Jennifer Link wanted to go to medical school.
With a Bachelor of Science in Biology from the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff, experience at the Arkansas Department of Health, and a Master of Public Health (MPH) from the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences Fay W. Boozman College of Public Health, she was well on her way.
“Until I met with my mentor and we talked about what interested me,” Link says. “Rather than treating patients, I was more interested in research regarding racial and ethnic health disparities.”
The more she and her mentor talked, the more Link realized she was interested in policies that could be developed and used to close the health gap.
That started her on her journey toward law school and the UA Little Rock William H. Bowen School of Law.
Several factors played into her choosing Bowen.
“Not working wasn’t an option, so I only looked at schools that had a part-time program,” she said. Choosing Bowen meant keeping her job and staying in Little Rock. Not to mention the affordability. “I didn’t need more student debt.”
Still, starting law school was an unknown.
“I have a friend who compares law school to The Hunger Games, but that wasn’t my experience.” She cites the smaller class sizes at Bowen as one of the reasons, especially in the part-time program. She easily got to know her fellow students, which made it less intimidating to participate in class. The same was true of her professors. “They knew who I was when I stopped by during office hours.”
Those relationships helped when Link was both the president of Bowen’s chapter of the Black Law Students Association (BLSA) and the director of pre-law affairs for the Southwest Region of the national BLSA. The year she was president, Bowen’s BLSA chapter hosted the national Pre-Law Symposium.
“My colleagues at Bowen were incredibly supportive during that event and my tenure,” she said.
That symposium helped foster Link’s passion for mentoring. She was able to connect with students across the region who were considering law school, perhaps as a first-generation law student. “They wanted to know what it was like, was it something they could do?”
Her answer was always the same. “Yes.”
Those same questions led Link to create a blog, jenthejd.com, where she shares useful information she wishes she had known before law school, while she was studying for the bar exam, and now as a practicing attorney. And her law school experiences have helped in her blogging. “I feel more comfortable writing and sharing my thoughts and observations. I’ve been vetted—I know I can write.” Still, she says with a smile, “I wrote my first blog post the day after the bar exam … but I didn’t post it until the results were released.”
A month after the bar results, Link was hired as Pine Bluff’s assistant city attorney. Her background and her networking are still paying off.
“I wasn’t expecting to pull lessons from public health into my legal career,” said Link. When prosecuting misdemeanors, she has relied on her public health experience when dealing with some defendants who may have mental health issues. She has worked with the court and counsel to recommend behavioral health counseling, which she hopes may reduce repeat offenses in some cases.
“The practice of law is relationship-based,” she explains, “from job searches, to networking, to negotiating with counsel.”
Link’s education and experience helps her bring everyone to the table and see others’ expertise in dealing with issues.
She also points out two law school classes that have helped her in tangible ways: Consumer Protection Clinic and Judicial Practicum.
The Consumer Protection Clinic handles cases related to landlord/tenant issues. Link’s first landlord/tenant case was an eviction related to a service animal.
“I had another view of the issues,” she said. “My clinic experience gave me resources to pull from about other options and remedies available.”
Link also took the Judicial Practicum, which is an experiential class available only to Bowen’s part-time students. In the Practicum, students work virtually and off-site for judges who are not able to afford a full-time clerk. Link was assigned to Judge Jodi Dennis in the Eleventh West Judicial Circuit, which is in Pine Bluff.
Then, once she was started practice, her first appeal was in front of Judge Dennis, with whom she already had a professional, working relationship.
“It wasn’t as stressful as it could have been,”she said. “It gave me confidence and comfort to see her there.”
So Jennifer Link didn’t go to medical school.
“If I had to do it over, I’d still choose law school,” she says. “You learn to think and analyze, and that translates into everything you do in life, whether it’s for yourself or for a client.”