Attorney-at-law Cecile Black builds NELAS practice from ground up

Krysta Anderson
Krysta Anderson

April 26, 2022

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THE DISTINGUISHED — LAW

Cecile Black knew from a young age that she wanted to become a lawyer. Today, the attorney-at-law has not only chosen her desired career path, but she has also set up her own law firm, helping offenders to stay on the right side of justice.

“They say the world of law is a man’s world, and most times, women aren’t taken seriously. We face a lot of sexual harassment and gender biases. However, over the years, I’ve noticed a flood of women in this profession, in managerial positions and on the bench. So, it is not as hard as before, as the strong women before me have made it a lot easier to navigate,” Black told Flair.

Growing up, she would often indulge in the pleasure of watching Matlock with her mother. When questioned about a possible career, she shared that she wanted to be like the woman in the show, to which her mother responded, “She’s a lawyer.” Putting an official title to that character was a defining moment for Black, who confirmed with conviction that she would be defending others in court. After all, she was already defending her classmates in primary school.

She went on to attend law school, and though she spent 80 per cent of the time in worry mode, loved every moment of her scholarly pursuits, noting that the process was a humbling experience.

The day she graduated from law school in 2016 was one of jubilation for her and her family. Her parents were present to witness and celebrate the special occasion. “I remember looking at them and seeing the huge smile on both their faces. I was pleased within my heart, because I was not a model child like the rest of my siblings, and the main aim for me was to make them proud. Let’s just say I was a warrior child in high school,” she said, adding that she is living proof that people can change, given the right chances, circumstances and opportunities.

Called to the Bar that same year, the young lawyer was unable to obtain employment with an established law firm or attain a government position. This stood as the biggest stumbling block, but did not deter her path to greatness. “I believe [that] as a young attorney, you need guidance, experience and exposure for growth. Unfortunately, I was not given that opportunity, but I had seniors like Jacqueline Asher and Nicolas Chambers, who assisted me in that area of development.”

The consummate professional, Black paved the way for herself by opening her own law firm in her home parish of Portland – the Northeastern Legal Aid Society (NELAS). There, she offers legal services to persons who cannot afford legal fees for criminal litigation, “Outside of criminal law, the regular legal fees apply to the other practice areas – family law, child custody and maintenance, divorce, contract, conveyance and land registration, entertainment law, and estate, probate and administration,” she said, adding that she has a passion for criminal litigation and entertainment, since they both speak to her humanitarian and musical sides.

Carving out a career for herself by building a practice from the ground up was no easy feat. However, through hard work, determination and support from her family, Black was able to redefine success. “ I am not supported by the Government or any agency; therefore, I have to practise in other areas to keep the lights on. But eventually, I would love to fully convert to focusing solely on criminal matters. It is my wish to one day only focus on criminal legal aid matters and to open NELAS in the northeastern end – St Thomas, St Mary and St Ann,” she shared.

As for the entertainment department, the former singer and songwriter for the group Black as Cole confessed that these days, she only sings in the shower and leaves the stage to the musicians and artistes she represents in court.

A positive light and a beacon of hope for her community, the next step for the entrepreneur is to spearhead the ‘Get Out Stay Out’ Project, which seeks to assist individuals between the ages of 18 to 30 who have been released from prison, given a suspended sentence, or were vindicated at trial and are unable to secure employment. “We mentor these individuals and help them secure jobs in their respective fields or assist them in becoming entrepreneurs. I am very excited about this project, as my main aim is to encourage the younger generation and lessen the re-conviction rate.”

It has been quite a journey for the lawyer, who is currently in her sixth year at the Bar, and she hopes to continue making the change she wants to see in this world. “I’m still learning, and I’m excited to see where I will be 10 years from now. My dream is to be one of the best criminal defence attorneys in Jamaica.”

krysta.anderson@gleanerjm.com

Krysta Anderson

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Krysta Anderson

Tackles sex and relationships with honesty and openness. For months, she took readers on a journey of self-exploration with personal dating column 'Single but Iffy to Mingle'. Now she's ready for an even bigger adventure.

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