Cold winters drove Erin Wilder-Doomes from the Midwest after she graduated from the University of Iowa with a B.S. in psychology in 1995, and the warmth of those whom she met as a student at LSU Law has kept her in Baton Rouge ever since.
A native of Topeka, Kansas, Wilder-Doomes decided to head to Iowa for college after receiving a full scholarship offer. She enjoyed her time in Iowa City, but as her undergraduate studies came to a close, she began thinking of warmer climates as she started planning to attend law school.
“I remember it being May and there was still snow on the ground and it was freezing cold—and I decided I was only going to apply to law schools in the South,” says Wilder-Doomes, a magistrate judge for the U.S. District Court Middle District of Louisiana.
She had never been to Louisiana and wasn’t considering LSU Law when she got a letter encouraging her to visit the campus and apply for admission. She took the law school up on its offer and eventually chose LSU Law over a number of other Southern law schools she had applied to.
“In part, the active efforts LSU Law was making to recruit a more diverse student body was one of the things that really attracted me,” she says. “The people were all so nice, too, and the scholarship really made a difference.”
While at LSU Law, Wilder-Doomes got married and started a family. After earning her law degree in 1999, she worked in commercial litigation in the Baton Rouge office of Phelps Dunbar for about 11 years and then spent another five years with Stewart Robbins & Brown, specializing in civil litigation.
In 2016, she became the first black woman to be named to the bench in the U.S. District Court in Baton Rouge. She’s currently halfway through her eight-year term and hopes to remain on the bench beyond her first term.
“I’ve always enjoyed the practice of law, so I was hesitant about doing something that would take me out of that,” she says of her decision to apply for the bench position. “But the service aspect of the job is what really appealed to me and it’s something I truly enjoy.”
As one of three Middle District magistrate judges, Wilder-Doomes’ duties include conducting most of the preliminary proceedings in criminal cases as well as trying and disposing of misdemeanor and civil cases, and conducting pretrial matters and evidentiary proceedings at the direction of a district judge.
“We are really the public face of the court. We are the judges who people are most likely to see throughout their cases because we oversee almost every aspect of them until they’re ready to be resolved,” she says. “It can be a very tough job, but it’s also very rewarding.”
In January, Wilder-Doomes provided LSU Law students a glimpse into the role of a magistrate judge by leading a course during Apprenticeship Week that included a trip to the court. It was the second year that she has volunteered time out of her busy schedule to serve as an adjunct faculty member during Apprenticeship Week.
“The thing that really made me come back and do it again this year was how impressed I have been with the quality of students I’ve met,” Wilder-Doomes says. “They’re really engaged with the material and they work very hard. Honestly, there are times when I have thought, ‘I’m not sure I was as good of a student as they are.’”
Wilder-Doomes says she is equally impressed with the strides LSU Law has made since she graduated to enhance and expand programs such as Apprenticeship Week and the Trial Advocacy Program, as well as the law clinics and clerkship opportunities.
“The education I got at LSU Law made me very well prepared to successfully pass the bar, and immediately come out of school and become a practitioner,” she says. “I definitely feel that I got a very high-quality education that prepared me for my career, and I think the students at LSU Law today have more opportunities to leave even better prepared—and I think that speaks very well of the school.”