By Jenna Anderson
When Jasmine Rippy and Ameena Sheikh left one of the largest law firms in Detroit to start their own practice, they turned quite a few heads. “Most people kill for a job like that,” Sheikh said. “People think we’re crazy.”
The 30-year-old women of color hung out their shingle and became the “Ladies in Law.” “We wanted to build something for ourselves and create our own lifestyle,” Rippy said.
Both women started their careers at Bodman LLC after finishing law school at the top of their class. Rippy was in the corporate division, and Sheikh was in litigation. They did not meet until the Bodman holiday party, where they were seated next to each other at the single’s table.
The duo first worked together on a pro bono case. Rippy sought out the help of Sheikh, and they won. Rippy said she was surprised by the joy she felt in court. At Bodman, their day-to-day life was spent in the office, at a desk, preparing briefs and staring at a computer.
“I love Bodman, but I had trouble sitting,” Sheikh said. “It was a struggle for me.”
They both left the “corporate” world: Sheikh moved to California and worked for a small practice while Rippy stayed in Detroit and opened her own firm. In January of this year, Sheikh moved back to Detroit to join Rippy, and The Rippy and Sheikh Law Firm was born.
“Every single day is different,” Rippy said. “We’re never sitting in one place all day.” Their days are diverse and they’re able to put all aspects of the legal practice to work including criminal defense, traffic/license matters, family law and estate planning. They are often present in court arguing on behalf of their clients. Rippy and Sheikh said this shift made them much happier, but their favorite change is working together.
“We’re yin and yang. We’re 50/50. We check and balance each other,” Sheikh said. “We have no problem being honest with each other.”
They will consider hiring clerical help if they ever need it, but other than that, it will always be just Rippy and Sheikh.
After creating their practice, they see law in a new light. Sheikh recognizes the “negative connotation” around law. Rippy said when people think of law, they tend to picture “stuffy, old, white men.”
“People don’t believe that we’re lawyers,” she added. Part of the “Ladies in Law” mission is to change that prejudice. This past year, the women spoke at Oakland University because they love connecting with people and plan to expand their outreach.
“We’re trying to expand legal understanding through social media,” Sheikh said. “We’d like to bring our legal knowledge to the masses in an entertaining way.”
This creative spin on law is part of the reason Rippy and Sheikh chose to start their business in Detroit. “There’s a creative energy in the city,” Rippy said.
The Rippy and Sheikh Law Firm is located in the Russell Industrial Center to be part of and to embrace this energy. Artists, photographers and music producers share the space with the “Ladies in Law.”
“We want to be a part of a movement,” Sheikh said. “We think this place is going to be a part of Detroit’s movement.” They also said they want to be part of the movement for women. Other female professions they’ve met tend to act like men. Rippy said they are extremely competitive and cut throat.
“In firms dominated by men, women feel the need to tear each other down because there’s only a limited number of spots for women at the top,” she added.
But Sheikh believes, “There should be a limited number of spots for the excellent people that receive them. Male or female.”
The “Ladies in Law” said they will lead by example and show what happens when women support each other, especially women of color.
“People assumed my law partner was black,” said Rippy, an African American. They were surprised to learn that Sheikh is Arabic. “I’ve never thought twice about it,” she added.
Sheikh mentioned the “unconscious barrier” people tend to have. She also said, once they see Rippy and Sheikh working together, they quickly get over it. “Be yourself. Don’t fit into the mold,” Sheikh said. “We created something that is really us, and we’re really happy.”