Shenetta Webster is a consultant, attorney, and entrepreneur who is passionate about business and technology and also dedicated to public interest and civil rights initiatives.
In 1998, I graduated from law school and went to work for a small, private law firm. Four months into working there, I realized that I was kind-of on the wrong career path. This discovery was ignited the day I had to inform a potential client that our firm couldn’t take his case. He was a young man working for an airline company. He believed he’d been a victim of employment discrimination because he was gay. I remember the eagerness my boss and I shared as we discussed the opportunity to be a part of such a potentially impactful case. But that enthusiasm quelled when I informed the young man of the retainer amount he would have to pay before we could work on his case. He could not afford to pay. And unfortunately, that meant we could not take his case.
I was so disappointed. Not in his inability to pay, but because his inability to pay was the deciding factor for whether we could help him. And as a small law firm, we couldn’t afford to take a case of this magnitude on a pro bono basis. That day I remember thinking about how most of the cases on my desk involved people who could afford to pay the retainer, but their cases seemed much less worthwhile in comparison. There was a divorce case where my client was disputing with her husband over whether she was entitled to keep the vanity license plates on their car. She could afford to pay us to negotiate with opposing counsel about this and argue her position in family court. And there was a criminal misdemeanor case from a local “booster” with a history of theft. She was accused of stealing steaks from a grocery store and security cameras had her on tape proving that she’d done it. But she could afford to pay us to help plead her case down and reduce her punishment.
It was in that moment, as I assessed the cases on my desk from clients who could afford to pay, that I knew I needed more from my work. And please know that this is not a dig on hardworking lawyers who handle divorce cases, or criminal law, or their litigants. I think it’s all important work and I’m well aware that every job has cases, projects, or activities that don’t fuel your soul. And for me, it wasn’t about the type of law or type of cases I was handling. It was this notion that money was a big controlling factor over what cases landed on my desk. Money wasn’t the only factor, but it was the gateway factor. If you couldn’t pay, we couldn’t help you and it didn’t matter how good your case was.
That day I decided I no longer wanted to decline good cases because of someone’s financial status. I preferred a service model where the merits of a case had primary control over whether I could help people. So, I resigned from that job after only 6-months. Since then, I’ve worked for non-profit public interest and civil rights agencies where legal services are provided for free. And I’m thankful that these types of legal agencies exist because justice should be afforded to everyone, not just to those who can afford to pay.
MY ADVOCACY WORK
I’ve always been passionate about helping others achieve what’s fair and just. Here’s some of the causes that I’ve been blessed to contribute to.
I served in AmeriCorps for 1 year where I designed and implemented a program to prevent truancy of at-risk high school students.
While working in a law school clinic I researched and investigated practices that negatively impacted consumers such as: excessive bank fees, predatory rent-to-own interest rates, and telephone slamming.
I taught criminal law classes to college students at a state university, including a course for upperclassmen called “Race Ethnic & Gender Issues in Criminal Justice.”
I also taught youth residing in a detention center about their legal rights.
I represented senior citizens who were abused physically or financially. I helped them fight guardianship and maintain their homes when their independence was threatened without justification.
I designed fliers and presentations educating the community about laws designed to protect the elderly from abuse.
I helped people with disabilities assert their rights to inclusive education, independent living and employment accommodations.
I managed an Intake process to help people with disabilities get referrals and resources for their legal problems.
I provided technology support to disability rights attorneys to help manage their cases.
I contacted voters whose ballots were rejected due to “signature mismatch.” All were eligible voters, and most were senior citizens with arthritis, tremors and other disabilities that affected their ability to write their signature the same way they signed their driver’s license years prior. I helped them cure their ballot and resubmit new signatures so their votes would be counted.
Some things I'm proud of
University of Wisconsin Law School
Bachelor of Business Administration
University of Wisconsin-Whitewater
Volunteer Lawyers Project Trainings
National Disability Rights Network Conference
Health Insurance & Public Benefits Seminar
Co-Founder of two charitable organizations that award scholarships to disadvantaged students.
Board President of a 300+ member student organization while in college.
Ball State University (Indiana)
LaFollette High School (Wisconsin)
Consultant for a nonprofit company to implement case-handling technology that will help attorneys work more efficiently and have better accuracy in reporting their results.
Owned an ecommerce store for 6 years.
FUN FACT ABOUT ME
I love learning about productivity and efficiency and applying what I learn to my life and my work. I created a Daily Planner that was featured on Entrepreneur as one of the top “5 Goal-Setting Journals to Take You From Intention to the Finish Line.”
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Art is usually viewed in the context of being a creative endeavor for people to express themselves. When thinking of art, drawings, paintings, sculptures, and animations often spring to mind.