Lessons in Law and Life

Shantell Payton, J.D. ’07
Shantell Payton, J.D. ’07

By Ray Willhoft ’00

Shantell Payton, J.D. ’07, expected to receive an outstanding legal education from Loyola. What she did not expect were the life lessons and the second family that came with it.

“My mom says I’ve always wanted to be a litigator since I was six years old. I recall arguing my first successful case in the seventh grade,” says Shantell Payton, J.D. ’07. From that moment on, Payton’s legal course was set, though not without a few hurdles and triumphs along the way.

Payton’s arrival at Loyola was an indirect one. Having finished two years of law school in Washington, D.C., she was forced to move back home to New Orleans after the untimely death of her unborn son’s father, and the subsequent stroke she suffered. With family by her side, she made a full recovery and was more determined than ever to get her legal education back on track, now with a healthy baby boy in tow.

After a brief start at Tulane, Payton was personally invited to attend Loyola by K. Michele Allison-Davis, J.D., assistant dean of Admissions, Financial Aid, and Diversity Affairs, and the late Brian Bromberger, J.D., former dean. Payton accepted, but within one week, Katrina struck, sending New Orleans and Loyola into chaos. Homeless and jobless, Payton believed her short stint at Loyola was at an end, but once again, Bromberger intervened, providing her with additional scholarship funds which helped to secure her a place to live, transportation, and childcare for her son, while he got the college up and running in Houston.

“He told me, ‘You’re worth the investment and you are going to do great things,’” Payton recalls with tears in her eyes.

Indeed, the dean’s words were proven true when Payton joined the Loyola Law Clinic in her final year. Having received a solid foundation of the theory of law from her classes, it was her time spent in the Law Clinic that truly trained her for her calling.

“I wanted to be prepared to be a strong advocate when I graduated,” Payton notes. “Some things you can’t be taught, but rather learn through experience. I wanted to be exposed to the practical side of the law, and my experience in the Law Clinic allowed me to do just that.”

It was in the Law Clinic that Payton met the woman whom she credits as having a profound impact on her life. Clinical Professor of Law D. Majeeda Snead, J.D. ’84, or DMS as Payton lovingly refers to her, pushed Payton and her classmates to their limits, but never beyond what she knew they could handle. Her lessons about knowing the facts of your case inside and out, taking pride in your work, and establishing and maintaining your credibility resonated with Payton, and to this day, still stay in the forefront of her mind. And Snead remains only a phone call away should Payton need her.

“I cannot put a value on the jewels this woman has given to me,” Payton adds when talking about her mentor and friend. “I credit her for instilling the proper character of a litigator into me. She taught me to think on my feet, always be prepared, and to always be a zealous/passionate advocate and never give up.”

The Law Clinic experience and Snead’s teaching were so powerful that after Payton, while still a student, completed her first argument in court, the judge, so impressed with her skills, offered her a job on the spot—with Snead beaming with pride on the side. Payton then knew she was on the right track, and her hard work paid off later with a job offer from Jones Walker, one of the most prominent law firms in New Orleans. She is currently in her fifth year with the firm and specializes in business and commercial litigation.

Of course, Snead knew Payton would do well.

“Shantell was a professor’s dream student,” Snead says. “She is very intelligent, highly motivated, and a hard worker. One of her greatest assets is her curiosity. She wants to learn everything there is to know about whatever it is she is doing. She will ask many questions and challenge you in depth to ensure she has all the information available. She is very personable and therefore gets along well with her clients, opposing counsel, and judges. In fact, I am proud of the lawyer she has become in such a short time.”

Payton readily acknowledges that she received more than just legal training at Loyola. In addition to her mentor, she developed a second family that aided and supported her every step of the way, including Allison-Davis; Lola Davis, former admissions staff member; Nadine Laurent ’88, director of Financial Aid; and Janet Robinson, WFF personnel for the college, who was the first person with whom Payton shared news of her job offer, yelling and cheering all the while.

Payton also learned the value of giving back in appreciation for all that she has been given. Her other mentor, Magistrate Judge Karen Wells Roby of the Eastern District of Louisiana, recently told her, “Don’t thank me, give back,” and this is the motto Payton has adopted and continues to live by, serving as a mentor to current Law Clinic students, as well as giving motivational talks to high school and college students about career paths and achieving success.

In recognition of her efforts, at the 2012 Loyola Black Law Student Association (BLSA) Gala, Payton received the Karl J. Connor Alumni Award, presented to an extraordinary alumna/nus who is willing to contribute his or her time, energy, and financial support to the A.P. Tureaud Chapter of BLSA. Making the event even more special was the fact that Snead received the Public Service & Leadership Award and Robinson received the BLSA Special Recognition Award.

Payton was thrilled to share the evening with both her own family (her now seven-year-old son, Shane, and significant other, Zion) and her Loyola family, who of course were there to cheer her on as always. No doubt Bromberger was looking down on her as well, full of pride in the young woman he knew was worth investing in all along.

View the complete spring 2012 issue of Loyola Lawyer. 

a great lesson thanks for

a great lesson thanks for this amazing article and keep the good work ;)

This is an extraordinary

This is an extraordinary story. I am a Loyola graduate also from the Family Nurse Practitioner program in 2009. Ms. Payton is a great example of someone who persevered despite of the obstacles she faced in her life. Stories like hers make me proud to be a Loyola graduate and a woman of color.

This is a great article and

This is a great article and makes me very glad my son will be attending Loyola Law school this fall

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