LAW BY ANY MEANS NECESSARY:
HOW SHE BECAME A LAWYER
March 16, 2017 | 5h12PM ET
By Jaury Jean-Enard
Such is the chorus of songwriter Nas's 2002 song entitled, "I Can." This song encourages people, especially children, to work hard at their dreams. It was also nominated for best rap video. And if there were a best Haitian lawyer success story, it would probably be Soeurette Michel.
In January 13, 2001, Michel arrived in the U.S. after barely escaping an abduction attempt in Haiti three days prior. After leaving the bank in Fontamara (neighborhood in the Western department of Haiti) she was robbed. Her purse was stolen; and by sheer luck, the robbers discussed kidnapping her, but instead they let her go. Her visit to the U.S. was intended to be a short escape from political instabilities. Instead, her mother and other family members encouraged her to stay permanently. She was in her late twenties and moved in with her then sister-in-law in Orlando, FL.
In Haiti, Michel studied Social Communication & Journalism from the State University (French: Université d'Etat d'Haïti) where she graduated in 1998. She was also very involved with the university's many civic organizations, the community and church activities. Following the same activities, Michel quickly became involved with her local Haitian community. The more familiar she became with her fellow Haitians, the more she noticed a culture of people being taken advantage of, especially the newcomers. On one occasion, a member of her church was swindled into a marriage for money.
"I [once] needed to get an I.D. card and somebody asked me for $300 [just] to take me to the [location]," she recalls. "When I could just go to the place and get it done myself."
At her church in Orlando, she heard of countless similar stories that rendered her hopeless but yet eager to help. After about two months in the states, Michel expressed to a few family members and acquaintances that she may want to study law in order to help immigrants and other Haitians in the community. Like crabs in a bucket, they all discouraged her, citing endless reasons why she can't achieve such position.
"You will never be able to do that!" exclaimed a church member in response.
"You might want to go to nursing school," offered another.
Michel grew frustrated with everyone's discouragement of her intentions. She says people dismissed her idea without even listening to her reasons. This quickly became the chorus of her coming to America experiences. Even her closest family members asked her to reconsider her intent, often saying that it was impossible or will take her too long.
"Everybody was telling me that I can't do it, and I didn't like that."
A close family member told her that she must be crazy for having such a goal. Instead of abandoning her goal, all the naysayers added more fuel and passion to her desires. She said that besides wanting to help, people's general response upset her to the point that she wanted to prove them wrong. Even when she started law school, the cynic comments never ceased. As a result she stopped telling people she was going to school altogether. After leaving her in-law's house, she lived with a friend and then lived alone. She ignored phone calls and lived a life of solitude until she was able to get to where she wanted to be.
Michel admits that although she always wanted to be lawyer, she never saw it as an immediately reachable goal. But enough Debbie Downers in her road was all it took to motivate her.
Poised and focused, she was determined to become a lawyer. The need for lawyers was all around her community. The scam stories of Haitians being bamboozled left and right were incessant. And Michel was desperate to help and make a change.
Having been in the country for just a few months, Michel started going to school in 2002 to learn English, all the while going through endless back and forth and hoop-jumping to receive her school transcripts from Haiti. Although Michel already held a Bachelor's Degree from the State University of Haiti, she pursued another Bachelor's Degree. Two years later she received a Bachelor of Applied Science in Legal Studies from the University of Central Florida (2004). Then she went on to study Criminal Justice and was conferred a Master of Science in 2006. This would serve as the groundwork to her legal studies.
In the same year, Michel applied to and was admitted to Florida A&M University, College of Law. Having already earned two U.S higher education degrees, this was when she knew she could be whatever she wanted to be. If she worked hard at it, she'd be where she wanted to be.
While at the College of Law, Michel spent three years of voluntary student-solitary-confinement where she focused quasi-exclusively on her studies. Her relatives called her old school because she refused to go out. She didn't even go to church. And as long as there was a will, she found a way to stay focused. Cooking, hair braiding, and cleaning were among the various odd jobs she did to support herself while in college.
In 2009, by the virtue of the authority vested in the Dean of the College, the degree of Juris Doctor was conferred upon Michel and her class. As a J.D. is often seen as a generic degree, she went on to pursue an advanced degree in Intercultural Human Rights in 2010.
All in all, this far-reaching dream of hers took nearly nine years to attain.
Today she is known as Attorney Soeurette Michel - a well-respected attorney and CEO of The Michel Law Firm, LLC. Her firm, which she established in 2012, specializes in business litigation, criminal defense, immigration, naturalization law, and human rights. Michel has worked on several high profile cases, such as: the Haiti Cholera case against the United Nations, the Diaspora Mission for Haiti's 2016 elections, and migration crisis of Haitians throughout Central and Latin America.
Currently, she is focused on human rights and TPS protection of an influx of Haitians coming in the U.S. via the Mexican border near Tijuana. Last year, September 2016, the Obama administration and the U.S. Department of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) instituted the Expedite Removal Proceeding of Haitians to deal with the more 10,000 Haitians crossing the border over the past couple years.
In the future, Michel hopes to build a database of several taskforces to help foreign companies enter the Haitian market. She hopes this will stimulate the Haitian economy, bring jobs, and help reestablish Haitian professional expats back home.
When she is not jumping between courthouses, Michel is a friend and family lover. She is unmarried and takes care of her mother who lives with her. She has a little sister and older brother who both live in Canada. Sports are among her favorite hobbies. She bleeds purple and gold and identifies as a lifelong fan of the Los Angeles Lakers. Speaking in Creole, she also says that she loves 'foutbòl,' (Creole for soccer).