Devante Isaacs knows the power of hard work and determination. It’s what’s helped him every step of the way toward fulfilling his lifelong dream of becoming an attorney.
Isaacs, who studied at Montgomery County Community College, earned an MBA and is now finishing law school, while working at one of the largest law firms in the state of Florida, remembers finishing high school and watching his friends move away to college without him.
“You feel left behind,” he said. “On some level, you feel like you’re failing at life. That’s not true.”
Isaacs, who graduated from North Penn High School in 2011, is a prime example of how hard work and perseverance can be the key to future success, even if it doesn’t always feel like it early on.
When Isaacs was in high school, he’ll be the first to tell you he wasn’t a great student.
“I didn't exactly hate school. I just didn't like doing work that I didn't want to do. I was actually in honors English and math. So, my grades weren't all that bad. I just could have done better if I actually worked harder and went to class,” he said. “I wanted to be a mechanic. I considered going to technical school at one point. One day a switch flipped. I knew I could do more than this. I was smart enough to just get by as a B or B-minus student. My mom used to say you could get As in your sleep. I just wasn’t invested in school.”
Making the grade
In the fall of 2011, Isaacs decided to enroll at MCCC on his mom’s suggestion that he needed time at home to mature before enrolling at a four-year institution.
“My mother has always been right. Even when she’s wrong, she’s right,” said Isaacs. “Maybe I’ll listen to her.”
Raised by his single mother and grandmother, Isaacs never knew his father. He did see how hard both women in his life worked to provide for him, and they instilled a value in working to get what you want in life. To pay for school, Isaacs balanced working three jobs at a Volkswagen dealership, Country Bride and Gent and at the Montgomeryville Chick-fil-a.
“I didn’t sleep much,” he said.
His time studying at MCCC as a Business Administration major, he said, was the perfect training for law school. In Dr. Fran Lassiter’s African American Literature, for example, Isaacs remembers reading large volumes of material, writing long essays and having to stand up to answer questions about the literature they were covering in class.
“If you didn’t read the material, you looked dumb in class,” he said.
Those skills would later serve him well, he said.
“In law school, all these books we read cover to cover and they’re long,” said Isaacs. “Constitutional Law is 1,500 pages. We read it in a semester. You have to boil it down to an outline and there’s one exam. There’s no participation grade. Dr. Lassiter really helped me to learn how to dig into the text to see what’s important, cultivate it and turn it into an essay to turn into my professor. I really want to give Dr. Fran Lassiter a lot of credit.”
Isaacs said he remains in touch with Dr. Lassiter and asked her to review his personal statement letters for his MBA and law school entrance applications.
Dr. Lassiter praised her former student for his sticktoitiveness.
“I want to congratulate Devante Isaacs on his continued success and thank him for reminding me why never giving up or giving in is so important,” she said. “In the words of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., ‘If you can't fly then run, if you can't run then walk, if you can't walk then crawl, but whatever you do you have to keep moving forward.’”
Isaacs also credited former administrator Dr. Wendell Griffith and Academic Advisor/Counselor Edward Brown for making sure he went to class. Isaacs was a mentee in the Multicultural Student Mentoring Initiative program (MSMI) at the College. Dr. Lassiter was his mentor. Dr. Griffith served as Coordinator of Mentoring Services and Brown served as the academic advisor.
“They would say, ‘We’ve seen how smart you are. You’re just being you. Stop being hardheaded. Give it effort and see what happens,’” said Isaacs. “So, I gave it more effort, which led to internship and job opportunities, and I realized you can do a lot in this world.”
Brown and Griffith remember Isaacs fondly.
“When he was here at the College, he was one that we had to stay on top of which benefited him greatly,” said Brown. “We are truly proud of his success as a student and beyond Montco.”
“It's great to hear about Devante Isaacs' success,” said Griffith. “We challenged all of our students to improve their skills in the areas of academic discipline, mental toughness, and organizational skills. Devante continues to utilize these habits of achievement beyond the college. We are extremely proud of Devante and know he will soar to higher levels of success as he moves forward!”
Isaacs also leaned on his friends to help him get through school. He and his childhood friends, Dexter Shy and Tre Budd, would push each other to succeed in the classroom. Shy and Budd were also members of the Mustangs Men’s Basketball team.
“We held each other accountable,” said Isaacs, “and really made sure we did what we needed to do to graduate from Montco and keep soaring.”
Shy graduated from Marywood University and now is a pharmaceutical sales rep in Richmond Va. said Isaacs. Budd graduated from Temple University and is a business analyst.
Dressed for success
Isaacs finished his time at MCCC in the spring of 2013 and transferred to Temple University to study Business Administration with a focus on legal studies. Three years later he finished his time at Temple and submitted applications to law school.
“I’ve known I wanted to be a lawyer since the third grade,” he said. “At Career Day, I was the only kid dressed in a double-breasted suit.”
Isaacs passion for law really dates back to when he was 19 years old and witnessed a lawyer’s skill and ease at helping one of his friends who was facing legal trouble.
“I saw how this one person was in control of everything going around them. They would look people in the eye and say ‘Hey, this is what I need you to focus on.’ It was like 50,000 things at once and yet they were in such control. They were calm, cool and collected. That was what made up my mind. I’m going to give that a shot.”
Except getting into law school wasn’t as easy as he’d hoped. While his resume included an internship with the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office, his low performance on the LSAT meant that Isaacs wasn’t accepted into any of the law schools to which he applied, except one, which he chose not to attend.
“It was the first time things didn’t go exactly the way I wanted to,” said Isaacs. “I threw myself a pity party. I started going out and partying. My mother called me and told me to get my life together. ‘For once, you lost. Welcome to the real world.’”
So, he decided to pursue an MBA. With the pandemic beginning to hit, Isaacs enrolled at West Chester University’s accelerated program and finished in a year and four months. Yet, when he attended a career fair one employer stopped him in his tracks.
“He was like ‘Let me pull you aside for a second. This isn’t what you want to do. Look around you. No one here is dressed like you. I can tell by the way you’re walking; you don’t want to do this. As I read your resume, you want to be a lawyer. I have no doubt, I could hire you, give you a nice salary and you’d be good at any job I assigned you. Yet something in the back of your mind wants to go to law school. You need to go back to the drawing table.’”
Seeing the big picture
Isaacs agreed and decided to give it another shot. This time he studied much harder and took the LSAT exam again, and earned a much better score. He graduated from West Chester in 2021 with an MBA and was accepted into the University of South Carolina Joseph F. Rice School of Law.
He studied there for a year before he was offered an internship at the law firm, Van Horn Law Group, in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., to work in bankruptcy over the summer. During that time, he met with Alyssa Tornberg, a partner at his current law firm, Cole Scott Kissane. She asked if he’d be interested in working at a larger firm and eventually hired him as a clerk. The University of South Carolina allows law students to transfer to visit another law school for a third year to complete their studies and still graduate from the program. Isaacs currently visits the Nova Southeastern University School of Law and is set to graduate from the University of South Carolina in May 2024.
After graduation, Isaacs plans to practice medical malpractice defense cases.
When he looks back at all of the success he’s had in life so far, Isaacs said he thinks about the foundation he laid as a student at MCCC and encourages current MCCC students to follow his path.
“When I tell you that institution prepared me to take on larger institutions like Temple, West Chester University, The University of South Carolina. I couldn’t see it in school,” he said. “Now when it’s all said and done, I can really say I did better in school because that’s where I started. It allowed me to mature, separate fun from business, get the grades and compartmentalize what’s important. You owe less in loans; you mature over two years and realize what’s important and what’s not.”