Q. Why did you choose Wisconsin for law school?
Wisconsin’s commitment to diversity and public interest work were the main academic reasons I came to Madison for law school. However, what really impressed me as a prospective student was my interaction with administrators and students. It was impressive to see that the entire school seemed to be engaged in improving the culture of the law school; I felt that Wisconsin would provide me with a nurturing environment to grow in the field of law.
What did you do during the summer of your second year of law school? How did
you get the job?
I interned with Justice Now, an organization that documents human rights abuses within California prisons and advocates for community-based alternatives to prison expansion. Professor Mary Prosser referred me to the Co-director of Justice Now. The experience was invaluable to my legal education and reinforced what I feel is the cornerstone of social justice work: the need to constantly question conventional wisdom about societal institutions (e.g., prison as a “natural” consequence for so-called anti-social behavior).
Why did you decide to apply for a job teaching in Africa?
I have always had a passion for education, public interest work, and foreign cultures. The opportunity to teach law in Africa seemed like a perfect marriage of all of my passions as well as a means to practically apply my legal education. This is my personal contribution to the romanticization of the legal field. I want to debunk the myth that you can’t be an attorney and have fun.
Describe the type of work you've been doing in Ethiopia.
The work in Ethiopia has been very fulfilling and very enlightening. At Gondar, I have been teaching courses on International Humanitarian Law, Federalism, and Legal Research/Writing. I also have been asked to conduct Legal Research seminars as a guest lecturer at other universities throughout Ethiopia.
What I am most proud of and excited about, however, is instituting Ethiopia's first law school clinical program, a disability clinical. We are providing legal advocacy for disabled people and have been conducting legal research about equal protection issues and access to justice for people with disabilities. My students have really enjoyed the opportunity to engage in practical legal experience and to affect their communities and the legal climate. We have built a coalition of local NGO's in an effort to sensitize the legal and local communities to the issues affecting people with disabilities.
In addition to my teaching, I have also been conducting research as a member of a federal task force to implement a Continuing Legal Education Program for the legal profession. So, don't be surprised if the CLE program in Ethiopia looks very similar to the Wisconsin model!
In law school, there are so many student groups and activities. What advice do you have for
an entering student in terms of choosing activities?
Initially become active in any student group or activity that piques your interest. Also, remain open-minded to new groups and activities about which you may be relatively uninformed. Student groups provide support networks for students who share similar ideological perspectives. Moreover, student groups and activities supplement the legal education by providing discussion opportunities that challenge your own legal perspectives. Student groups are also an excellent means to provide service and advocacy for communities of interest.
Was there a law school experience that was particularly important or meaningful
Working with the Student Hurricane Network and traveling to New Orleans was a humbling experience that reinforced the broad impact that our profession has on society. It was an opportunity to utilize my position of privilege to serve others who face institutional barriers to helping themselves. I learned lessons in grassroots organizing and non-paternalistic service to others. I am still inspired by my peers who continue to do civil rights work with SHN.
What did you like about living in Madison?
Madison has plenty of cultural and social offerings to help students cultivate extra-curricular interests to maintain at least a surface level of sanity. I set aside time to socialize with friends I met in Madison and participate in cultural activities, such as Capoeira through the Madison Center of Creative and Cultural Arts. Madison provided me with the proper balance of escapism to truly appreciate my legal education and not become disenchanted with the academic grind.
What advice do you have for someone just starting to consider going to law
There is no field of study that best prepares you for law school. Pursue any field of study for which you have a passion or anything that piques your interest. Law is an interdisciplinary field that can only evolve through a constant influx of refreshing perspectives from people with diverse backgrounds. You will serve yourself and your future law school best by bringing a unique perspective to the classroom.
Do you have any advice for an incoming 1L?
Never be afraid to critically approach the study of law. Actively listen to other perspectives, but remember that you are not obligated to agree with any else’s perspective, including your professor’s. As long as your perspective has a sound analytical basis, no one can fault you for thinking outside the box. Conventional wisdom does not equate to ultimate truth, it just means that one side has made a more popular argument.