On a typical day, Patrice Ruffin is juggling everything from a homeowner installing a pool in their backyard to constructing a 20-story hospital. As the director of community development for the City of Brookhaven, her department handles planning, zoning, land development, building and code enforcement for one of DeKalb County’s fastest-growing areas. She balances all of this with being a part-time law student and full-time mom to two children.
Ruffin decided to pursue her law degree after working in city planning for 15 years. Her career led her to Riviera Beach, Fla., Roswell, Ga. and later the newly incorporated city of Sandy Springs, Ga. During her time with the City of Sandy Springs, Ruffin was able to interact with several zoning attorneys and those meetings piqued her curiosity. She pondered what a career would look like on the other side of the table.
“Going from planning to land use law is like switching positions,” Ruffin said. “As a city planner, I’m reviewing plans to make sure that they match up with zoning ordinances, planning recommendations and legal documents for the city. As an attorney, I would be advising clients on what jurisdictions are looking for and making sure they are going through the process in the right way. For me, it’s understanding both sides of the table in order to get great projects that are impacting communities in a positive way.”
A former colleague had transitioned from being a traffic engineer to practicing law, and he encouraged her to consider Georgia State College of Law. The part-time program, diversity and downtown location appealed to her. Once she enrolled, she also discovered the one-of-a-kind Urban Fellows course, offered through the Center for the Comparative Study of Metropolitan Growth. In the class, law students and other graduate students from Georgia State and Georgia Tech spend two semesters together delving into various land use and environmental law issues.
“One of the hot topics we’ve all been talking about is affordable housing and how communities can preserve the diverse communities they already have while also allowing for new development to occur,” Ruffin said. “In Brookhaven, we have a large section of the Buford Highway corridor and in all of our planning documents we are intentional about making sure we address the diversity in that community. We know that a lot of the development there is older and aging out, so we want to encourage, and in some cases require, developers to set aside affordable units for people who already live there.”
She’s also expanded her interests by taking a family law course and, notably The Legal Life of Ludacris entertainment law course. This summer, she’s participating in an externship at the Fulton County Superior Court.
As Ruffin continues to discover what kind of lawyer she wants to be, she says that she is grateful for the supportive community at Georgia State Law. She shared that while she was taking the Urban Fellows course, she was pregnant with her now 19-month old child. She says that her professors helped connect her other student-moms to get advice on how to find balance while in law school.
She added that she’s also confident that the College of Law is preparing her to be the best possible attorney.
“In the externship course, professor Abdus-Saboor gave us a list of about 25 qualities of qualified, well-prepared attorneys,” Ruffin said. “I can truly say Georgia State has exposed us to all of those traits and gives us the opportunity to participate in experiences that hone those skills.”
Written by Kelundra Smith