The multidisciplined life of Saidah Grimes
Published in 2020 Maryland Super Lawyers magazine on December 17, 2019
If you want to impress Saidah Grimes, show up at her office with a glinting fantasy football trophy in hand or casually sprinkle Orioles stats into conversation.
“Let’s just say one of my biggest loves outside of law is sports,” she says. “I am in a number of fantasy leagues; I love the Orioles, and I am a former college athlete and high school summer league softball coach. Sports is a big part of my life.”
Grimes may be a former Miss Black Maryland USA, but she’s an atypical beauty queen. That, in fact, was the entire point. “I wanted to get involved to show a different face,” she says. “It’s not just the folks who look a certain way or who grew up with a certain background.”
A University of South Carolina Darla Moore School of Business quadruple major, Grimes checked a specific contestant box: “The hyper-intellectual-academic, sporty girl who was as into football as she was making a difference in her community,” she says.
Though she didn’t take home the national jewels, she won the state contest and reigned as Maryland’s queen in 2017. “It was a phenomenal experience,” she says. “From day one I felt really accepted by the other queens, many of whom I still talk to.”
Some of it was expected. “Pageant week is intense,” she says. “You have a lot of rehearsals. For folks like me not from a dance background, learning the choreography was challenging.”
Then there was the unexpected, like a trip to the White House.
“We toured the White House, and we were a presence,” Grimes says. “People could hear our stories. We had the chance to connect with strangers, where they saw us as individuals worthy of love, dignity, respect and humanity. That’s an opportunity that I will always take, no matter the politics.”
With a background working in the Office of the Public Defender’s Juvenile Division, Grimes chose Plug the Pipeline—a mission to educate parents and other officials on the link between school disciplinary policies and academic struggles, and the growing number of kids who end up in the justice system—as her platform.
“Kids in Baltimore City struggle with issues that I never knew growing up: poverty, violence and drugs,” Grimes says. “It was an eye-opening experience for me to understand how all these pieces of the puzzle fit together, and how the system in many ways failed them.”
Young people would tell her they didn’t show up at school because they didn’t think they were good at it. “If your boss keeps telling you you’re bad at your job, you’re going to get discouraged,” she says.
Plug the Pipeline had a two-pronged focus: an agenda specific to students, and one to parents and educators. With parents and educators, she facilitated workshops to help them understand what their children and students were facing, with topics for educators like, ‘How challenging is our curriculum?’; and, for parents, ‘Do you know how much of a disrupter social media is to teenagers, from gossip to bullying and beyond?’”
On the student side, it was all about face time. She’d often visit the Baltimore City Juvenile Justice Center.
“There was a group of kids there tried as adults waiting to see whether they could be transferred down to juvenile court,” Grimes says. “And then there’s the opposite proceeding, where they’re waiting to see if they will be waived up to the court. We discussed their rights, teaching them how to advocate for themselves, and generally, just listening. Often, kids feel like nobody’s listening, and I can’t say that they’re wrong.” Her yearlong advocacy informs her work at Baltimore’s Murphy Falcon & Murphy.
“Juvenile court is its own specialized area: quasi-civil, quasi-criminal. Although I don’t do much of that work anymore, its helped me better understand my clients,” she says.
Unsurprising, the quadruple major has a multidisciplined practice that includes class actions, mass torts, personal injury, products liability and commercial litigation.
“I love a challenge,” she says. “Being able to practice across multiple areas with different fact patterns, with different clients’ interests that I’m protecting, it keeps the work interesting.”
Her personal highlight reel includes a landlord-tenant dispute in which the total package she secured for her two clients, who were living in a unit without heat and hot water, was less than $10,000; and her involvement in a massive class action the firm filed after 147 million were affected by the Equifax data breach. The proposed settlement agreement entails a consumer fund valued at more than $380 million.
“They’re entirely disparate cases, but they both meant a great deal to me,” she says.
Next up, political office?
“I’ve often thought about running for governor because we’ve never had a black female governor in this country,” she says. “But mostly, I hope to always be on the right side of justice. I think that, while I’m really passionate about helping people, and making sure that we are fighting those fights, our next battle is going to be in making sure that those fights don’t happen anymore.”