Lankster takes young lawyer under his wing

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Smart. Conscientious. Hard-working. Fair and honest.

These are the words Demopolis’ first black attorney Barrown Lankster used to describe the newest addition to his law firm team.

Although Stephanie Daniels was born in Manhattan, N.Y., her parents made the decision to move back to their native home in Elmore County when she was just 10 years old.

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After graduating from Elmore County High School, Daniels entered the University of Alabama at Birmingham where she was a criminal justice major.

Two years at UAB went by before Daniels participated in a venture that would impact the rest of her life.

“I was a junior at the University of Birmingham when I auditioned for a mock trial debate team and I made it,” a smiling Daniels said. “Prior to that I always had a small desire to do law, but I never felt like I was a lawyer type, because I was the furthest thing from a debater in high school. But my friends claim they always saw me as a lawyer.”

As a junior, Daniels’ debate team made it to the regional competition and didn’t place. But not wanting to give up on the students, Daniels’ professors pushed the team to try again after coming so close to a title.

Thus, in her senior year, Daniels and her debating peers once again made it to the regional competition, but the outcome this time around was the opposite – they won the regional competition and went to nationals.

In 1997, after changing her major to law, Daniels graduated from UAB and was accepted into the Birmingham School of Law, where she graduated from in 2002.

Her post-graduate work experiences include an externship at the Alabama attorney general’s office in Montgomery, working as an assistant to the Honorable Judge Johnny Hardwick, and being a confidential assistant to Alabama’s Secretary of State Nancy Worley. Most recently, she worked as an office manager for district attorney Michael Jackson, where she was introduced to “courtroom etiquette and decorum,” just before passing the bar exam in January to become an assistant district attorney.

“I was determined to get licensed and when I passed the bar, it was a combination of emotions,” she said. “It was a great experience, but of course, I wouldn’t want to do it again.”

Three weeks ago, Daniels made the decision to move to Demopolis from Montgomery since most of her clients lived in Hale and Perry counties.

“I was a prosecutor in the fourth district which includes Bibb, Dallas, Hale, Perry and Wilcox counties. Initially I worked in Montgomery, but because most of my clientele was in Hale and Perry counties, I wanted to move where I could be closer to them,” Daniels said, “I had thought about moving to Greensboro but finding a place to live was so hard and I knew Barrown had space here. So, I made the decision to move here full time and Barrown was instrumental in convincing me to.”

“I’ve known her for about a year. From the moment we met she had me impressed because I could tell she was hard-working, committed and caring,” Lankster said. “She’s a pleasant addition to the city and she will blend in well with the city and the legal system. She’s just so committed to the cause of justice with her clients and that will make her successful.”

Since passing the bar, Daniels has prosecuted cases involving everything from worthless checks to murders. Currently both she and Lankster are working on separate murder cases in Perry and Hale counties.

As a veteran to the law field, having practiced it for 31 years, Lankster advises Daniels to come out strong and be aggressive when fighting for what she believes in.

“In terms of law, with her, you can’t help but to improve the flow, quality and administration of justice because of what she brings to the setting as a black female with her education and background in a white male dominated field,” Lankster said.

“I have to cultivate confidence because I want to be the voice of the people,” she said remembering her first nervous moments in the courtroom three days after passing the bar, “and it really helps to have a veteran attorney around.”

Although her repertoire is full of issues to fight, Daniels said her main focus is to prosecute drugs and sexual assault against children.

“I hope to become an advocate for people who don’t have a voice. That’s why I like law. It’s so broad and there are so many issues you can help others with,” Daniels said. “This is my third week here. So far so good. Demopolis kind of reminds me of Milbrook where I grew up and I can tell that this city is on the brink of a progressive explosion.”