organized a panel featuring professors Kim Forde-Mazrui and Douglas Laycock.
She said she appreciated how the event brought a range of interest groups together. But Esmailbegui saw the affinity groups as more than simple platforms for expression and education. She saw them as sources of support.
With that basic goal in mind, Esmailbegui scheduled regular informal social events for Women of Color. The message was, "If you're ever feeling like you're alone, you're not," she said.
Esmailbegui found another community resource in PILA. After receiving a PILA grant to intern at the Legal Aid Justice Center, an organization that provides legal services to low-income individuals in Virginia, she joined the PILA board and helped manage the next semester's fundraising auction. The effort allowed her to once again bring the Law School community together to aid a cause she cared about: supporting students pursuing public service jobs.
During her summer with Legal Aid, and later during the school year, Esmailbegui worked in the center's Economic Justice and JustChildren programs, focusing on issues involving housing, employment, juvenile justice and health care access. She also did pro bono work through the Hunton & Williams Pro Bono Partnership during her first and second years.
Despite her commitments to affinity groups and public service, Esmailbegui still found time each spring to participate in the Libel Show, which she co-directed this year. She was able to bring her interest in diversity to that experience, pushing for more female writers and encouraging members of Women of Color to join the show.
"We had a diverse cast, which was awesome," she said. "We had a diverse group of people writing for it. It just turned out really well."
A graduate of the University of Florida with family ties in the state, Esmailbegui will return to the Orlando area to practice real estate law at Foley & Lardner, where she plans to continue working on civil legal aid projects pro bono. She has already connected with other UVA Law alumni in the area, after inviting a few to lunch last summer.
Her family is pleased she is coming home, rather than heading farther north.
"I could hear in my parents' voices, 'Do whatever you want to do,' but they didn't sound that excited," she said about her initial job interviews in Washington, D.C.
But when she told her family she had decided to work in Orlando, "My sister was like, 'None of us wanted to tell you to do that, but we wanted to tell you to do that.'"
Founded in 1819, the University of Virginia School of Law is the second-oldest continuously operating law school in the nation. Consistently ranked among the top law schools, Virginia is a world-renowned training ground for distinguished lawyers and public servants, instilling in them a commitment to leadership, integrity and community service.