Gabrielle O'Connor

Judicial Research Attorney at the Wayne County Third Circuit Court

2016 | Belleville

University of Michigan | Political Science and Government

"Unlike regular classes, (in the clinics) you are hands-on in the field. What you write, think and do matters. It is an invaluable experience.”

For Gabrielle O’Connor, ’16, her clinic journey led her to a hometown career in service-focused advocacy. O’Connor earned her bachelor’s degree in political science, but she wanted to do more than write policy. She wanted to have a direct impact on people, a goal that led her to law school.

One of the highlights of her MSU Law experience was working in the First Amendment Clinic.  As part of the clinic, O’Connor taught Detroit-area high school students about the First Amendment and their rights. During her teaching, students began asking about what rights they had when interacting with police and law enforcement.

O’Connor recognized the students’ need for a thoughtful, informed conversation on this highly-charged topic.

She collaborated with clinical faculty to organize a program they called “Black Lives Matter Day” at Cass Tech High School. Nearly 800 high school students listened to panels, completed workshops educating them about their constitutional rights, and participated in police encounter role-play scenarios.

“A lot of kids don’t understand that they have certain rights when interacting with police officers. They think it’s just, ‘I see you and you have to show me everything. You have to do everything’,” said O’Connor. “These kids have to realize that they have rights and they have the ability to say ‘no’ – if they do say ‘yes,’ they need to understand what they’re saying ‘yes’ to.”

Today, O’Connor represents women and children who are victims of domestic abuse. She helps her clients with everything from divorce cases and custody agreements to defamation lawsuits. 

Clients rely on their lawyers for expertise – and support. O’Connor said that there are times in her practice when she can’t help her client, but it’s critical to do everything that she can.

“What motivates me is that people are in need of help and this is a service I can provide to them. Even if I can’t get them a legal victory, they need to know somebody is in their corner. They need to know that somebody is going up to bat for them,” said O’Connor.