While At Kramer Levin LLP, I have been fortunate enough to work on a very interesting pro bono matter related to a Political Asylum issue.
Barry Yousif (not his real name) studied to become a teacher in Sudan (I’m pretty sure as of last week this is now officially two separate countries) and upon graduation created an organization to ignite change in his country. He lobbied the international community for help. “As we are working tirelessly against injustice…we have to get into the root causes. Unless these causes are advanced, no one shall succeed.” It was these comments that led his own government to brand him a spy and a political dissident. Barry had been jailed twice, left the country once and eventually returned to finish his work. At the request of his family and his physicians who feared for his life, Barry Yosuif sought political asylum in the U.S. in the summer of 2009.
I had the opportunity to work with Barry outside of the office on his paper work and with correspondences between him and the attorney assigned to his case. I also personally put together the memorandum of law in support of his application for asylum. This is essentially a package of documents, newspaper write-ups, and testimony from people who know Barry and know about his plight. During our ride to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services office in New Jersey, we spoke about many things including life, politics and even American fashion. It was clear that he was very smart and attentive and determined. It was an experience I would not soon forget.
Similarly, I recently spoke to an attorney who told me she was doing pro bono work in a criminal case where a man was facing an extended sentence because he was being prosecuted as a repeat offender. This was a matter between serving either 3-4 years versus serving a fixed 12 year sentence. He was only a few weeks away from escaping the mandatory extended sentencing and probably should have been found innocent in the first place except for sloppy work by his original defense attorney.
One of the perks of working at a mid-large firm is the variety of the work that could potentially cross your desk. I ended up writing the bulk of my personal statement for law school around my time with Barry.
Before I started applying for law school, I sought advice from a good friend of mine named Cliff, who attended business school in California, but also worked before he went. In a dimly lit Thai restaurant in the Financial District, he explained to me how I needed to spend the next year or so developing my “other” category. That is the part of your resume that is not related to education, work, awards or athletics. It’s the part of your resume that isn’t really concerned about you.
The great thing about Boston College is that it’s a strong academic school that also stresses community service and community out reach. It is almost impossible to go to BC and not participate in something that benefits someone else or a group of individuals. It is simply part of the culture; I once publically declined to attend an event at the Campus School and received dirty looks from my friends and teammates. My one regret at BC is not participating in more events such as this. When I looked down at my resume, I was satisfied with everything besides this “other” category, which was dreadfully anemic. It was really embarrassing. So I got to work.
I took my buddy Cliff’s advice and began looking for things that interested me that I could participate in, and being a BC alum, I was naturally drawn to community service. I started mentoring, attending soup kitchens in the city and even raised money for and participated in a walk against breast cancer for the Avon Foundation.
What does this have to do with law, law school and work? Well, many firms are dedicated to their pro brono programs and just like BC, they are always looking for people who have a strong background working with the community. In turn, law schools are looking for the same type of candidate. Also, this other category will help you stand out from the hoards of other straight -A students with high LSAT scores. If you are wise, you will get out there and boost your “other” category while you are still in college and keep at it.
Finally, when you are ready to look for a job, you should try and look for employers who will either allow you the flexibility to use your skill set to help the less fortunate-or at the very least allow you the time to do those things. You should keep this in mind while you are interviewing.