Ally Anderson at the University of Cincinnati College of Law

Elevating Justice

"I am so happy to be doing this kind of work and helping people with real lives and real stories, highlighting when the criminal justice system made a mistake." - Ally Anderson

It was mid-morning when Ally Anderson (JD, ‘24) saw the group text come in from her staff attorney, Brian Howe, at the Ohio Innocence Project (OIP). It read, “Hey everyone, I don’t know who is in exams right now, but let me know ASAP if you want to come to Canton for Aaron Culbertson’s release.” The exoneration would be happening at a courthouse three hours away, and Ally had a quick decision to make.

“I didn't want to make it like, ‘Oh, well I've got Eli and I can't go,’” she said. Eli, her 3-year-old, would need to be picked up at daycare that afternoon and her husband was working. Ally was familiar with this kind of dilemma, having graduated Magna cum Laude from Wright State University while also raising Eli.

“Before law school, becoming a lawyer felt like a dream to me. Like, if I can make this happen, it would be pretty amazing. But it also felt like there was no reason I shouldn't be able to do it,” she said.

Struggling to decide if she should miss the exoneration of one of her clients or bring Eli along for the ride, she did what a lot of parents do. She texted her mom.

“Growing up, my mom was the professional in the household,” Ally said. She recalled stories of accompanying her mom during medical residency. “There I’d be at a table with all these doctors, gnawing away on some food in my pumpkin seat.”

While still in the application phase for law school, Ally was worried she might have to downplay that she was a parent for schools to take her commitment seriously.

That pressure to prove her commitment didn’t go away once she was accepted. In the first year of law school, while all law students were figuring out how to carry the hefty workload, Ally was also in the thick of raising a toddler, keeping up with household chores, and working out a healthy work-life balance with her husband, who also has his career.

“It used to be I would do work until 1:00 AM, thinking this is the right way. You should be stressed in law school,” she said. But the late nights weren’t creating the sort of balance she wanted for her family. “I had to make a cut-off for work. I know I'm going to be stressed, but I still want time for my family.”

“I know it’s a good night when I get the priority task out of the way, and I’m able to squeeze in Encanto and hot chocolate,” she said. “I try to make a point of doing little things like that because it also takes me out of thinking about all the cases I'm working on.”

While in her first year, Ally connected to a mentor through Leadership Council on Legal Diversity (LCLD) and was matched with a successful attorney who is in-house legal counsel at Proctor and Gamble. Her mentor was also a mother and helped her gain footing that first year, suggesting she prioritize networking.

Ally Anderson

“This might sound corny, but law school really is about believing in yourself and having a great support system,” she said of the mentorship and support she’s received while at UC Law.

Now in her 2L year, Ally says motherhood helps her to fully appreciate all that goes into following her dreams. Along with having a supportive spouse and mother, she named the richness of UC’s law school community for helping make it possible.

“It takes a village to raise a child. I definitely got to experience that here and I'm so grateful for my village,” she said.

One of the strongest communities she has found at UC Law is the Black Law Student Association (BLSA). As a 1L BLSA Representative, she joined a team of other UC Law students at the Midwest Black Law Student Association’s (MWBLSA) Constance Baker Motley Mock Trial Competition in 2022.

“I had never done mock trial in my life. It was a completely new experience, and an amazing thing to compete,” she said.  “After closing arguments I looked at my partner and was like, ‘I'm not gonna get ahead of myself, but I feel like we killed that.’”

Her team went on to win third place, which got them a trophy and a ticket to nationals, a first for UC Law BLSA.

“Having a club you can share your experiences with and build a community in law school, that's really what BLSA gave me this past year,” she said. “Now there are people I’ve met who five, 10 years from now, if I ever came across a problem, I know I could reach out to.”

Ally Anderson with her family by a red barn

“I think my purpose is to lift people up, especially now that I'm in the legal field. To help as many people as I can while I’m here. This is where I’m supposed to be.”

- Ally Anderson -

Ally Anderson smiling

In addition to being an OIP Litigation Fellow and a Student Ambassador, volunteering her time to speak with prospective students about her UC Law experience, Ally recently accepted the role of Sub-Regional Director for MWBLSA, organizing students from law schools across Ohio, Kentucky, Michigan, and Indiana. She has held three events this year, one general assembly connecting law students across the region, and the two other events specific to discussing relevant issues of discrimination facing Black law students. She has no intention of slowing down her involvement in the new year.

With the clock still ticking on her decision to attend the exoneration, Ally looked at her phone to read a new text message, “I took you everywhere,” her mom wrote back.

Being selected as a 1L OIP Fellow was one of the biggest factors in Ally’s choice to attend UC Law. With its 20-year history and nationally recognized model, she was drawn to the possibility of working on the ground for system-change as an OIP Fellow. Culbertson would be the fourth person in 2022 to gain freedom as a result of OIP’s work, and the 38th client since its inception. She didn’t want to miss this climactic moment.

“Lawyers are trying to work for change in our system,” she said. “There are so many people who say that our criminal justice system is broken. I think it's shattered at this point…I am so happy to be doing this kind of work and helping people with real lives and real stories, highlighting when the criminal justice system made a mistake.”

Hastily packing her bags with court documents, Ally threw in a few toys and snacks before heading to daycare to pick up Eli. The two got on the road together with time to spare.

When she applied for law school, she knew times like this would come—that juggling everything might get exhausting and tough decisions as a mother would need to be made. But with a determined attitude and a supportive community at school, she has found solutions that work for both her career pathway and her family.

Later that afternoon, as Ally watched her son play Hot Wheels with a group of exonerees, she realized that day was no different than all the other times Eli sat on her lap while she studied for her LSAT, or hung back while she introduced the keynote for the 2022 OIP-u conference (an Ohio Innocence Project conference for undergrads), or sang with her in the car on the way to daycare before a big exam.

“Other people's perceptions of you are not going to contain the type of person you can be. I had a lot of people who told me that I wouldn't graduate from college. A lot of people who told me that I wouldn't be able to be the mom that I want to be,” she said. “I think I've been able to successfully prove them wrong. I have the most amazing son. And I've got to share this experience with him.”

“He’s been here through everything,” she said. “He's in law school with me.”

Want to learn more about our students and their journey to (and through) law school? Read their stories on the "Meet Our Students" page. See yourself at Cincinnati Law.

Author: Katie Bachmeyer

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