Zeroed in on her future, Telissa K. Lindsey was ambitious in finding a way to pay her college education. However, it came with a cost. The summer of her junior year in high school, while most were enjoying their freedom, Lindsey spent her summer in basic training for the Army in Fort Jackson, Columbia, South Carolina through a special program offered at her high school. After completing basic training, she graduated with her high school diploma and then went on to active duty to pay for school. Within six months, Desert Storm happened and she was called off to war. However, her role on active duty was short-lived and she developed a disability due to the toxic fumes, which led to her discharge.
With a total of three years in active duty, Lindsey’s journey doesn’t stop here. Her service in the Army paid for her education and helped pave the path that she’s on as an award-winning lawyer in New Jersey. With both an MBA and a Juris Doctor from Temple University School of Law, Lindsey knew she always wanted to be a lawyer. Led by her faith in God, along with her belief in the values of the military, being a lawyer, for Lindsey, is all about servicing the African-American community. Lindsey spoke to TNJ.com about today’s injustices, the good and bad side of being a defense attorney and why young professionals should know their rights.
TNJ.com: What are three things that you learned from being in the military that crossed over into your professional life?
Lindsey: Definitely discipline and my work ethic because in the military you learn to focus and accomplish the task at hand, and you know a lot of people are depending on you. That was instilled in me at a very young age, and it definitely translates in my career now as an attorney. I take a number of pro-bono clients where people are not receiving proper representation and they can’t afford it. I take on those cases to help. I do try to balance it because I’m married. My faith helps me stay balanced and continue to do what I do.
TNJ.com: What are your tips on pushing the envelope and achieving excellence?
Lindsey: I think it has to come first from setting goals. I always set goals that I’m not always sure I’m going to reach, but I set them high. Generally, the are goals are achievable, but I always through something extra on their, something not everyone can always achieve. For instance, when I was in high school, and it’s still on my list, I wanted to run for President of the United States America, and the reason is because I think different people from different backgrounds can bring different things to a political office. My life experiences, I think, can relate to a lot of different people, bring about positive change in so many people’s lives. I think setting goals and working really hard, developing a plan on how to reach those goals is going to be helpful for anyone.
For an African- American woman, I’ve often been in situations where I’ve been the only one, and it’s to realize that even if you’re sitting in the back, you’re there because you belong there. Don’t ever let anyone feel otherwise. From there, you grow and you’re that illustration and an example of how others should be at that same table and sure others will see you as the example and want to aspire and work towards that.
TNJ.com: There’s a new crop of civil rights leaders – what is your take on the new civil rights movement of the 21st century?
Lindsey: I have so many mixed emotions about everything that’s going on. Being a defense attorney, I often see the other side. The justice system isn’t always just, and some of this stuff that’s going on – too many of our children are being killed for senseless reasons. Anyone who has a job has to temper their job and do the right things and approach the job the right way. Where the racial profiling that’s going on and the outright discrimination where certain racial groups are being targeted more so for crimes, I think that’s just wrong – and it’s time for us to wake up. I think we’ve come a long way, but we have a long way to go. We start forgetting where we came from. That’s when we’re going to start having more problems like we’re seeing now.
TNJ.com: What’s your favorite part about being a lawyer?
Lindsey: Well, my favorite part is about making positive change in people’s lives. I have this young man who experienced a bad interaction with a police officer. It resulted in the juvenile getting an arrest record and potentially facing serious criminal charges. I was able to intervene and we got a lot of the charges dismissed or downgraded substantially. For this young man, as far as school goes, he was doing great, however, something like this can dramatically affect his life. When I can look at someone and see in his eyes that I really helped him makes it really easy for me to get up every morning and come here to do what I do.
TNJ.com: What are the negative aspects of being a lawyer?
Lindsey: Sometimes, because of the law, there are restraints for what you can do to help people. Sometimes, you’re only able to make it better. You’re not able to completely undo something that has been done. So, I guess in those cases, you know justice was completely not done; those are the cases that are hard to sleep with. Unfortunately, every single case I work on is not going to be 100 percent of what I want the outcome to be.
TNJ.com: From a lawyer’s point of view, what do you think young professionals can do?
Lindsey: We’ve got to stay current on history. Understand what Selma was all about and then where we’re at in our respective careers and position in life. We’ve got to always try to help educate. Policing in the Black community is a problem. People should understand their basic rights, but many people don’t—which is a shame. They don’t because we don’t teach it in grade school. A lot of times people find out by being involved with some type of investigation, or law enforcement stopping them walking in the street doing absolutely nothing. So, it’s important to explain to people that they have rights when a police officer approaches them and wants to search their car or their person. They don’t have to consent if they not doing anything.
Helping to get that information out there is so critical. I belong to the NAACP, and we’re focusing on creating some seminars or some type of forums to bring people in to educate them on how you should you interact with a police officer. So, a lot of the problems that we’re seeing hopefully will be addressed or improved during interactions with the law enforcement person.