When Jamila Brinson signs up for a volunteer role—from AIDS outreach to holiday drives for the needy—she comes with sleeves rolled up
Published in 2021 Texas Rising Stars magazine on March 23, 2021
Jamila Brinson spent the summer after college graduation volunteering at a Planned Parenthood facility run by her aunt in her parents’ native Belize. In college, that same health care-focused mindset had led her to pursue a summer program in public health, where a mentor sparked her curiosity about a possible legal career.
But it wasn’t until she joined the Peace Corps that Brinson became inspired to pursue law. That spark came while working with AIDS support agencies on the island nation of Saint Lucia.
The woman who oversaw the island’s AIDS Action Foundation, Joan Didier, was not herself a lawyer, but Brinson observed her working with them. “She was a powerhouse,” Brinson says. “I got to see firsthand her negotiations for funding from the government. All those nonprofit organizations were run by attorneys, and seeing their advocacy skills and the impact they had … the ones I worked with attributed what they were able to accomplish to law school.”
After graduating from the University of Houston Law Center in 2010, Brinson joined Jackson Walker—drawn, she says, by the firm’s support of pro bono activity, as well as its commitment to diversity and inclusion. She has coordinated the Houston office’s pro bono efforts for several years, as well as volunteered for the Houston Bar Association’s AIDS Outreach program, holiday drives benefiting needy kids and families, and a pro bono program helping people attain guardianship of incapacitated persons.
“She’s done a lot of pro bono work from day one,” says Priya Coffey, managing partner at Jackson Walker’s Houston office. “From loading things on a truck or delivering it where it needs to go—she’s not just delegating, she’s also rolling up her sleeves and doing the work. And on top of that, she’s a phenomenal lawyer.”
Brinson, who is fluent in Spanish, also works with a University of Houston initiative to recruit to the legal profession students who are first-generation, low-income or members of groups underrepresented in the legal industry.
And last fall, she completed her first pro bono case through the UH Law Center’s Juvenile and Children’s Advocacy Project, which helps juveniles seal their records. “That had a huge impact on me,” she says.
A 16-year-old client had made a threat as an eighth-grader about causing damage to his school that was considered alarming enough to get him arrested. She says the act was out of character.
“He’s been an A and B student,” Brinson says. “It was a thoughtless comment that changed his whole life. He now understands the importance of our words and what we say and how we say it.”
The judge agreed and granted the sealing of his juvenile records. “He’s now able to apply for a driver’s license and jobs so he can help his family and do the types of things that are teenage rites of passage,” Brinson says. “His mother was extremely grateful; he’s doing well in school and she’s thinking about him ultimately applying for college and scholarships.”
When Brinson commits to a volunteer role, you can count on her, says Bonnie Simmons, projects and events director for the Houston Bar Association.
“She really puts all her time and energy into something,” Simmons says. “She’s not one to say, ‘Sign me up’ and then disappear.”
“I’ve had so many mentors and scholarships that I feel the only reason I’m here and able to be a partner at Jackson Walker is because of the help and encouragement that pushed me along,” Brinson says. “So I feel like it’s crucial to give back as much as I can.”
Even before then, her parents had instilled the importance of giving.
“They grew up in Belize with humble beginnings,” she says. “I remember my mom donating every Christmas to different organizations, whether $5 or $10, even when she didn’t have sufficient money for certain things. That’s always stuck with me.”
Jamila Brinson’s Legal Flick Picks
On the Basis of Sex (2018)
“It gave background on … how Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg got started and why she was qualified to be on the bench.”
“It highlighted one of Justice Thurgood Marshall’s cases that I was not previously familiar with and showed just one of the many challenging cases he tackled long before he was appointed to the U.S. Supreme Court.”
The Client (1994)
“This was one of the first films I watched about a lawyer, and I remember thinking, ‘This is what lawyers do.’”
The Firm (1993)
“Now in my career, I see what law firms are really like—they’re not hiding dead bodies, but in some ways the elitism of prestigious law firms still rings true. With these movies, there’s always some tiny kernel of truth.”
My Cousin Vinny (1992)
“It’s a comedy, but it’s relatable in so many ways. … The movie shows that practice makes perfect.”