ROTC alumna finds her calling in family law

ROTC alumna finds her calling in family law

By Nastasia Boulos

ROTC alumna finds her calling in family law

By Nastasia Boulos
A former communications systems analyst in the U.S. Air Force, Afi Johnson-Parris, B.B.A. ’94, helps others through family and veterans’ disability law.

Afi Johnson Parris, B.B.A. ’94, knew that she had found her calling when she worked on her first child custody case, and again when she worked on her first veterans’ disability case. “These were moments where I knew, clearly, that this was what I wanted to do,” she says. “This is why I have a law degree—to feel this way when I help somebody.”

Afi MilitaryThe path wasn’t always that clear for Johnson Parris, a U.S. Air Force veteran, but she has always been drawn to roles in which she can counsel, advise, and lead people.

At the University of Miami, where she studied computer information systems on a partial ROTC scholarship, she was involved in a number of organizations on campus, including the leadership honor society Omicron Delta Kappa. She remembers her job as a resident assistant, helping and guiding students as “by far the best job I’d ever had.”

Later, as a computer systems analysis officer for the U.S. Air Force, Johnson Parris traveled around the world installing and testing the software and hardware that allowed satellite, communications, and missile warning systems to function. Even then, what she truly enjoyed were the opportunities to help manage the team and work with people as she served her country.  

After being discharged from the Air Force, Johnson Parris earned a law degree from the University of Virginia and began her career in real estate finance law with a major firm in Atlanta. She tried other types of law but felt unfulfilled. It was family law and its ability to directly impact lives that captured her interest.

She quit her job at the big law firm, and in December 2008, opened her own family law practice with no clients and very few months of experience practicing family law.

Now, more than 10 years later, her firm has grown exponentially. She’s become a certified family law specialist and was named a “North Carolina Super Lawyer” in 2019 for her expertise in family law. She’s worked on hundreds of cases and helped countless people.

But the ones she holds closest to her heart are custody cases and veterans’ disability cases. “When I can turn people's thinking or shape their thinking in a way that helps them divorce with less acrimony so that they can co-parent, I feel like that's where what I do matters. And that's kind of what was missing when I was just working for big companies.”

With veterans’ disability, the connection is more personal, as she remembers her own challenges filing for disability benefits. Even as a law student who had been meticulous about gathering the evidence required to support her claim and who had the skills needed to build a case, it was a challenge. “Imagine how hard it must be for the many vets who are coming out of the military with mental or physical impairments,” she says. “And a lot of times when you're in the military, there is an aversion to getting help. This is where I’ve felt that I’ve been able to truly make an impact.”

And while it may have taken some time and a few detours to find her path, Johnson Parris is grateful for all of her experiences. “I can see how all of that time and all of my experiences were valuable, in terms of the education and the leadership skills I developed before going into family law. Sometimes you don't see things in the moment for what they can do to benefit you, but I certainly recognize it now.”