North East woman fulfills dream of becoming lawyer
cahamilton@ cecilwhig. com
— Emily Gillis is now an attorney and she has opened her own law office, Gillis Law Group, on Main Street in North East.
“Considering I’ve only been opened about a month, I already have a lot of cases. There’s been a lot of word of mouth. I practice all law except title work,” Gillis said, noting that a title work company already is established in that town.
Gillis, 30, of Elk Neck,
was last featured in the Cecil Whig in June 2015 because she had graduated from Suffolk University Law School in Boston — after receiving daily logistical assistance from her father, Joe, who lived up there with his daughter for all three years to make sure she could get around.
That’s because Gillis was born with spastic quadriplegia, a form of cerebral palsy that allows her limited use of her arms and legs. Because of her medical condition, Gillis uses a motorized wheelchair to get around and doesn’t drive.
Suffolk University Law School does not have dorms and a campus per se, only a seven- story building of classrooms in center- city Boston, and those conditions had dashed Emily’s hopes of ever attending there — until her father had an idea.
Joe, a retired postal worker, got an apartment with Gillis outside Boston and drove her to and from law school every day and, floor by floor, classroom
by classroom, made sure his daughter got to where she needed to be.
He embarked on the three- year endeavor with blessing of his wife, Mary.
“There are no words to describe what my dad has done for me. His overall commitment has been amazing,” Gillis said shortly after her June 2015 graduation.
And from there, after hanging her hard- earned law degree prominently, Gillis devoted herself to studying for the Maryland State Bar exam, which involved eight hours of testing over two days.
Gillis took the bar exam in February, along with hundreds of other hopeful law school graduates, but she and the rest could not view their results until 4 p. m. May 5 — a day that Gillis always will remember.
She was torn when that appointed time and date arrived because Gillis happened to be accompanying her family as they drove her sister, Kim, 27, to the Philadelphia International Airport. Kim was taking a flight to Tennessee to visit cousins and the Gillis family was seeing her off.
“I felt guilty,” Gillis recalled Monday while seated behind her desk inside her law office, which shares a building with a hair salon, Untamed Hair Studio. “I tried to tune it out, but I was thinking about it. I was worr ying.”
As it turns out, everyone in that van was anxious to know, too.
They remained in the van after parking at the airport and Gillis gave her bar exam ID number to Kim, who then got on her cellphone and visited the test results site. Emily couldn’t bear to look for herself, although she did spy from a few feet away.
Kim scrolled through 21 pages of results until reaching her sister’s ID number — the very last one — and her moment of truth.
“She reached back and grabbed my leg and said, ‘You passed!’” I told her to make sure it was my ID number, she zoomed in and put the phone real close to my face. It was my number, and I passed,” Gillis said.
All of the Gillis family members inside that van were smiling and laughing, including Joe, who had been closely involved during his daughter’s three years of law school — although he didn’t actually attend classes, take notes during lectures, study or take exams.
Gillis did all of that, of course, while Joe toured the city or hung out at certain spots in the law school building, reading, watching movies and shows on his laptop and charming his daughter’s classmates, who talked and joked with him.
Gillis’ passing brought tears, too.
“It was all pent-up inside of me. There was this nervous energy and stress,” she explained. “I was so excited and so happy.”
Gillis was sworn into the Maryland Bar Association on June 21.
By then, she already had started looking for a place to hang her shingle. But the available spaces on and around Main Street in Elkton — where almost all the lawyers in Cecil County are based — were either too expensive or did not provide Emily proper wheelchair access.
Then she learned about a vacant office space for rent at 22 N. Main St. in North East, and Gillis, who is a 2003 North East High School graduate, fell in love with the space — from the minute she saw the interior paned-glass door that now leads into her office.
“As soon as I saw the door, there was so much historic charm,” she said, adding, “And the girls across the hall at the Untamed Hair Salon are so nice.”
The law office is close to score her home, which is a bonus, and it’s only a 10-minute drive away from the Elkton courthouses, Gillis explained.
Gillis acknowledges that she is somewhat of an anomaly, a Cecil County lawyer based somewhere other than Elkton, where the courthouse are. But that’s OK. “I would have gotten swallowed up in Elkton with all those lawyers,” Gillis said. “I think you are meant to be where you are for a reason.”
It is called Gillis Law Group because, in part, her mother and friends help Gillis at times as she handles the lawyering.
Gillis is currently “shadowing” Michael J. Halter, an Elkton-based lawyer who does panel criminal defense work, and she plans to start shadowing another lawyer as well. The endeavor should lead to panel criminal defense work for Gillis.
In addition, along with the cases involving her own clients, Gillis is taking on some pro bono work.
“It’s a good way to learn and help the community,” Gillis said.
New attorney Emily Gillis smiles in front of her Gillis Law Group office, which she recently opened on Main Street in North East.
Emily Gillis sits behind her desk in her new law office.