Sun | Aug 20, 2017

Large Abroad | From the ghetto to the law firm

Published:Wednesday | August 17, 2016 | 8:00 AMJodi-Ann Gilpin
Patrick Campbell

Seeing bullet-riddled bodies regularly in his tough Mountain View community in St Andrew was Patrick Campbell's reality. However, the Jamaica-born survivor never stopped working hard and is now a partner at the Paul, Weiss law firm in Washington, DC.

The 45-year-old, who moved to the United States in the middle of completing fourth form at Jamaica College on Hope Road, St Andrew, told The Gleaner that among the myriad challenges he encountered as a child, the 1980 general election was particularly taxing on him and his family.

"I grew up at 54C Mountain View Avenue, and during my childhood, it was one of the more volatile and troubled communities. A lot of the fighting happened in front of my yard because our house was at the bottom of a lane. So when the gangs started their feuds, our lane was one of the easiest access points to carry out their acts," he said.

"Many times, we were in our house and bad man just start fire shots fi all a hour straight. One particular night, we were all standing at our house and gunmen started firing shots ... . We stayed on the floor for the entire night listening to the shots. By the time we got up and went outside, there was a man right in front of our gate with his brain out of his head. He was dead as a door post," he recalled.

Campbell added, "Even my brother got shot during the elections (1980). As a kid, we didn't even understand what was happening. We saw dead people regularly. We heard the gunshots, but it was really when we got older [that] it made sense."

 

CREDIT TO MOM

 

He gave credit to his mother, who he said always tried to give them a comfortable life despite the circumstances.

"She was a single mom, but she was always very disciplined when it comes to our education. If it was her last dollar, she was going to buy a book. We didn't have television and those things, but we always had books, and so I was an avid reader," Campbell told The Gleaner.

This would have set the platform for Campbell's academic path, as he was able to maintain a good average, graduating with the second-highest grade after he completed secondary school, when he migrated. He, however, had to deal with another set of challenges while living there.

"My mother was a housekeeper, so the little money she made could do so much and no more. At one point, I was saying to myself that 'mi caa believe a dis mi come to'. I believed things would have been much easier. We had running water and we had a toilet that could flush, which was an upgrade, because we didn't have all of that in Jamaica, but by American standards, we were very poor," he said.

The moment that changed his life, however, was not far away, after a teacher introduced him to a simple course that entailed aspects of the law and the constitution.

"A teacher recommended that I take a course called 'Street Law'. It was basic law, really. We looked at the constitution, understanding persons' rights, among other things. At the end, we would have a mock trial, where we would do the same thing that happens in a courthouse. I enjoyed the experience so much and it was there I decided I wanted to become a lawyer," he said.

 

AIDED BY SCHOLARSHIPS

 

His life would take an upward trajectory as he gained a place at Georgetown University in Washington, DC, and then the prestigious Stanford University Law School in California.

"I applied and got accepted (Georgetown), but we were still very poor. I remember I got a letter saying the tuition for one year would be US$40,000. The good thing, however, is that I had financial aid. That's how I have been able to go to Georgetown and Stanford for seven years. I was able to go to school with the best and brightest in the world," he said.

After his third year at the Stanford University, he got the chance to work with a federal judge in the United States. Then he went back to practise at the Paul, Weiss law firm where he has been for the last 20 years. The success didn't stop there, as his work captured the attention of management, and in 2004 he became partner in the organisation.

"When I became a partner at the firm, that's when I would say I had real success. Partnership is one of those things that you don't really plan. You do your best and the firm considers you for partnership. If you do well and you are able to move the company forward, then you become a partner," he said.

"My upbringing made my success even more sweeter. From the very first day I walked into my office as an associate, I looked at my surroundings and I was like 'Wow'. Here is this boy from the ghetto, I have an office, I have a secretary, [and] I have clients paying the firm money for my time. I just felt on top of the world," he said.

"It didn't matter how much money I make or if I would become a partner. The minute I walked into a law firm, that was success for me," Campbell declared.

jodi-ann.gilpin@gleanerjm.com