Jela Shiver’s grandfather had trouble buying a new home due to redlining by banks. Now, as a first-year student at the University of Virginia School of Law, Shiver is interested in honoring his family story by incorporating real estate and land use into his future practice.

Working in both the private and public sectors before law school gave Shiver unique insights into policymaking and the legal profession. He was also an SEO Law Fellow. Seizing Every Opportunity offers students of color the opportunity to work at a top law firm during the summer before law school.

The Alexandria, Virginia, native majored in government and politics, as well as economics at the University of Maryland.

In our occasional series “Star Witness,” Shiver discussed what he learned in previous jobs and how he decided law school was the best fit.

Tell us something about your life before law school.

After graduation, I worked in state government affairs consulting. I was able to work in a wide range of issues including education, financial services, judicial and tort reform, online commerce, and transportation, to name just a few. Customizing programs for clients and monitoring issue priorities was certainly high-paced and sometimes taxing, however, I was able to learn a lot about the novelties in state governments throughout the Union. Obviously, due to the pandemic, the landscape in every state legislature rapidly changed; many states had to reform their budgets, close schools and provide relief to their citizens. Keeping track of all those changes gave me a far greater appreciation for the bureaucracy of state legislatures; they were able to answer every question I had for them, even in the face of a pandemic. Before working in state government consulting, I also interned for Sen. Mark Warner’s office in Washington, D.C. 

Why law school?

Surprisingly, I can remember every job that I wanted to do since I was a kid: paleontologist, oncologist, nuclear engineer, urban planner; being an attorney, however, was something I did not consider. Many people in my life assumed I would become an attorney due to my obsessive inclination for random facts, but it never grabbed my interest as other professions did. Every year or so, I would read some new article or Wikipedia entry and I would radically change my desired career. What consistently changed my mind was the static feeling in these professions, which was something that I never felt with the law as I got older. The law is all-encompassing and ever-changing, which always gives me something interesting to discover and learn. I didn’t want to be pinpointed into a specific area, or if I was, I at least wanted to do something in my career that had lots of intersection. Law not only allows me to explore the things I care about but to learn something new. 

Tell us about your work as an SEO Law Fellow. What did you learn?

The SEO Program was truly one of the best programs I participated in before law school. The program gave me the opportunity to work as a summer associate for White & Case in a range of practice groups, from antitrust to international arbitration. Given that I did not have any prior experience working in the legal field before starting law school, the opportunity gave me a robust experience working for a big law firm and well-grounded practical experience, even if the program was online. The program has so far made my first weeks much smoother than I expected, since it feels like a continuation of the work I was doing at the firm.

What’s something your classmates don’t know about you?

My house in Northern Virginia sits on the intersection of Shiver Drive and Jube Court, which is no coincidence: It’s the name of my grandfather. In the early 1960s, when my grandfather attempted to buy a home in Alexandria and Washington, D.C., he was denied a bank loan more than a dozen times. So instead, my grandfather convinced a Black farmer, Mr. William H. Randall, to divide his land into 40 lots and allow him to construct one of the first middle-class African American neighborhoods in the region. He also later went on to build one of the first low-income housing developments in the state under the Fair Housing Act. One of the reasons I love that story is because it reminds me of the drive and determination needed in life. In a single life time, my grandfather went from sharecropping in rural South Carolina to living in the wealthiest county in the country. He could have chosen to accept his status in a segregated society, but instead took an incredible risk, and with luck and perseverance in the face of brutal discrimination, built a permanent manifestation of his legacy which I strive to live up to.

What’s next for you?

Unsurprisingly, given my family background, I’m very interested in real estate as well as land use law and hope to work in that practice area. I’m excited to see what the Law School has in store for me.

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.

Media Contact