Prominent civil rights and employment law attorney Allison Jones returned to her alma mater on Friday, May 20, to deliver the commencement address to the LSU Law Class of 2022. Commencement exercises were held at 5 p.m. at the Pete Maravich Assembly Center on the LSU campus, and they were also livestreamed and can be viewed online. See a gallery of photos from commencement.
Jones, a 1985 LSU Law graduate and defense attorney at Downer, Jones, Marino & Wilhite in Shreveport, praised the Class of 2022 for persevering through law school during one of the most challenging periods in recent history.
“In March of 2020, in the middle of the spring semester of their 1L year, this class had their entire law school experience turned upside down when they were notified that they were no longer to attend classes in person and were to go online. Normal law school interaction changed,” Jones said, noting that along with adjusting to virtual and hybrid classes, the graduates also adapted to nontraditional clerkship experiences, field placements, and mock trial and moot court competitions. “This class faced hurdles that no other class had faced before. Lingering effects of the pandemic continued during the remainder of this law school class’s experience, but still, this class achieved.”
Jones shared some valuable lessons with the Class of 2022 graduates that she has learned over her 37-year career as an attorney.
“You don’t know everything—and that’s okay. You’ve learned an awful lot here at LSU Law, but you don’t yet know everything,” she said, “and it’s okay to be simultaneously proud of your accomplishments and anxious about your own future. You don’t need to know your entire career plan today; you just need to know that you are prepared to take the next step. Your career path will be unveiled for you in time. In most cases, that career path finds you.”
Jones also encouraged the graduates to accept that they will make mistakes in the years ahead, and to take advantage of the opportunity those mistakes present.
“Trust me when I tell you that as a law student, I made mistakes. I am continuing to make mistakes as a lawyer,” she said. “You will make mistakes. It is inevitable. Nobody likes to hear it, but it will happen. Mistakes, however, should be embraced as an opportunity to gain insight. It is not the making of the mistake that defines you. What defines you as a lawyer and a person is how you respond to that mistake. What insight did you gain? What did you learn? Did you honestly face the challenges? Can you make yourself better because of that mistake?”
Jones closed her commencement address by touching on some challenges that every member of the LSU Law Class of 2022 will face in the years ahead, and she further challenged them to lean on the lessons they’ve learned throughout their law school experience to make the world more just and equitable.
“I can tell you that at some point in your career you will be faced with a case that challenges your conscience … you will find something in your career that you’re just unable to bear. It may happen early in your career, it may happen late, but it will happen,” she said. “LSU Law school has prepared you for that inevitability. And as a result of the degree that you have earned today, you, too, can feel the righteousness that comes with using your law degree to do good. Having the courage to do that justice is the challenge. You are being given the law degree today, but do you have the courage?”
Throughout her distinguished career, Jones has settled, mediated, and litigated hundreds of employment law and civil rights cases, several of which garnered national attention. In particular, she is known for her expertise in the field of gender discrimination and gender equality. Among her notable successes, Jones represented the plaintiff in a gender discrimination action jury trial that resulted in the largest jury verdict awarded in the State of Louisiana for gender discrimination ($3,279,000), which was affirmed on appeal. She represented a parent plaintiff group in a Title IX gender equity lawsuit against Caddo Parish School Board that resulted in the allocation of several million dollars to bring the public school system into compliance.
Jones also represented female members seeking access to public restaurant facilities at Southern Trace Country Club in Shreveport, resulting in the Louisiana Supreme Court’s first ruling that gender-segregated dining facilities in public accommodations are unconstitutional. She has also tried many jury trials in both state and federal courts dealing with commercial business transactions and oil and gas lease issues. Since 2015, Jones has served as an instructor for the LSU Law Trial Advocacy Program, and she is a frequent speaker at seminars and has numerous publications in local and state bar journals.
Jones is married to Philip Downer, who is also a 1985 LSU Law graduate. Her brother, Matt Jones, and sister, Pam Jones, are both 1989 LSU Law graduates. Her son, Joshua Philip Downer, is a 2012 LSU Law graduate, and her son, Stephen Downer, is a 2019 LSU Law graduate.
Other commencement speakers included LSU Law Interim Dean Lee Ann Wheelis Lockridge and LSU Interim Executive Vice president and Provost Matt Lee. LSU Law Associate Dean for Student and Academic Affairs Andrea Beauchamp Carroll read the roll of graduates, while LSU Law 2022 Professor of the Year Raymond T. Diamond and LSU Law Assistant Dean of Student Affairs Jake T. Henry III performed the ceremonial hooding of the graduates. 2022 LSU Law Student Bar Association Executive President Alex Jacob Domingue delivered the student welcome and 2022 3L Class President Austin Pottorff provided the class farewell.