Saran Jenkins: up-and-coming attorney honored for serving community

Minneapolis native Saran Jenkins is one of 20 attorneys being honored as an “Up & Coming Attorney” by Minnesota Lawyer. The award ceremony and luncheon was held at the Minneapolis Hyatt on May 22.

“I was floored,” said Jenkins. “I was very surprised and didn’t even know I had been nominated,” she said.

Legal Rights Center (LRC) Executive Director Michael Friedman nominated Jenkins, an attorney at the Minneapolis-based nonprofit, for her outstanding work. The criteria for the award included professional accomplishment, leadership, service to the community, and profession and/or achievement as an in-house counsel.

The LRC is a nonprofit law firm that handles criminal matters occurring in Hennepin County. Jenkins serves primarily as a juvenile criminal defense attorney as well as the director of educational services. Her cases vary from status offenses such as truancy to serious felony cases like aggravated robbery. Jenkins and Friedman also collaborate on a monthly column, “Legal Queries,” for the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder.

“The part that I really enjoy about my position here is that is affords me to get out into the community and educate people about their legal rights,” said Jenkins.

Jenkins attended Central State University in Wilberforce, Ohio, for her undergraduate degree in addition to the Unversity of St. Thomas School of Education for her master’s degree. She is also a graduate of University of St. Thomas School of Law.

Since childhood, Jenkins wanted to become an attorney and cites the late, great Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall as her role model. Her fascination with law, civil rights and education is actively blended at the LRC. She acknowledges her “wonderful and dynamic” co-workers who took her under their wings and trained her in the legal system.

“In my opinion, I work with some of the best attorneys around,” she said. “I’ve never had a job where I’ve loved my co-workers, and I can say that here.”

Jenkins cites not knowing what the outcome of a case will be as one of the biggest challenges in criminal defense. “I have to put my best foot forward because this is someone’s life, livelihood or freedom that may be at stake,” she said. “At the end of the day, it’s hard not to let that weigh on you.” However, what is the biggest reward? “A simple thank you or a hug makes all the difference.”

Jenkins credits the Miranda warning as one of the most commonly misunderstood laws in Minneapolis, which allows those under arrest the right to remain silent. “That is the biggest right I readily see people give up. When they do give it up, it usually results in negative consequences most of the time.” Jenkins advises that even if you know that you are innocent, you should always seek the advice of an attorney.

In addition to the Miranda warning, Jenkins notes that many clients aren’t fully aware of the collateral consequences they face when violating the law. Some changes in the judicial field she would like to see include changes to the criminal and sexual offender statues regarding young offenders.

In reference to her award, Jenkins says, “All I can do is be consistent and continue to grow professionally.” Her advice to young aspiring attorneys is to take their studies seriously and note the “dynamic difference” between law school and the practice of law.

“We [the LRC] are here for the community, especially the African American community, to come in and take advantage of,” Jenkins concludes. “We are a free attorney service, and we have extremely sharp and committed lawyers.”

The Legal Rights Center, Inc. is located at 1611 Park Avenue South in Minneapolis. Saran Jenkins can be reached there at 612-337-0030 ext. 17 or at sjenk [at] legalrightscenter [dot] org.

Janell Hickman welcomes reader responeses to janell [dot] margaret [at] yahoo [dot] com.


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