By Molly Timko • October 31, 2019•Ms. JD, Writers in Residence, Careers, Law School
For this month's blog post, I am excited to feature my interview with Devon Holmes, Esq. Devon is a first generation legal professional from Hazard, Kentucky. Devon serves as an attorney for Social Security Administration's Office of Appellate Operations and she is passionate about public interest law.
In this interview, Devon explains how growing up in Appalachia helped shape her career trajectory. She also shares thoughtful advice to first generation law students.
Could you tell Ms. JD blog readers about your background and what prompted you to apply to law school?
I was born in Hazard, Kentucky, a town in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains. My parents were a high school English teacher and a geologist, who worked for a local coal company. Most of my family has lived in Appalachia since the early 1800’s. I grew up surrounded by my extended family and when I left for law school in Baltimore, it was the first time I had left them behind and lived somewhere without any family.
Becoming a lawyer was not something that had really ever been on my radar growing up and my main exposure was on television. My parents had both gone to college, so I was raised with the knowledge that I was expected to get a college degree, but professional school was not something I thought about much.
When it came time to apply to college, I desperately wanted to be a history major (I have an interest in Imperial Russian History, thanks to a childhood obsession with the cartoon, Anastasia); however, my parents’ first question was, what I was going to do with a history degree. I knew I would make an awful teacher, so I just told them I was going to be a lawyer. I had heard history was a common major for lawyers and it sounded like I had direction. I went forward with the pretense that I was pre-law and studying history in preparation for that. I do not think I ever had any real intentions of going to law school and I definitely had no idea what it would entail. After a few legal history classes and some exposure to college life, I came to realize that this “goal” I had stated on a whim was actually a field I was interested in and could pursue. I decided I needed to get out of Kentucky for a bit and so decided to attend the University of Maryland for law school. Suddenly in 2009 I was living in a different state, studying a field I had picked on a whim, and felt like I was in over my head.
What were your biggest challenges as a law student?
My biggest challenges as a law student mainly revolved around studying and learning the material. I had always done well in school, but had never really had to try. I received a good education in Hazard and at the University of Kentucky, but had not ever really needed to do major studying up until that point. It took me a year and a half of misery in law school to finally learn how to properly outline and study material. Of course, by the time I got to the bar exam I had it figured out, thank goodness, but the road to that point was excruciating.
How did your blue-collar or working-class roots shape your chosen career path?
My roots have shaped my chosen career path, because they made me want to go into public interest law. The major thing I have learned from growing up in Appalachia and then leaving, is that everyone has a different experience growing up and there is no best or right way to experience the world. Whether you live in one place and always stay there or travel all over, there are valuable experiences to be had. I love the path I have taken in life, but I know that there are experiences I have not had up until this point because I focused on work and traveling, and moved away from my family. All experiences are valuable in their own right and one is not better than the other. There is a phrase back home, “don’t get above your raising.” It basically means, to not get full of yourself and think you are better than the people you came from, but what it really means to me is to remember that everyone is important, every life path is important, every experience is important, and there is no wrong or right way to have a meaningful life. Working in public interest law gives me the opportunity to use my skills to help people from all walks of life and I feel like growing up where I grew up instilled in me the belief that we are all equally important and should pitch in when we can.
What is one piece of advice you would give to a first generation law student?
One piece of advice I have for a first generation law student is to not feel like you do not belong in the legal profession. No matter how people treat you, remember that lawyers come from all walks of life and your life experience will bring an important view point to the profession.
What do you enjoy doing when you’re not at work?
When I’m not at work, I enjoy spending time with my fiancé and my wheaten terrier, Flynn. Traveling is one of my favorite things to do. Growing up, Canada was the only foreign country I had ever been to (and my mother’s father was Canadian). It did not really occur to me that foreign travel was something that could be a regular part of a normal person’s life. I got the chance to study abroad in undergrad and ever since then I have tried to travel as much as I can. I most recently went to China and Japan with a group of friends this past spring. I also go back to Kentucky as much as I can.
Devon R. Holmes, Esq. is an attorney with the Social Security Administration. Previously she worked for the District Court of Maryland Appointed Attorneys Program, representing indigent clients at their initial appearance hearings in Baltimore City. Devon serves on the vestry as Senior Warden at St. John’s Episcopal Church, Mt. Washington and as a member of the board of the University of Kentucky Alumni Band.
Devon earned a Bachelor of Arts in History and a Bachelor of Arts in Spanish from the University of Kentucky. She earned her Juris Doctor from the University of Maryland Francis King Carey School of Law.
If you're an attorney or law student with blue-collar roots and you would like to be featured in a future "Something Blue: Bringing Blue-Collar Roots to the Legal Profession" blog post, please contact me or feel free to comment below. Thanks for reading!