Faculty Spotlight: Jennifer McCombs Kelly

Litigation attorney, judge pro-tem, law school and paralegal professor, Jennifer Kelly is undoubtedly dedicated to the practice of law and the training of legal professionals.

I was involved in speech and debate in high school, and enjoyed public speaking. I took a First Amendment course at the University of California, San Diego and became enthralled with the Constitution. Law school seemed like the next logical step, and I have not regretted my decision to become an attorney.

Prior to starting her own practice, Ms. Kelly was a partner at Gordon & Rees and Hilding Kipnis Lyon & Kelly.

I was attracted to Gordon & Rees because [the firm] provides the benefits of a large firm, and yet operates with the familiarity and warmth of a smaller firm.

Now a self-employed civil litigation attorney, specializing in commercial real estate litigation, Ms. Kelly enjoys building ongoing professional relationships with her clients and helping clients to obtain cost-effective solutions, whether through settlement or trial.

The greatest challenge is balancing client expectations and the costs of litigation. Because the cost of litigation is high, it is important to have clear communication with one’s clients and to be creative in structuring business oriented solutions.

Ms. Kelly remains current and active in her field by taking professional development classes, serving as a judge pro-tem for the San Diego Superior Court, and teaching the first year Experiential Advocacy class for her alma mater, USD School of Law. She credits her own USD professors, Alan Snyder and Corky Wharton, for inspiring her to pursue a career in litigation and encourages students considering law school to go for it!

I believe that going to law school was one of the best decisions of my life. If you have the desire to attend law school, you should pursue this option. Whether you practice law or work in another field, a law degree will provide you invaluable skills, including analytical reading and writing and problem solving.

English was Ms. Kelly’s favorite subject in school and she recalls the impact Mrs. Sleigh’s high school English class had on her development, “she required us to read and analyze a book each week. I credit her with developing my reading and analytical skills.”

Ms. Kelly describes her own teaching style as engaged and says she most enjoys learning about students’ individual backgrounds and hearing their unique perspectives on legal issues covered in class.

It is natural that in any class, some students are naturally inclined to speak, while others are more reluctant. As an instructor, it is important to me that each student participates throughout the course. I do my best to engage with the students and help them learn the concepts covered…My goal is for my students to leave my classes having learned a skill that they can use in their career. Whether it is understanding a legal concept or rule, or being comfortable drafting a document, I strive to give my students a tool that will help them when they begin working as a paralegal.

Ms. Kelly notes that paralegals play an important role in her practice, “they are crucial in keeping track of key dates, organizing and managing files, communicating with clients and the court, and preparation of discovery, memoranda and pleadings.” When she cut back on her work hours, she decided teaching would be a useful way to share her knowledge.

The biggest lesson she’s learned in her career:

There never is a problem that is too big to solve.

Her advice for new paralegals:

This is an important question! My advice is to arrive on time, be professionally dressed, have a positive attitude no matter what the situation, and carefully read and edit all your written work. I also suggest that new paralegals take the initiative to master their subject matter. For example, if you are working as a paralegal in a litigation department, read and become familiar with the local court rules.

Each semester, Ms. Kelly takes her Introduction to Law class on a field trip to the Superior Court in downtown San Diego. She remembers one particular visit when former Presiding Judge Danielson met with the class for over an hour.

The students were fascinated by his description of what it is like to be on the bench, as well as his perspective on criminal sentencing guidelines.

Outside of work, Ms. Kelly enjoys running and attending her children’s soccer games. She advises students to “work diligently while at work and avoid distractions, [but] when you are away from work, take time to do things that you enjoy!”

Read what USD’s paralegal students have said about Professor Kelly’s Intro to Law and Real Estate courses.

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