At the age of 12, Sheryl L. Burke experienced the criminal justice system as a victim. It was this experience that motivated her to become an attorney.
Burke began her professional career as an insurance adjuster before deciding to enroll in law school at St. Louis University where she completed her Juris Doctorate degree. She began practicing corporate law immediately after passing the bar, and in 1995 Burke opened her own personal injury law firm with only $250. Her law practice has evolved and grown tremendously, but its mission and values remain the same: a profound commitment to justice and ensuring that people are treated fairly.
Rolling out spoke with Burke about her firm and key moments in her career.
What have been some of your most significant legal experiences?
When I first started practicing law, my practice consisted of representing mostly children. One of the most meaningful experiences I encountered was representing a child who was involved in an automobile accident and declared dead at the scene. Her body was placed in a body bag and taken away from the scene. On the way to the morgue, it was discovered that she was still alive! I was able to assemble a team of experts to quantify the economic value of the case, as well as her pain and suffering, which resulted in the case having one of my most substantial outcomes.
It wasn’t the compensation that made it so rewarding but the justice that was rendered for my client. That’s when I discovered it isn’t all about the money but ensuring that my clients are compensated for their losses, which gives me ultimate satisfaction.
What qualities make for an effective lawyer?
For me, it is treating clients like family. My law practice is more of a mission than it is a business. Because of this … it has become both effective and fulfilling.
Describe your experience, if any, working in an urban or inner-city environment?
I am from the city of Los Angeles -South Central. I grew up surrounded by violence and drugs. This was really heartbreaking in my career because I would find myself spending a substantial amount of time visiting loved ones behind bars or at a cemetery. This motivated me to make a difference in my community in an effort to end this vicious cycle.
A few years ago, I took six girls on a trip overseas to Europe to show them that life is much bigger than what they … see. Over the years, I have done several mini projects similar to this to expose and cultivate the inner-city youth to show them there is a life outside of their communities.
What advice would you offer a law student beginning his or her career?
Integrity is one of the most important aspects of being a good lawyer. It is not about only being a good person, but [also] making sure you always try to do what you say you are going to do.