A Lawyer Who Beat The Odds Encourages City Students To Do The Same
By JOANN KLIMKIEWICZ, Courant Staff Writer
December 27, 2007
The two Hartford teens stand in the dimmed and vacant state Supreme Court, hands planted in the warmth of their waist-cinched puffy coats. Chins skyward, their eyes skim the room's great murals and golden oak paneling.
"Where does the judge sit?" whispers Shantol Spencer, 16.
Corey Brinson, the Hartford attorney standing beside the pair, points to the long bench before them. But Spencer counts seven chairs.
"So, there's more than one judge?" the Weaver High School junior asks.
Seven, explains Brinson. But they're actually called justices. And they're appointed by the governor. Together, he says, they make up the state's highest court — the court of last resort.
"The things that happen here are very, very important," Brinson says.
A few nods, a few glances more, and the three weave through the rest of the building before exiting to the court's rainy Capitol Avenue steps. The girls bunch under Brinson's oversize umbrella, and they slosh onward to the civil and criminal courts that are next up on their afternoon tour. It's a loop around the legal system that Brinson likes to give to the students he mentors, about 10 in all — most of whom think they'd like to study law.
Spencer is pretty sure she'd like to be a lawyer — criminal, or maybe corporate. Keila Collado, 17, isn't sold on the idea, but a law project she's working on for a class at Hartford Public has piqued her curiosity.
"I was them, 10 years ago," Brinson says with a nod to the girls. Indeed, Brinson was — as he puts it — an underdog.
His father died in a car accident when Brinson wasn't quite 2. He was raised by a single mother in the North End, in a house whose lights the electric company turned off more than once. He could name 10 people murdered in his neighborhood, even more who hustled the streets. His senior year at Hartford Public, the school nearly had its accreditation pulled.
"The kids of Hartford have so much working against them. To have gotten to where I am now is really against a lot of odds," says Brinson, 27, an attorney at Day Berry & Howard. "I was an underdog, too."
But the underdog had people looking out for him, a kid with talent and courage who just needed someone to tell him he could dream bigger than his stretch of Magnolia Street. He had his mother, his community elders and, later, his law firm mentors — a few folks who made a big difference by taking a minute to look a kid in the eye and say: I believe in you.
Brinson had something inside, too. This, after all, was the trick-or-treater who rang the regal doorbells of Scarborough Street on Halloween, less interested in candy than in an answer to his audacious question: "What do you do for a living?"
Attorneys and businessmen, came their answers. "You mean, if I become a lawyer, I can have this lifestyle?" the young boy thought. Then, as a teen, he watched in awe as a band of lawyers fought the fight for a school full of underdogs. Hartford Public's accreditation remained intact. And Brinson knew he'd found his career.
Now, the University of Connecticut School of Law alum says he feels compelled to repay a debt for all the guidance bestowed on him. "It would be totally selfish of me not to," he says, because a community can only prosper if its success stories come back to help produce more successes.
So you'll see Brinson, ever dapper in his three-piece suit, scuttling the halls of the city's courts as he gives a (possible) future lawyer the lay of the legal land. You'll see him at schools and community groups, sitting on the boards of nonprofits such as the Hartford Action Plan, linking up with mentoring candidates from high school through law school in any way he can.
"It's important for these kids to see other people who look like them doing this," says Brinson, whose aunt is city Councilwoman Veronica Airey-Wilson. "Half the battle is giving kids the exposure and having somebody open the door."
On that recent rainy afternoon, Brinson and the girls stand outside a criminal courtroom. There's a murder trial underway, and he wants them to get a look at the proceedings — the way it really happens, not the gussied-up TV version.
Instructing them to be quiet, he pushes the heavy door open. The two girls shuffle in right behind him.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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