Meet Our New Extern: Jenna Hyler!
Joining the team at Horani Law, PLLC, Jenna is already digging into some exciting projects on Alternative Billing Structures & Legal Ethics!
Q. Help us picture what life is like for you right now:
I’m a second year law student at Quinnipiac University School of Law in Connecticut, but first and foremost, I’m
a mom to a very energetic four-year old and a wife. I am taking on a fairly varied course load this fall - from federal income tax to family law. I recently earned my place on the Quinnipiac Probate Law Journal and Mock Trial Competition Team.
Q. You have an interesting background in restorative practices, psychology, and social work, give us some insight into what kinds of projects you’ve been working on these past few years:
I have a B.A. in Psychology and a Masters in Community Psychology, with a concentration in Forensic Psychology. Before law school, my work centered around preventing and diverting young people from the juvenile justice system through community-based initiatives called juvenile review boards. When a young person committed an arrestable offense, an officer could make the choice to send the young person to my organization rather than to juvenile court.
It was my responsibility to conduct risk and need assessments with the young person and their family and then work with the panel, young person, and their family to create a plan to repair the harm and ensure the behavior wouldn’t happen again.
Overall, I enjoyed being part of program that keeps young people out of the juvenile justice system – once a young person is in that system it’s very hard to keep them out. I also really enjoyed when I met a young person and found out what made them excited – what they were passionate about; then building what we call a diversion plan based on those passions.
This whole process incorporated a restorative approach to working with the young person and their families – always considering how can we repair the harm caused by their actions and what can we put in place to ensure something like this doesn’t happen again.
I am also very proud of the work I did with Yale School of Medicine and The Consultation Center as a research assistant on a project addressing disproportionate minority contact within the juvenile justice system.
Q. You’re connection with navigating the legal system came from a very young age, can you share a bit about your personal story?
To have a better understanding of my story I think it’s important to have a little background. My mom was a teen when she gave birth to me and my biological father was not involved in my life very much and did not make the best choices. When I was four, my mom married who I call my dad - I don’t think I can remember a time when I didn’t call him dad. Then when I was about twelve, I expressed to my parents that I wanted to discontinue the minuscule relationship I had with my biological father for my well-being - my parents never pressured me into this decision but supported my decision.
Around that time we somehow started having conversations about what would happen to me if anything were to happen to my mother. Our natural conclusion was that I would not be able to stay with my dad (technically step-dad) if such a thing were to happen. This is when we decided that my dad should officially adopt me.
My family was not in any position to pay for a lawyer to help navigate the process and we lived in a pretty rural area - no options for legal aid. So, my determined parents had to figure out the legal system and adoption process on their own - well before you could search YouTube for the answer to anything. I finally had my adoption finalized shortly after my fifteenth birthday.
Q. Did that inspire why you chose to go to law school?
It definitely is part of the reason I chose to attend law school as well as my experience working on juvenile review boards (JRB). When I worked with young people who were referred to the JRB, often I would find that the family dynamics played a role in what led them to the JRB. I had one client whose parents were divorced and each parent’s attorney just seemed to make the situation worse for the child. Situations like this happened often and while I enjoyed my work it didn’t feel like I was doing enough.
I thought to myself, "30 years from now if I don't try to get into law school I'm going to be thinking, 'What if?'". When I got accepted, I wanted to become the lawyer that kid should have had on their side: an attorney who can advocate for their client but not damage the children involved, anymore than divorce naturally does.
Q. What drew you to doing this externship? Has your experience in the summer transactional clinic impact your vision of being a lawyer?
By what seemed at the time to be a terrible turn of events, in the midst of COVID-19, I became a part of the Transactional Clinic Jacqueline taught this summer. Originally I was supposed to work for the Connecticut Innocence Project/Post-Conviction Unit, but that internship, like many others, was cancelled because of COVID-19. I thought, if I can't get an internship, at least I'll take some classes.
When Dean Kaas mentioned the opportunity to work with real clients in the Transactional Clinic, I jumped on it (even though I didn't think the subject matter would be very interesting). Unexpectedly, the clinic was super interesting, and had a lot of connections to my past experiences! I enjoyed working with a business/organization and when Kelly McGrath came to speak I learned there were lawyers out there who were practicing both family and business law concurrently. I had never heard of that as a possibility other than general practitioners who take anything that walks in the door. I knew I didn't want to pigeon hole myself in a particular area of practice; I didn't have any lawyers or professionals in my family, so I had no connection to what it meant to be a lawyer other than what you see on TV and the experiences my family had with lawyers.
So, once the Summer was over I wanted to take the opportunity to explore this area of practice more, particularly working with Jacqueline – given her approach to the practice of law and the whole integrative law movement. This specialized way of practicing law is what I'm finding I'm interested in doing, regardless of the practice area (family or business). A way of practicing law that looks at the whole person and respects the person. Hopefully this will trickle throughout the profession and we will have fewer attorneys who damage kids and communities.
"This way of practicing law is what I'm finding I'm interested in doing...that looks at the whole person & respects the person."
One of my goals this semester is to play a small part in making the legal field more accessible for everyone. The law has so much catching up to do to be as responsive to changes in society as other industries. There isn’t a person in the country that can go a day without their actions having the potentiality for legal consequences and yet, for most people the thought of talking with a lawyer is about as scary as the thought of seeing the dentist. I'm hoping to help change that.
"The legal industry needs to become more approachable and accessible to everyone, not just those of wealth & connections. "
-Jenna Hyler, Fall 2020
Follow What Jenna's Working on at www.LegallyUnconventional.com
If you're interested in joining the team at Horani Law, PLLC as an extern, collaborating attorney, or to ask about clinics & workshops, email Jacqueline Horani at LegallyUnconventional@gmail.com