A Winding Path to Law School
Emily Grubb Coffing, Class of 2024
3L Emily Grubb Coffing took a winding path to law school that has resulted, most recently, in her receiving the 2023-2024 Ms. JD Fellowship. The program, which promotes mentoring and professional development to women law students, is offered by Ms. JD, a nonprofit organization dedicated to the success of aspiring and early-career women lawyers.
Grubb Coffing’s trajectory into the study of law began at an unlikely point: when she suffered a lower-back fracture in high school. Grubb Coffing, who was an ice skater at the time, was sidelined by the injury. “I had a whole bunch of free time and had to figure out what to do with it,” she recalls. “And I thought, you know what, I’ve always enjoyed arguing with my parents, so I thought I’d try mock trials. I tried it; I fell in love.”
Participating in mock trials fit with Grubb Coffing’s lifelong sense of being committed to and pursuing justice. But when she got to college, she says, “I did a pretty good job of convincing myself that I didn’t actually need to be a lawyer to achieve my goals.” She then studied international relations and three languages, thinking she would pursue a diplomatic path and take the foreign service officer test. “I had very ambitious goals of solving trilateral relations and negotiations between the U.S., China and Taiwan,” she says with a chuckle.
After graduating from the University of Delaware, Grubb Coffing moved to Taiwan for two years on a Fulbright scholarship. The community activists she met there inspired her to shift her focus toward social justice and the nonprofit world. When she moved back to the U.S. after finishing her graduate program, she started working for an international human rights nonprofit alongside people who were using their legal backgrounds in domestic and international spaces to inform how programs provided grants. The experience re-stirred her interest in legal education.
“I started really, seriously reflecting on whether I was heading in the direction that I wanted to be, professionally, and if not, what changes I needed to make to kind of reorient my path.”
Before pursuing that interest, Grubb Coffing—who is from Ohio—followed her husband back to that state, where he’d been offered a job. Then the pandemic hit, and in many respects, the world screeched to a halt.
“With all that time and extra brain space, I started really, seriously reflecting on whether I was heading in the direction that I wanted to be, professionally, and if not, what changes I needed to make to kind of reorient my path,” Grubb Coffing says. “As a result, I thought there’s really going to be no better or more opportune time for me to study and take the LSATs and see if law school is even in the cards. So I did that—I took the LSATs from our guest bedroom in Oxford, Ohio, and lo and behold, I am now back in school and a year away from hopefully becoming a practicing attorney.”
She feels she made the right choice. “Where I sit now and with the knowledge I’ve gained over the past two years in school and through my experiential learning opportunities out of school and the individuals who do the work I hope to someday do with whom I’ve had the opportunity to connect, I think I feel now more fully confident in who I am and what I’m capable of than I ever really did prior to coming to law school,” she says. “And I feel more assured of the choices that I’ve made.”
If she needed affirmation, she got it with the Ms. JD fellowship. “It is the external validation that I am doing something worthwhile and that I am capable of being the kind of woman and role model and advocate that I dream to be,” she says. “It also signifies an immense amount of trust in me and what I can contribute to my communities and to the larger Ms. JD network … and I think it comes with a lot of responsibility. It does shine a little bit of a spotlight not only on myself but also … on Kline School of Law, and I don’t take that responsibility lightly.
“I absolutely appreciate the immense privilege that it is to have been awarded the fellowship, and I want to do everything in my power to ensure that I’m doing it justice.”
Each spring, Ms. JD selects a group of outstanding rising 3L students to receive fellowships. Recipients get invitations and financial support to attend a Ms. JD National Women Law Students’ Organization Leadership Academy Intensive. Plus, each recipient is paired with a mentor and completes a project that benefits the community or women in the legal profession generally. Beyond the mentorship, fellows also have the chance to meet and network with each other.
“I’m very excited to learn more about the larger Ms. JD structure and organization as a whole,” Grubb Coffing says, “and also to learn from my fellow cohort members.”
In the meantime, she is clerking for the Philadelphia personal injury firm Saltz Mongeluzzi Bendesky, where she works for the civil sexual assault litigation team. “Given my background and my personal interests and my self-proclaimed, unapologetic feminism, I think I always knew deep-down that I would feel very passionately about the work,” she notes.
As far as her future practice, Grubb Coffing—a member of Drexel Kline Law’s trial team—wants to work as a trial attorney. “I do know that I would like to do plaintiffs’ work,” she says. “I very much enjoy being on the side of the ‘v’ where I feel like I am standing up for and representing individuals who have been harmed.”