When you meet Benita Jenkins, it’s hard not to be impressed. Her smile, infectious laugh, and zeal for what she does have a way of winning you over. Perhaps that stems in part from her rural Mississippi background, where she learned the joy of life growing up in a large family. Her father, one of the first four African- American students to integrate his high school, believed in the value of education, and it made an early impression.
“I was raised to fight for what I believe in, to stand up for what’s right,” she says.
Her father worked as a school principal and her mother taught. And while they made a good living, Jenkins admits that teaching just did not light her fire. In her junior year of high school, her English teacher recognized Jenkin’s talents and inspired her to pursue a legal career. “She really inspired me to follow my destiny”
Jenkins enrolled at Southern University Law Center in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. After a couple of years, she had the opportunity to participate in the summer abroad program at University College in London, which gave her greater depth in international criminal law and private international law.
Following law school, she broadened her experience as a legal assistant at several firms before making her way to Birmingham and putting out her own shingle. Today, The Law Office of Benita Jenkins LLC focuses on family and criminal law. With a clientele largely from Birmingham’s north side, she represents many parents with addiction issues, ranging from drugs to alcohol to just, as she puts it, “simply being unstable.”
She takes satisfaction from helping clients not just navigate the legal system, but to take the resources offered by the court system to help them become better parents. “It’s especially rewarding to me to see them regain custody of their children,” she says.
Probably every sole practitioner knows the stress that comes with the profession, and Jenkins is no exception. “When you have no associates, it gets hard to juggle all the responsibilities, to manage your time. If some things don’t get done during the week, I make up for it by working weekends.”
She says it also can be frustrating when the courts do not render the outcome she and her clients want. “We get paid for our services, but we can’t guarantee an outcome. We’re not robots – we have feelings and emotions like anyone else. But I do fight for my clients and represent them to the best of my ability”
Toward that end, Jenkins puts forth the effort to stay abreast of current rulings and new information relative to her field. It’s a lot of information to digest She says a major part of her efforts on behalf of her clients is to help them understand how the law works.
“I talk to my clients in language they can relate to. For example, many of them do not understand a legal motion. I try to make sure they understand the process I go through to advocate on their behalf”.
Being relatable, she says, also means being compassionate, to understanding her clients’ feelings and frustrations. And when necessary, it extends to working with her less financially fortunate clients, even to the point of working out payment plans for legal fees.
Despite all the demands of a busy practice, Jenkins does find the time for her husband, Harold, and her son, Harry. They share many interests – both enjoy trying new restaurants in Birmingham’s growing, thriving restaurant scene. They also enjoy travel, and have taken vacation trips to several foreign nations including England, Jamaica, Spain and Mexico.
“I did a lot of travel before I got married,” she says, “and we’re a perfect match on loving to travel.”
But it’s her 2-year-old son, Harry, who really lights up her life. Not only do his pictures adorn her office, but she mentions him frequently in conversation. “Becoming a mom really heightened my senses of what my clients need, and how much they need someone to fight for them.”
She is proud of a recent achievement – being appointed a special circuit court sitting judge in Jefferson County’s Probate Court system. “To be asked by a presiding judge to sit in their absence is a special honor”
Effervescent, energetic and outgoing – natural qualities that set her apart and make her stand out in her area of law. “My family and friends considers me to be a firecracker” she says.” I may be small in stature by mighty in how I fight for my clients.”
No one who knows Benita Jenkins could disagree with that.