Women on the Leading Edge of Law
Kori Ashley, staff attorney at Legal Action of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, comes from a lineage of prominent law professionals who influenced her pursuit of a career in law. Her uncle is the Honorable Judge Carl Ashley of Milwaukee County Circuit Court, Branch 33 and her aunt, Carol Ashley, is an attorney. She also has a cousin who is attending law school.
Over the years, Kori’s personal pursuit of justice has been fueled by and is constantly reignited by the systemic injustices she witnesses. She is determined to make a positive difference.
“It’s sometimes difficult working within the confines of the current laws; you can only do so much in terms of expungement, and the sheer difficulty individuals encounter trying to make their way out of the justice system is daunting. I’d like to create a ‘one-stop shop’ pathway for individuals coming out of the justice system to have access to solid programs that allows them to remove legal barriers to employment, that includes case management and attaches them to educational and job opportunities,” she said.
While she grew up in Milwaukee, following college, Kori never expected to return to this city to live and work. After graduating from De- Paul University in Chicago where she majored in political science, with minors in history and sociology, Kori attended the University of Wisconsin- Madison Law School.
“I admit that I wanted to leave Milwaukee and swore I would never return, but I missed my hometown. Ultimately, I felt that I had a responsibility to participate in the discussions and events that helped transform Milwaukee into what it is today. I’m happy to be home and honored to engage with the parts of our city that are growing, thriving and developing into a positive community,” she said.
Kori sees and understands some of the issues facing Milwaukee, particularly within the central city, even though she grew up in the diverse, middle class Sherman Park neighborhood. She believes she can be a change agent by helping guide young Milwaukeeans, especially young people of color entangled in the criminal justice system; to second chances for themselves and their families.
“Working at Legal Action allows me to be in the courtroom, work as a litigator, and advocate for fair treatment on behalf of disadvantaged people who live and work in some of Milwaukee’s most disenfranchised neighborhoods. I practice public interest law because I’m extremely passionate about helping people find a way out of the system. Public interest law offers people a chance to become self-sufficient, while empowering themselves, their families and their neighborhoods for positive growth. I want to help people turn the page. People should be able to turn the page and move on with their lives after serving their time,” she said.
As she successfully juggles and balances the joys and challenges of being a new mom, working and engaging with youth through formal and informal mentoring, time management and work-life balance are critical.
“The most important rule I abide by in terms of time management, other than scheduling, is knowing when to say ‘no.’ I only volunteer for positions that I can fully commit to, and I make sure that I volunteer in areas that I find genuinely interesting,” she said.
One of those areas that she is passionate about is working with youth.
“I started volunteering at the LaVarnway Boys and Girls Club when I was nine. I spent the next 15 years learning and leading activities there, teaching kids and other volunteers the value of self-worth, hard work and a great college education.
“I’ve benefited tremendously from individuals in my village—people who have counseled me, written letters of recommendation and shared their life experiences with me. I tell my mentees to work their butts off, jot down their goals, renew them and achieve them,” she said.
Kori is already leaving her mark on the next generation. After serving as a judge in the State Bar of Wisconsin’s High School Mock Trial Tournament and witnessing the lack of racial diversity among the participants, she was determined to change that. She reached out to the Wisconsin Association of African American Lawyers (WAAL) and proposed creating a mock trial program with one of Milwaukee’s high schools.
“I’m grateful that my fellow WAAL members responded so positively to this. Last year, we sponsored a team at Golda Meir School and they went to the regional competition. The team did a fantastic job. This year, as we prepare for the 2020 competition in February, we’ve doubled the number of participants from eight to 16. We also had four coaches, including judges. My uncle helped the students practice-judge the competition,” she said.
In addition to being a new mom and homeowner, Kori and her husband, Kwadwo Owusu-Ofori, spend a good deal of their spare time in hardware stores, working on projects in their Enderis Park home. She also admits that her ‘happy place’ is spent on the sofa watching full seasons of action-packed or crime-related movies and television shows.