Alumni Profile: Phillip Westry ’12

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Phillip Westry ’12 still remembers his first hearing as a staff attorney at St. Ambrose Housing Aid Center.  “I was working in foreclosure prevention legal services, and my first client was a single mother with her own business who had fallen behind on her mortgage,” recalls Westry. “She brought her baby to the hearing, and I remember thinking that with my law degree and skills I can help save someone’s home—a home a baby grows up in or a home that might create generational wealth and equity.”

That experience was a motivating factor in Westry’s decision to spend his career in the nonprofit sector. Following nearly five years at St. Ambrose, he went on to become a staff attorney with the Maryland Center for Legal Assistance and then the Maryland Volunteer Lawyers Service, where he provided legal services, including representing Baltimore Health Corps employees in consumer debt and foreclosure cases in the aftermath of COVID-19. 

In 2021, Westry was named legal director for FreeState Justice, a legal advocacy organization that seeks to improve the lives of low-income lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) Marylanders. “The low-income LGBTQ population continues to struggle with barriers to living their lives authentically,” says Westry, citing a host of legal challenges facing the LGBTQ community such as harassment, complex family law issues, and anti-LGBTQ discrimination in employment, housing, foster care, health care, and public accommodations. Westry recently was named executive director, a role that will allow him to help move the state of Maryland forward in terms of LGBTQ-friendly legislation.

Westry was an evening law student, working full time with a tight schedule. Still, he actively participated in the Black Law Students Association. “As a first-generation undergraduate and law school student, I welcomed the community support from other Black students who were from similar backgrounds and in similar situations,” says Westry, who attended alumni mixers where he met faculty members and former students. Mark Scurti, currently an associate judge of the District Court of Maryland in Baltimore City, was a faculty member who would become a mentor. “His class covered LGBTQ-specific cases and laws, which opened my eyes to this area of practice,” says Westry. Judge Scurti was one of the organizing members of the FreeState Legal Project, which was founded out of a law clinic at the University of Maryland Francis King Carey School of Law and evolved into FreeState Justice.

Westry’s ties to the law school run deep: FreeState partners with Maryland Carey Law to promote the Maryland Public Interest Law Project and regularly employs its students. He takes pride in his law school experience. “When I attended the law school, the culture was about collaboration and cooperation even though law is a very competitive field. Today, more than ever, a collaborative and team approach is needed to produce high-quality legal work.”