Photo Credit: Zamani Feelings Photography

Howard law professor holds the justice system accountable

7 mins read

“It is gratifying to hold systems accountable.”

At only 40, Fareed Nassor Hayat, Esq. reinvented himself at least nine times. His life packs into these intense, meaningful, yet high-paced episodes of lived experiences that makes even the most accomplished blush.

He runs laps around CEOs profiled in Forbes, Fast Company and INC Magazine who wake up at 4 AM to run 20 miles and sleep for three hours a day to head billion dollar companies.

Fareed and Norinda Hayat with sons, Kingston and Phoenix.

Hayat, founder of, The People’s Law Firm, is also an adjunct professor at Howard University Law and supervising attorney of the Social Justice Law Clinic. He is not a hedge-fund baby, nor a member of a frou-frou social organization or fraternity.

He does not smoke cigars at the local golf course, nor does he play golf. He is not a techie and on few social media platforms. Hayat is more like a Straight Outta Compton superhero you rarely read about because he shatters myths.

It is gratifying to hold systems accountable.

His passion is justice as he takes on cases that many lawyers reject because of the work involved. Hayat, emphasizes that those are the cases that lawyers, in particular, attorneys who work towards social justice must tackle. From his upbringing he knows how black and Latinos can be unfairly treated in the justice system.

Hayat is a kid from South Central who dabbled in gang-banging and was placed in foster care when his mother faced addiction issues, but found his voice and direction in high school when he started performing in high-school plays. Once he found his voice and mentors, Hayat blossomed into a phenomenal person. He attended UCLA as an undergraduate then received his master’s at the school’s crosstown rival, USC.

Before becoming an attorney he was a history teacher is Los Angeles and a playwright. Where he flourished was in real estate. His graduation gift when he finished UCLA was closing on a three-unit building at 22-years-old then becoming a millionaire five years later. Shortly after, his real estate business came to halt in the 2008 economic crash, but he still works in the industry between his home town of L.A. and Maryland.

Today, he works between trying cases in Maryland, where he used to be a public defender in Baltimore, and teaching at Howard Law. Married to a lawyer, Norrinda Brown-Hayat, who started working at University of the District of Columbia’s law school, the power couple balance careers and two vibrant young boys, Kingston and Phoenix.

Q&A: Fareed Hayat

Ark Republic asked Hayat nine questions on career, the justice system, and his personal life.

1. How did you decide to become a law professor?

Ever since teaching high school I’ve always had a desire to teach. Then having multiple major felony trials I was kind of burnt out. I felt like I would have a larger impact if I could train attorneys in criminal law and show them these skills and how to go up against the system.

I became a professor when the chance presented itself to me. The woman who was over the criminal justice law clinic just got a job as the assistant district attorney of DC, so, it was a perfect opportunity to teach law school and teach black students. Also I have the opportunity to fold into my classes, this concept of social justice. Currently, 16 students in the clinic handle cases throughout the year. I review their writing, oversee their research of cases and help them prepare for real trials.

It’s an intense process. They represent people who are facing up to 180 days in jail. This is not abstract process, and the outcome affects these people’s lives and their families.

2. What do you find is needed in teaching attorney’s criminal law?

I try to instill into my students that they [need to] appreciate how important they are to their client. Often times, your client only has you against the government or the state and each instance has to be taken on with this approach. I tell them that they have to think about collateral consequences of a conviction. What I mean by that is that they have to question how a conviction affects [their] job, the ability to get student loans, or getting kicked out of government housing.

Sometimes these consequences last forever, so you have to weigh things like the fairness of being barred forever from government housing over a minor drug charge. And in a lot of cases, even when [the prosecutors] have a factual case against [your client], it is better to fight than to plea out because a lifelong ban from social services leads to worst circumstances. For example, if someone gets kicked out of public housing and becomes homeless then they are highly likely to end up in jail because homeless people are vulnerable populations that are in jail at rates much higher than other populations.

So I advise students to fight convictions rather than advise them to a plea deal. It is hard work, but if you know how to navigate and fight the system, you are equipped for the battle.

3. The biggest flaws in the justice system?

In Baltimore, pre-trial detention is used as a way to force a false plea. You can sit up to two or three years awaiting trial then a prosecutor comes to you and says, “Hey, you can leave and be on probation if you plead guilty.” The problem is that most people violate their probation within months of release and then they get those 20 years without a trial. Another issue is that there are those who did not even commit the crime, but because of a range of circumstances, agree to plea out just to get out of jail and end up getting locked up for violating probation.

Another way people are held in jail for so long while awaiting trial is that the courts set ridiculous bails, like $200,000 for people who make $9 an hour. This [tactic] is done knowing that the bail is so high that it is highly likely that they will plea to a lesser deal and lesser time.

I had this case where five guys were arrested for armed robbery. My client’s mother was able to bail him out while the other men were stuck in jail awaiting trial so they plead out for probation. Before I went to trial with my client, the witness said that he was robbed by one person not a group. My client’s case was dismissed. However, three of those guys who plead out and were released, violated their probation and were subsequently arrested. All of them have been given long sentences because they plead out to a crime in which they were not involved. Their trial rights were taken.

4. Law schools are experiencing a dramatic decrease in enrollment because it is said that there is not enough work for lawyers. What is your take on this situation?

The corporate jobs that everybody has been shooting for are drying up, but the need for legal representation is skyrocketing for poor people, working class people and your average person. Poor people’s rights and people in general have been taken advantage of because no one was there to represent them and fight these institutions.

Areas like family law, criminal law, housing, immigration, public-service sector, social security — have a huge need and lawyers can make lucrative careers out of it. Lawyers have to develop practices that balance the methods on how they make money. I do criminal law and civil rights. I do cases for people who hire me and pay several thousand dollars, then I get a big civil rights case.

I am working on a civil rights case right now, where I am suing the State of Maryland and Wexford Health Services, a national company that provides healthcare for correctional institutions in Maryland and several other states. My client had a series of three strokes while in custody and all they gave her was Tylenol. Doctors, nurses and staff visited her and they said nothing was wrong with her. She laid in a bed of feces, screaming and crying for days. When they sent her to emergency, she was dead.

These type of big cases financially balance out my other cases, and they take the system to task. As opposed to working at institutions and corporations that are problematic, lawyers need to hold them accountable.

5. Why do you do this work?

I guess being from the inner city and being in a powerless position so much in my life, it is gratifying to take on the system and hold them accountable. Bringing a level of accountability to these institutions and being successful in it is personally rewarding. Plus, people are largely overcharged and wrongly identified and prosecuted.

As you know, I was raised in kinship foster care. My mom has been addicted to crack cocaine my entire life. I was blessed to have grandparents who had strong moral base and set me on a sound pathway. But I honestly see myself as somebody who slipped through the cracks into these great opportunities. Friends who are dead or in jail today were more talented and smarter than I was. They had more passion, and were way more gifted. By chance, with all truth, I am in this position as opposed to being in jail.

Fareed Hayat at home.
6. How did being a father change you?

It necessarily was not about changing. Me being a father is about how I can equip these dudes to not have the challenges that I had academically, socially and culturally from the beginning.

7. With a wife who is also a law professor, how do you balance work/family life?

We both try to keep a tight schedule in terms of who does what and when. We leave weekend time to our family. Swim class, soccer class, drum class is for our sons on the weekend. We try to be effective and give as much to our family by putting work to the side even when it is hard to stop. We can work non-stop because these cases matter to us, but we learn to balance the drive in our careers with home.

Norrinda and I have a partnership. She wakes up first, makes and packs the boys’ lunch, cooks breakfast then makes my coffee while I get the boys up, washed and dressed. Then we have breakfast together and use that 20 minutes of time to feed them. Norrinda makes sure they have a hot meal every morning. For her, it is important that they have a fulfilling hot meal, so over our food we talk to each other as we get ready for the day.

8. Tell me about your real estate ventures?

I got into real estate when I brought my first property when I got out of college. Over the course of ten years, I purchased about 30 units with the biggest property being a 56-unit-apartment complex in Arizona. I’ve owned property in California, Arizona, and Maryland.

Right now, I own about 14 properties. Currently, I’m in the process of building three houses for purchase. Since I spent a decade renting and maintaining properties on both coasts, I am more interested in the development side, which is building properties and selling what you build. I shifted from just creating a passive income to where I prefer to make a bulk of my return in selling the property.

9. What motivates you?

My wife, my sons, fighting for people who need a voice and being able to pass the skills to do so, on to others. These systems need to be taken to task and held accountable so that we can see tangible, real changes.

Kaia Niambi Shivers covers diaspora, news and features.
Kaia Niambi Shivers covers diaspora, news and features.

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