Desha Jackson: A born visionary leader

When we are very young and our minds tender, impressions made on it often last forever. 

This is also the time when we get easily influenced by our surroundings and our thought processes start shaping. At age 8, when most kids are engrossed with cartoons, Desha Jackson was moving towards law. She always wanted to help people and make a difference in the world. She believes that her inclination towards law was the first hint that she was cut out for something big. Growing up, she got hooked on legal shows like Perry Mason, Matlock, and LA Law. She perceived law as a versatile career where there are many different areas of practice and one can hang out single or work for the government or a private firm or company. “You also have a choice of transactional work verse litigation. I liked the versatility and the ability to help people,” she says.

Today, she is the managing lawyer of Desha Jackson Law Group. She started as a law clerk in 1996 after law school and also worked as an intern throughout college at different legal offices. She completed courses at the Rutgers University Center of Management Development and obtained an Equal Employment Certificate. Ms. Jackson was the first African-American female to be hired as an Assistant Prosecutor in Ocean County Prosecutor’s Office 150 year history in 1997.

Before opening her firm Ms. Jackson was of Counsel to the Law Office of Evelyn Padin for two years and before that, with the firm of Wilentz, Goldman, and Spitzer where she was assigned to the Employment Law Team. Prior to working at Wilentz, Ms. Jackson was the Assistant Director of the Equal Employment Division of the New Jersey Department of Corrections. There she assisted in investigations of corrections officers and staff discrimination complaints, provided advice about equal employment issues, as well as provided training to employees about the anti-discrimination policy and procedures. 

Ms. Jackson served as Acting Director in the Office of State Police Affairs in 2006.  She was a Deputy Attorney General in this unit for 5 years prior.  In this role she was in charge of overseeing the implementation of the New Jersey State Police Consent Decree regarding Racial Profiling and ensure protection of troopers for violations of their standard operating procedures. She reported directly to the Attorney General of New Jersey in this position while operating a unit of attorneys, law enforcement investigators and staff. During her tenure she argued a case in the New Jersey Supreme Court Ronald said, Jr. vs. State of New Jersey, Division of State Police, 191 N.J. 516 (2007). She won this case by unanimous decision. 

Ms. Jackson returned to the Department of Corrections from 2009 until 2016. She was an Assistant Director and served as the ADA Coordinator for the department during her entire tenure, as well as the manager of the construction and legal affairs units at various times during her tenure. She created and provided training regarding the ADA, advised the Commissioner and other officials and managers regarding various legal issues, and supervised employees. In 2016 Ms. Jackson became a legal consultant for the City of Newark’s Public Safety Department. She was the lead hearing officer for all disciplinary matters and assisted with implementing their consent decree. 

Being there for the Society

Ms. Jackson mainly practices anti-discrimination law. She is also President of her own non-profit DLJ Give to Live Community Foundation. She also produced Jersey City Fashion Week (JCFW) for 9 years and plans to bring it back! Give to Live raises funds and promotes awareness for charitable causes through fashion, entertainment, and sports-related events. Their mission is to raise funds and awareness as well as to support charitable causes, events, and needs of people in some of the following areas: sports, athletics, education, religion, poverty, homelessness, socio-economically depressed areas, law enforcement, the arts, sick and disabled people, children, young adults, students, women and the elderly through fashion, sports and entertainment events.

“We are one of the few purely charity fashion weeks. We have given our proceeds to over 15 other charitable groups that meet our mission including Dress for Success of Hudson County, York Street Project, Boys and Girls Clubs of Hudson County and Art House Productions, Rising Tide Capital, The Hope Center for the Visual and Performing Arts, the Snowflake Youth Foundation, Girdiron Group, Jersey City Recreation, the Concordia Learning Center at St. Joseph School for the Blind, Mo Hair Foundation, Covenant House of New Jersey, Habitat for Humanity of Hudson County, Hope House in Jersey City, Big Brothers, Big Sisters of Essex, Hudson and Union Counties, Fashion & Arts XChange Group Easter Seals, Salvation Army, and the Hudson Pride Center. I have a great board and a phenomenal volunteer crew that has been with my program for several years,” exclaims Ms. Jackson.

Making it Big

Intense, focused, and passionate, Ms. Jackson is very involved in professional bar-related activities and was named Young Lawyer of the Year in 2002 by the New Jersey State Bar Association (hereinafter “NJSBA”) Young Lawyers Division. She is a member of several NJSBA and American Bar Association (hereinafter “ABA”) committees and sections including the NJSBA Entertainment, Sports and Arts Section, and the ABA Forum on the Entertainment and Sports Industries. Ms. Jackson is a past NJSBA Board of Trustee member, former Chair of the NJSBA Diversity Committee, and past member and Vice Chair of South Jersey of the NJSBA Judicial and Prosecutorial Appointments Committee. Ms. Jackson is also a past president of the New Jersey Women’s Lawyers Association and the first woman of color to lead the organization. She is also a past president of the Association of Black Women Lawyers of New Jersey.   

Ms. Jackson has also received many awards and honors throughout her career for professional and community involvement. She received a Women of Distinction Award from the Girl Scout Council of Greater Essex and Hudson Counties in 2005 and a Special Achievement Award from Lakewood NAACP in 2004. She is listed in the Congressional Record by the Honorable Donald M. Payne on February 5, 1998, for professional achievement and in 1998 received the Young Alumnae Achievement Award from Drew University. She has been selected for inclusion in the New Jersey Super Lawyers-Rising Stars Editions from 2006 until 2009. In 2007, Ms. Jackson also received a Professionalism Lawyer of the Year award from the New Jersey Commission on Professionalism and the New Jersey Women Lawyer Association and the Glenn Cunningham Community Service Award from the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives (NOBLE).Recently Ms. Jackson was featured in the 100 Top Lawyer Magazine in 2020. 

Drawing Strength from Faith

Ms. Jackson just became a Pastor at her church. She’s a Christian and grew up Baptist and Pentecostal. Her father was a preacher and her mother would sing a different spiritual song every day. God has been at the center of her life since she was born. 

“I feel my belief in Jesus makes me a better lawyer. My clients become part of my firm family. My passion for my clients comes from God. My referrals are because God is running my practice. I would not have become a lawyer if it were not for God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit getting me into and through law school. I passed the bar the first time I took the test. All God!! While I do not always win, there is value in giving all that I have in helping people in their time of need. My practice is really part of my ministry. I literally just realized this recently. Several of my clients have said that too,” said Ms. Jackson. 

Encouraging Diversity

Being inclined towards helping all, Ms. Jackson often finds it tough to say ‘no’ to people around her. However, she soon realized it is not prudent to take on more cases than one can handle. “Clear discernment is the best skill you can have in private practice. Know when to say no,” she says.

In her capacity as the Chair of the New Jersey State Bar Association Diversity Committee for many years, Ms. Jackson worked to ensure diversity was an issue considered by lawyers and the NJSBA administration through policy and programs. Their programs specifically dealt with issues like how to increase diversity and issues of inclusion.

“As a lawyer, I hope that my lawsuits against employers regarding discrimination help in some way to change their policies and tactics. Recently, I settled a matter against a major corporation in Las Vegas where my client was called a “Nigger” by someone in management and subsequently not rehired due to that person. Hopefully, there will be change in their policies and procedures regarding this type behavior after this lawsuit.  He was one of a few minorities in the workplace. Lack of diversity in the workplace is sometimes directly related to an unconscious or conscious bias against the minorities, women, older people, etc. This bias can cause you to discriminate and not hire, promote or support the victims. I am a Plaintiff’s anti-discrimination lawyer. I’m hoping to make a difference in eradicating discrimination one case at a time,” she says. While she was president of the Association of Black Women Lawyers and the New Jersey Women Lawyers Association she also participated in, supported, and created programs that helped with diversity in the workplace. 

To the young entrepreneurs, Ms. Jackson says, “Put God first, save money, trust your instincts, not all money is good money, tomorrow is another day, give it all you got, cover your client back, clients need to know you care, the money will come!!”

Looking forward to Growth

Ms. Jackson has advised various clients regarding contracts and business issues in the entertainment and sports industry. These clients have included athletes, dancers, singers, live stage performers, musicians, television personalities, disc jockeys, fashion designers as well as actors. She is also a FIBA agent.  She also has participated in numerous employment matters involving employees and employers including discrimination, severance agreements, and policy matters. She has served as a hearing officer for numerous disciplinary matters. She serves as an investigator for various employment cases including discrimination, ethical matters, and discipline. 

Ms. Jackson is also the creator of the Run Sister Run program at the Center for American Women in Politics. This program is designed to encourage African American Women to participate in the political arena and is planned in conjunction with the Ready to Run Program which provides training for women who are running for office.

“I’m looking into a few things including financing, marketing ideas, hiring a few other lawyers. I’m participating in more ICLE, professional and community organizational programs, and radio and I joined a few groups. I cannot thank my many clients, friends, and colleagues who constantly refer me cases on a regular basis,” concludes Ms. Jackson.