Law school was always part of “the plan” for me. I did not know what I wanted from it or what it could give me, though I gave my best guess in my personal statement. When classes began, my thoughts were elsewhere. I had just finished an internship at the U.S. Embassy in Malawi and had fallen in love with the sights and sounds, the work and people. Little did I know I would end up in Windhoek, Namibia, for my last semester of law school. I just needed time to fit the plan and the passion together.
The seed was planted when I walked into Professor Raj Bhala’s International Trade Law class in August 2012. From that first day, I have drawn inspiration from Professor Bhala’s combination of legal study, politics, economics, history and travel. This triggered a search for something similar: where my work within the law could intersect with that passion for economic development born in Malawi.
I found a spark in my paper topic for Professor Bhala’s Advanced Trade course: I wrote about Sub-Saharan Africa’s failure to use the WTO dispute settlement mechanism and need to build legal capacity to change the status quo of international trade law. In subsequent semesters, I studied economic development and international business and saw an opportunity to get experience on the ground – an internship in Africa.
After a month or two of sending applications, the Legal Assistance Centre’s Gender Research and Advocacy Project in Namibia offered me an internship in September. My round trip flight was booked in November, and I left in January.
Here my primary work is contributing to Namibia’s first publicly available annotated statutes. I also help Dianne Hubbard, the American ex-pat and Harvard Law grad in charge of the Gender program, do advocacy research. I search for comparable jurisdictions that have enacted policies we want the Namibian government to model. Such searches include corporal punishment, voter registration for local elections and bail restrictions for those accused of gender-based violence.
Finding statutes and court cases is the most unorthodox part, especially when the Internet connection is down for a day or two, or a ministry office is empty because people come late, leave early and respect the 1 to 2 p.m. lunch hour over all else (though I am doing my best to assimilate, trust me). For all its unusual challenges, this work is rewarding, I know my skills are continuing to improve and I am showing employers my intents and passions.
I may not yet know what is next for me, but I now have faith in the process. After all, I started and will end law school in the same place – just back from Africa.