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Home / Supplements and Special Sections / WJA 2018 / Litigation Practitioner: Jerina D. Phillips

Litigation Practitioner: Jerina D. Phillips

Lewis Rice

Jerina D. Phillips wrote her first contract at age 16. The party with whom she intended to enter into a contract: her mother. The substance of her inaugural attempt at a binding agreement: a “diminished” curfew. “I was the only signatory.” Mom refused to sign.phillips-jerina

Today, that contract hangs on the wall of her office at Lewis Rice.

“I’ve always known I wanted to go to law school,” said Phillips, an East St. Louis native who joined Lewis Rice in 2014. As an associate in the firm’s litigation department, her practice areas include commercial, labor and employment, education, and media and communications law. She also serves on Lewis Rice’s recruiting committee.

Phillips’ involvement in local communities is arguably as impressive as her legal career. Now living in South City, she is a board member of the Women Lawyers’ Association of Greater St. Louis, and she’s been active with the WLA for almost a decade since she received a scholarship from the group. She graduated six years ago from Saint Louis University School of Law after studying criminal justice and sociology at Loyola University in New Orleans.

She also is a board member of the Greater East St. Louis Community Fund and the Jackie Joyner Kersee Foundation. She’s a member of the Task Force on the Future of the Profession and other law-oriented organizations, as well as a middle-school tutor and volunteer with the Mound City Bar Association’s Adopt-a-School program and Join Hands ESL.

“As an undergrad, I wanted to be a public defender, helping people,” Phillips said. “Then I realized that may not be the career path I wanted. It was very emotionally taxing — especially with kids. I worked with people who were dedicated and had been doing this for a very long time. I thought maybe there were different ways for me to help.”

One of those ways: mentoring girls and young women at schools she once attended and through Big Brothers, Big Sisters of Eastern Missouri and other organizations in her hometown. Phillips said she’s been fortunate to have great mentors in her life, and she believes she bears a responsibility to “reach back” and help other young women with their eyes on careers as attorneys or in other professional roles.

As a student, she interned at the housing unit of Legal Services of Eastern Missouri, the Missouri Public Defender System and with judges in the 22nd Circuit and the Supreme Court of Missouri. That led her to become a law clerk after graduation, first with Judge Angela Turner Quigless of the Missouri Court of Appeals Eastern District, and U.S. District Judge Donald Wilkerson in the Southern District of Illinois.

In Judge Wilkerson’s courtroom, she acknowledged her urge to become a trial lawyer. But the desire all traces back to childhood.

“It had to have been … in the third or fourth grade, a lawyer came and talked to us about what they did — the advocating and the arguing — which is what I thought would be so cool,” Phillips said. “My mom always said, ‘You argue so much, you should be an attorney.’“