A young woman who’s not just another law student

UDC Law 2015 commencement.
Vanita Gupta, Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General and head of Civil Rights at DOJ, delivers 2015 keynote address at UDC Law commencement. (Via UDC Law Facebook page.)

WASHINGTON, May 17, 2015 − Jasmine Hatam Alvarez, currently a law student at the University of the District of Columbia’s David A. Clarke School of Law, is anything but “just another” law student.

Now 34,  Alvarez married her husband a few years ago and found in her partner someone with a driving passion as deep as her own. Both are law students, and both are set to graduate next year.

Next, they plan to open a law firm together. His practice will focus on immigration, while hers will center on “being a voice for the voiceless, a defender of the defenseless.” For Jasmine, that mission statement means representing people − yes, often criminals − whose constitutional rights were violated by the police.

Jasmine’s life history brought her to embrace this somewhat unusual career trajectory. She was born not in the United States, but in Tehran, Iran. Early in her life, her extraordinary mother brought her and her brother to the United States, in violation of Iran’s rigid laws prohibiting such “flight.”

For her undergraduate education, Jasmine attended Patten University in Oakland, California, where she earned a B.S. degree in organizational management. She chose to remain at Patten after graduation where she also earned an M.B.A.

Growing up and attending college in California, Jasmine saw first hand the difficulties minority communities endured and the routine absence of the rule of law in the treatment they received. She says this kind to treatment was particularly bad for those who did not speak English.

It was worse, still, for those who were targeted by police for inappropriate reasons or for no reason other than their skin color or their lack of knowledge about the law and the protections it is supposed to provide for all individuals.

Jasmine, herself, grew up with strong family values − values she continues to hold today. She says this motivates her in everything she does, because she knows, through her own experiences and the experiences of others she has witnessed that victims do not suffer alone: their families suffer as well. She has become a woman whose life is about helping others. As an example, she used to work at the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society doing fundraising for cancer research.

In light of her experiences, she determined to take a different career trajectory. Enrolling in law school came as a joint decision with her husband.

Before starting her legal education, Jasmine originally had decided to become an attorney involved in animal rights. But she recalls that a good family friend, also an attorney, told her there was no money to be made in that arena. Informed but not dissuaded, Jasmine says once she passes the bar and becomes licensed in Virginia, her legal work will also include helping people and organizations whose pets are abused.

This fall, Jasmine will be working in a human rights clinic at UDC. This follows the internship she had last summer working for a criminal defense attorney in Woodbridge, Virginia as well as a similar internship she has arranged for this summer.

Jasmine caught the constitutional right bug early on. It was first engraved on her soul in one of her law school classes, where she and her fellow students were shown videos of police conduct, misconduct, citizen abuse by police, as well as blatant civil rights violations by law enforcement personnel.

Jasmine is focused. She asks: Is there now more police abuse and police brutality than before? Or is it just being publicized more? Either way, she will soon be joining the ranks of those trying to assure police compliance with law.

Most of us are familiar with some or all of the warnings an individual is required to be given if taken into custody by the police. The now-standard Miranda warnings became law following a 1966 Supreme Court decision, Miranda v. Arizona. In that case, the justices ruled that Ernesto Arturo Miranda’s Fifth Amendment right against compelled self-incrimination and his Sixth Amendment right to have the assistance of counsel had both been violated during his arrest and trial. Miranda had been charged with armed robbery, kidnapping and the rape of a mentally handicapped young woman.

Although his case was dismissed, he was later re-arrested, re-tried and convicted. But the rule that resulted from his Supreme Court case remains.

Jasmine has a rock solid belief in the importance of the Miranda warnings that were a major outcome of this case. Even though Miranda is now standard police procedure, however, she says the police often circumvent these warnings when dealing with minority individuals and with those who do not speak English.

The Miranda warnings are as follows:

  • You have the right to remain silent when questioned.
  • Anything you say or do may be used against you in a court of law.
  • You have the right to consult an attorney before speaking to the police and to have an attorney present during questioning now or in the future.
  • If you cannot afford an attorney, one will be appointed for you before any questioning, if you wish.
  • If you decide to answer any questions now, without an attorney present, you will still have the right to stop answering at any time until you talk to an attorney.

After reading these rights to an individual in custody, police are also supposed to ask:

“Knowing and understanding your rights as I have explained them to you, are you willing to answer my questions without an attorney present?”

Although Jasmine is eager to launch her career, she also understands that women face challenges in the profession that men do not, and understands that she is no exception. She wants a family, but she also wants to begin her legal career. At age 34, she has considered freezing her eggs in the hope that, when the time comes, her age will not prevent her from having healthy children.

Right now, Jasmine continues to work, even with a very heavy law school caseload, as the operations director of her brother’s chiropractic business in northern Virginia, which involves overseeing four offices.

As the daughter of an immigrant, an immigrant herself, a cancer fundraiser, a dedicated family member working in the family chiropractic business, and now a law student whose vision is to help those whose rights are being violated and whose passion also include Fido and Kitty, Jasmine Alvarez is certainly not the typical law student.

This is refreshing in today’s legal education environment. Typically, commending around the second of their three years in law school, law students are a frenzied, nervous lot. Many are further stressed out by their obligations to repay student loans, while at the same time, all are breathing, eating and sleeping the “will I get a job?” song as well.

Starting your own law practice in today’s legal world, particularly in the very demanding and competitive Washington, D.C., region, could rightly be considered just plain crazy.

That glint you see in Jasmine’s eye suggests she is indeed crazy. Crazy like a fox. You go, girl.


Paul A. Samakow is an attorney licensed in Maryland and Virginia and has been practicing since 1980.  He represents injury victims and routinely battles insurance companies and big businesses that will not accept full responsibility for the harms and losses they cause. He can be reached at any time by calling 1-866-SAMAKOW (1-866-726-2569), via email, or through his website

His new book “Who Will Pay My Auto Accident Bills?, The Most Comprehensive Nationwide Auto Accident Resolution Book, Ever” can be reviewed on http://www.completeaccidentbook.com and can be ordered there, or obtained directly on Amazon: Click here to order


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Paul Samakow
Attorney Paul Samakow brings his legal expertise and analysis from the trenches of the courtroom to Communities Digital News. A native Washingtonian, Samakow has been a Plaintiff’s trial lawyer since 1980 practicing in the DC metro area. Paul can be reached at any time by calling 1-866-SAMAKOW (1-866-726-2569), via email @ [email protected], or through his website @ http://www.samakowlaw.com/. He is also available to speak to your group on numerous legal topics.