[Editor’s note: The IFLP archives include several student profiles that document the impact of the program on students’ lives. With the students’ permission, the IFLP leadership team wanted to share these with a broader audience. Regarding Trezell Ragas, after three weeks at the IFLP Boot Camp at Colorado Law in the spring of 2019, she went on to a 7-month field placement in the Cummins legal department followed by a summer split between PNC legal department and Ballard Spahr. Trezell credits IFLP for opening these doors. wdh.]
Looking at the LinkedIn profile of Trezell Ragas, you’d hardly believe she’s just beginning her career.
While earning her undergraduate degree, she worked as a residential assistant and academic tutor—and still found time for volunteer activities and working as a field director for a national political advocacy firm. Today, she’s enrolled in the JD program at Southern University Law Center (SULC) in addition to working part-time as a law clerk.
This is a long way from Trezell’s small-town roots in rural Louisiana, where she overcame significant hardship. For example, when Trezell was just 12 years old, Hurricane Katrina hit her hometown of Port Sulphur.
“My family lost everything,” she said. “For three months, we were homeless. We had to live in a church a few hours away.”
When the family did return home, they initially had to live in the school where her parents worked so they could prepare the building ahead of returning students.
“My parents didn’t expect straight A’s. As long as I tried, it was good enough for them. But when I was 8 years old, my mother said she knew I would be more. She had never known anyone with my level of curiosity.”
A high school teacher makes all the difference
Trezell had never considered the idea of college until a high school algebra teacher took her under her wing.
“She started tutoring me in algebra and then helped me complete college applications, including the required essays,” she said.
In 2016, Trezell earned a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice and law enforcement administration, becoming the first in her family to graduate from college. Her work as a volunteer coordinator for Court Watch NOLA, an organization that observes and reports on the conduct of judges and other public servants, piqued her interest in the law.
She was a first-year student at SULC when Vice-Chancellor John Pierre encouraged students to apply for the Institute for the Future of Law Practice (IFLP) fellowship.
“I sought out this opportunity [to participate in IFLP] as a way in,” she explained. “Am Law 200 firms don’t come to interview at my school.”
She attended the 3-week IFLP Boot Camp in May 2019.
“I found the curriculum very rigorous, but I enjoyed it,” she said. “Law school is heavy on theory. In contrast, IFLP helps you understand the business aspects of law, and that’s so important for young lawyers who want to make it in this industry, which is changing rapidly.”
Through IFLP, Trezell was selected for a 7-month field placement at Cummins, a Fortune 500 corporation based in Indianapolis that manufactures diesel engines.
“Learning business fundamentals, professional communication, project management, and data analytics in the IFLP boot camp was extremely helpful in preparing me for my internship at Cummins,” she said.
IFLP, Cummins and a mentor open doors
She said her Cummins internship was amazing on many levels—including the leadership of Sharon Barner, the Vice President and General Counsel for Cummins Inc.
“I had never had a mentor that looked like me,” Trezell said. “It was great to be around Sharon and her team. Everything I’ve been told about the legal industry is how diverse it isn’t. But I had a completely different experience. Sharon’s team is very diverse. It’s important to me that I now have a network of people to help me navigate through this industry.”
That’s not to say the road has always been smooth for Trezell.
“I’ve been the only African American person in the group, but everyone’s been willing to work with me as long as I’m trying,” she said. “I’ve had to get comfortable with being uncomfortable in order for me to open doors for others.”
During her Cummins internship, Barner helped arrange for Trezell to spend 2 weeks embedded in the Foley & Lardner IP group in Chicago. Both experiences helped shape her future career aspirations.
“I’m extremely grateful to employers like Cummins who provide opportunities like I’ve had,” Trezell said. “Ultimately, I’d like to have a fulfilling career at a firm and then go in-house. When I become a partner or GC, I’m not going to factor in GPA or law school [in hiring decisions]. In my own experience, qualified attorneys come from everywhere. I’ll use the same metrics as IFLP, looking at background, skills, and aptitude to be successful. A 3.0 GPA can be as good as a 4.0. It’s about grit and hustle. You can be as or more successful than anyone else if the doors are open to you.”
“Wherever I end up doors will be open to everyone.”