Second year law student Pernell Jackson
Second year law student Pernell Jackson

From Active Duty to Law Enforcement to Law School – A 2L Shares his Unique Journey

Sept. 25, 2017

Pernell Jackson, currently in his second year at AUWCL, didn’t plan to go to law school. After graduating from Florida State, he enlisted in the Army and was deployed to Afghanistan. Following his five-year stint in the armed services, he decided to pursue law enforcement—the career he originally intended—and joined the Prince Georges County police department. “As a police officer I felt I was helping victims pick up the pieces from a crime,” he said. “But I could see that as a prosecutor, I could seek justice on their behalf by focusing on the criminal. That’s when I decided to pursue law.”

“I chose AUWCL because that’s where I felt the most welcome,” he explained. “Everyone here is friendly and eager to help one another. The professors make time for you. They care about your success and are dedicated to helping you achieve it.”

A drive to work for justice.

Jackson feels it’s his personal duty to work for people who are victimized, whether by terrorism or street crime. He traces this calling back to his childhood, and a mother who raised him with a strong sense of right and wrong. Experiences later in life – 9/11, the Rodney King beating and incidents that occurred during his years in the military and law enforcement – have only served to strengthen this commitment. 

“I want to be the person in the courtroom who’s fighting on their behalf,” he said. Jackson plans to pursue a job in a local prosecutor’s office after he finishes law school in order to gain practical litigation experience. A summer internship at the U.S. Attorney’s office in Alexandria, Va., reinforced his desire to be a prosecutor.

A multidimensional law school experience.

Jackson is currently secretary of the Black Law Students Association (BLSA) on campus. He was drawn to the organization because of its active community involvement. A project he finds particularly rewarding is BLSA’s high school outreach program in Prince George’s County.

“It’s more common for many of these kids to see a black male going to prison than to law school,” he said. “It’s so rewarding to see their faces when they see what is really possible.”

David Jaffe, AUWCL’s Dean of Students, shares that a number of student organizations commit time and energy to giving to the community. “The students are naturally interested in developing opportunities for post-graduate employment. A significant number of the students and organizations, however, recognize from the get-go their obligation to give to the community around them.”

Jackson is also on the staff of the American University Law Review, which he sees as an ideal opportunity to improve his legal writing skills and gain more confidence in dissecting legal arguments and mastering legal citations.

"The best advice came from my civil procedure professor: 'Don't come to class every day and worry that everyone else knows more than you just because someone answers a question correctly. Your Section as a whole will always know more than you. But it's not you against your entire Section. It's you against the final exam. If you do the work, you'll be fine. Come to class, study, and take advantage of office hours.' I've learned he's right."