by Paige Tackett
In less than two years, Sarah-Michelle Stearns has garnered a reputation as a budding leader in the young lawyer community. Sarah-Michelle is not merely a DAYL member; she is a true servant. Within ten minutes of talking to Sarah-Michelle, her heart for service is obvious. She received the John E. Kennedy Award for her service and dedication to her law school—a distinction voted on by her peers. (Even while studying for the bar exam, she continued to volunteer at SMU’s Civil Clinic, which provides legal representation for low-income clients in Dallas area courts.) She was also awarded a Texas Access to Justice Honorable Mention Certificate for her pro bono work with underserved communities in Texas. Currently, Sarah-Michelle sits on the Big Leaders Board for Big Brothers Big Sisters of North Texas. She is the Treasurer of the Orange Jackets Alumnae Association. She is the Public Relations Chair for the Kappa Delta Chapter Advisory Board at the University of North Texas. She has also taken on a pro bono immigration case. This list is not exhaustive, but represents only a handful of areas where she has committed her time and energy this year. Sarah-Michelle’s attitude is, “If it’s worth doing, it’s worth doing well and wholeheartedly.” Her contributions to DAYL are no exception.
Sarah-Michelle became a lawyer to use her knowledge and skills to advocate for people in a unique way: “You get to tell their story and (hopefully) help craft a just ending. It’s never too late to make things right.” After graduating from the SMU Dedman School of Law in 2016, Sarah-Michelle worked as a Briefing Attorney for the Honorable Justice Douglas S. Lang in the Fifth District Court of Appeals in Dallas. Justice Lang impressed upon her the importance of not only being mentored as a young lawyer, but also finding opportunities to mentor others. “Have a mentor and be a mentor” is the message she still carries with her today. Justice Lang also encouraged Sarah-Michelle to become active in DAYL because of the strong conviction that having personal relationships with other lawyers promotes professionalism and civility in the practice.
During her first year of practice, Sarah-Michelle joined the Judicial Internship and Judiciary Committees. She chose these committees because of her desire to connect young lawyers with judges and give them opportunities to ask questions in an informal setting. As a co-chair of the Judicial Internship Committee in 2017, Sarah-Michelle helped coordinate with law schools in Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas and Georgia to obtain applications for the summer internship program. Because of her and the team’s tireless efforts, the committee received over 170 applications last year. Sarah-Michelle is continuing her service on the Judicial Internship and Judiciary Committees in 2018. She is also a co-chair of the Grant Committee, which is designed to provide grants to other DAYL committees for new ideas and initiatives.
Through her work with DAYL, Sarah-Michelle has cultivated relationships with other young lawyers, who now act as her sounding boards for different legal questions and issues. She does not hesitate to call a friend with expertise in a particular subject matter before tackling a complicated research project. She likens these conversations to “mini-CLEs” throughout the year, saving her clients time and resources.
In addition to her involvement with DAYL, she is an advisor for the DBA Transition to Law program, an associate of the Mac Taylor Inn of Court, a volunteer moot court coach at SMU, and a member of Attorneys Serving the Community. In fact, the moot court team she coached placed second at the regional competition and will be advancing to the national rounds in March.
Beyond these commitments, she is busy in her first year as a litigation associate at Locke Lord. Not surprisingly, she is shining in this role. Sarah-Michelle has successfully argued a bill of review and defended a motion to dismiss in federal court. Last month, she was published in the ABA Trade, Sports, and Professional Associations Blog.
When not working or volunteering, Sarah-Michelle enjoys traveling to national parks. Her goal is to visit all of them. So far, Denali National Park in Alaska has been her favorite. Here in Dallas, she enjoys going to ballroom dancing classes. She is a member of the Daughters of the American Revolution (Jane Douglas Chapter), the Women’s Sporting Club, and the Dallas Safari Club. Sarah-Michelle is also active in her church, where she is reminded to “bring light and goodness” to our city.
Sarah-Michelle Stearns is the lawyer and woman I strive to be. This is not a trite remark, but a heartfelt belief. She is a caring friend, concerned citizen, and zealous advocate. Her lengthy resume is not only a testament to her brilliance and hard work, but also her commitment to bring light and goodness to our community. It is people like Sarah-Michelle who engender kindness, unity, and civility in our organization—and our city. This is why Sarah-Michelle Stearns is this month’s One to Watch!