Shawn Holley ’88 Shares the Unique Path that Lead her to Criminal and Entertainment Law
Alumna Shawn Holley ’88 engaged a room full of students, faculty and staff recently when she talked about her own unique path to practicing both criminal and entertainment law. At the event, hosted by Southwestern’s Criminal Law and Entertainment Law societies, Holley shared, “Success, however you define it, comes when you’re doing what you love.”
Her passion and excitement for criminal law was fueled by the encouragement of the late Professor Karen Smith to take an externship with the Public Defender’s Office. As a law clerk, she would go into the holding cell to interview the defendants and each told a variation on the same story. She thought back to what she had learned in criminal procedure and constitutional law, and she knew if the police were doing what each of the defendants was reporting, it was a violation of the fourth amendment. She then became intrigued about defending the concepts of liberty and justice, and that was the point where she said, “it changed my priorities – it changed my life.”
After she graduated and passed the bar, she returned to the Public Defender’s Office, where she worked for five years. This position gave her experience and confidence in the courtroom, leading to her recruitment – by Johnnie Cochran himself – to a position with The Cochran Firm. At the time, it was a civil litigation firm and Holley told Cochran she didn’t have any civil litigation experience. He replied, “It doesn’t matter. What matters is that you have trial skills.” The OJ Simpson case landed her center stage just six months after joining the firm, where her knowledge of criminal law was invaluable.
Years later, Holley was recruited by Howard Weitzman to join his entertainment and business litigation firm, Kinsella Weitzman Iser Kump & Aldisert, LLP, as a partner. Again, she shared that she had no previous experience in the area. Like Cochran, he said that didn’t matter. He valued her years of experience in the courtroom and told her, “You have a skill set that is invaluable.”
As she was wrapping up her speech, Holley commented that no matter how many celebrity clients she has, she will always fight for liberty and justice for ALL. She also added, “I like representing the No-J’s.”