Lawyer, Uninterrupted

Although Shevelle McPherson’s adolescence ended abruptly, that didn’t stop her from becoming a top trial lawyer

Published in 2010 Pennsylvania Rising Stars — June 2010

For most people, the transition from youth to adulthood is gradual and takes years. For Shevelle McPherson, it happened in one day. The day she found out she was pregnant.

“My parents sat me down and said, ‘You’re a child but you’re now living with an adult situation, and facing adult responsibilities,’” she recalls. She was 15 at the time. “That’s when I realized it was time to sink or swim.”

She swam.

Today, not only is the 39-year-old McPherson the proud mother of Lamar, who recently graduated from Temple, she’s the founder of McPherson Law Offices (with locations in Philadelphia, north Jersey and south Jersey). Life is good. It just hasn’t always been easy.

 

McPherson always excelled in the classroom. She graduated from her Irvington high school in the top 5 percent of her class and obtained her undergraduate degree in business management and accounting from Rutgers University, attending class full time while Lamar was in daycare. To make ends meet she worked nights as a security guard from 11 p.m. to 7 a.m. She got by on periodic, efficient naps.

“Being a young mother motivated me because I did not want to fail,” she says. “I did not want to end up just another statistic. I wanted to break the cycle and not have my child grow up in the same environment I grew up in or face the same obstacles and despair that I encountered.”

In addition to earning her degree, McPherson obtained a real estate license during her senior year at Rutgers. After graduation she started a small but successful real estate and financial consulting firm called McPherson Financial Group (which she still owns and operates to this day). The success of these ventures allowed her to attend paralegal school and eventually get a job working for a large regional civil law firm in north Jersey. It was there, after doing paralegal work for several attorneys for just six months, that McPherson made a bold decision.

“For a few months I had contemplated going to law school, but I wasn’t sure about the commitment it would take while raising my son,” she says. “But after six months of paralegal work I looked at the lawyers in my office and thought, ‘That’s what I have to do.’

“I’ve had to take a lot of chances in my life and I wasn’t intimidated by the hard work. What intimidated me the most was failing,” she says. “I knew that if I decided to do this I had to succeed. I could not come home without my law degree.”

So in 1998, McPherson packed her entire life into a U-Haul truck and moved with Lamar—who was 12—to Michigan, where she attended Thomas M. Cooley Law School on an academic scholarship. After a year away from home McPherson transferred to Seton Hall Law School in Newark so she could take care of her ailing grandmother.

“For as much as we moved around and changed our lives, I always trusted my mom,” recalls Lamar, 24, who was a running back at Temple University and got his degree in film and media arts. “She always put me first no matter what. And I always understood the reasons we were moving weren’t for her. It was for me, to better our lives and my opportunities.”

During her last year of law school, McPherson was offered a job as an assistant district attorney for the city of Philadelphia. She accepted the job in her senior year and started after graduation. After rotating through several units, she became a trial lawyer in the major trial unit. While serving as an assistant DA, she worked on her master’s in trial advocacy at Temple University.

After serving as an assistant DA, she started her own law practice, successfully defending clients charged with murder, rape, robbery, carjacking, kidnapping, forgery and drug offenses.

McPherson recalls a client accused of selling drugs on a street corner in Philadelphia last summer. She believed the case was winnable without calling witnesses because the evidence against her client was tenuous at best. The only problem was that her client insisted on bringing the man who was allegedly seen buying drugs from him to the stand to testify on his behalf.

“I kept telling my client that in a criminal trial, you are presumed innocent,” she says. “When you walk into that courtroom you are an innocent man. The commonwealth has the burden of proving you guilty.”

Against her counsel, the witness took to the stand, and sure enough the jury found McPherson’s client guilty.

“In Philly you can talk to the jurors after the case. And when I went up to them I said, ‘So, tell me how you reached your verdict.’ And they said, ‘Ms. McPherson, this was a not guilty all the way ... until that fool testified!’”

She chuckles about it now but as McPherson prepares for three separate homicide trials in the coming months, the lesson isn’t lost on her.

“It’s not just about skill and talent,” she says. “The decisions you make in terms of the witnesses you call or not are just as critical.”

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