Theo Shaw of the Jena Six is officially a lawyer.
Shaw took his oath of admission to the bar on April 26, according to The Times-Picayune.
He was sworn in by Louisiana Supreme Court Chief Justice Bernette Johnson. Shaw is currently one of her law clerks.
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This moment was 12 years in the making. Shaw was propelled into the spotlight when he was one of six Black teenagers accused of assaulting a white student in 2007. The group was dubbed the Jena Six, and their plight emphasized inadequacies in the criminal justice system.
Shaw spent seven months in jail because he couldn’t afford bond. He maintained his innocence and wrote letters to the judge to plead his case. The group eventually pleaded no contest to a misdemeanor simple battery charge. Pleading no contest means the boys didn’t admit guilt and offered no defense.
After he was released, Shaw graduated high school and went to community college. He eventually graduated from the University of Louisiana at Monroe and went to law school at the University of Washington on a full scholarship, according to The Clarion Ledger. Shaw’s classmates chose him to give a speech at their commencement ceremony.
In addition to his clerking, Shaw interned for the Innocence Project New Orleans in college and worked for the Southern Poverty Law Center for three years before law school.
The experience took an emotional toll on Shaw, who cried in his cell at night.
"Even though you may not be a bad person, you may not be a criminal, people can treat you and make you feel as if you are a degrading, violent person,” he told The Clarion Ledger in December. “And I think jail initially had that impact on me.”
His incarceration also influences his advocacy for clients.
"Any time I'm in a jail, any time ... I have to write a motion for a client, I feel myself in that situation again, so I'm always thinking about my experience and what I went through in the system," he added.
Attorney Rob McDuff, his Jena Six lawyer, is proud of the man Shaw has become.
"Instead of allowing the trauma of this awful experience of spending seven months in jail to send him on a downward spiral, Theo really used it as a motivation to put himself in a position where he could help others avoid the sort of injustice that was perpetrated on him," McDuff said.
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