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Q&A with Letitia James, HU Alumna And First Woman of Color Attorney General of New York  

AG Letitia James at the New York City Inaugural Ceremony in Jan. 2014. Photo Courtesy of Flickr.com

Letitia James, the first African-American attorney general of the state of New York who has recently been in headlines for her lawsuit against former President Donald Trump, is also a Bison who says her tenure at Howard University prepared her for what she faces today in her role as attorney general.

James earned her Juris Doctorate degree from the Howard University School of Law before returning to her home state to practice in the field. 

The Hilltop had the honor of interviewing James regarding her time at Howard along with her career in government. 

The Hilltop: Why did you decide to choose Howard for law school?  

James: Because I wanted to walk the same halls as Thurgood Marshall and the other giants that were law school students from the civil rights movement. And I wanted to be a part of an institution that dealt with segregation.

The Hilltop: Can you reflect on your time at Howard Law? How did studying at Howard help shape your career in law? 

James: I remember one semester, in particular, I had these two professors, Professor Shuman and Professor Rogers, and I can remember their Socratic method of teaching and how intimidated I was by their understanding of the law and their knowledge in general.

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The Hilltop: When you attended Howard did you ever envision or anticipate yourself in the political position you are in today?  

James: No, by no means did I envision…I knew I would return back to New York City. I wasn’t sure how or in what capacity but I knew I had the training from an institution that expected me to lead.

The Hilltop: What was one of your favorite memories from Howard’s homecoming season?  

James: The football games were really fun. 

The Hilltop: Earlier in your career you served as a public defender for The Legal Aid Society. Can you describe your role and what was most exciting to you about gaining this position soon after graduating from Howard Law?  

James: I was at the Manhattan District Attorney’s office. I was rejected by their office and I had to think on my own. And I had to come up with legal theories and represent the interests of individuals.

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The Hilltop: Why did you establish the Urban Network, an organization aimed at providing scholarships to students?  

James: Because students of color needed one role model and financial needs to further their education. 

The Hilltop: Prior to becoming AG you were elected as New York City’s Public Advocate and the first woman of color to hold a citywide office in NYC, what was that experience like? 

James: As a public advocate I served as a watchdog over city agencies. I passed more laws than all pre-city public advocates combined. We were able to hold bad landlords accountable for their actions, we were able to convince pension boards, and it was just an incredible honor to serve as the public advocate in the city of New York. Also as a public advocate, I wanted to test and push the boundaries of that office. We did this by initiating litigation on behalf of special needs children. 

The Hilltop: How has your experience as a legal aid influenced the decisions you make as New York’s current Attorney General? 

James: It was more my experience at Howard University that prepared my journey to serve as attorney general and stand up for those from marginalized communities. Howard trained me to be a social justice advocate and I am proud of that fact, just as they continue to graduate social justice champions every year.

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The Hilltop:  As the first African-American female Attorney General, what would you say to the students who are interested in following in your footsteps, being mostly students of color seeking careers in law? 

James: I would say to confront your fears and to walk into a room and to own it. Ignore all of the naysayers, and take your seat at the table. Use your voice and your passion and your commitment and your training. 

Copy edited by Nhandi Long-Shipman

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