Editor’s Note: Each summer Penn Law students hone their skills through a wide array of private and public sector internships across the country and around the world. Generous financial support and fellowships for international and public interest work enable students to pursue diverse assignments in the United States and abroad. This post from Fatoumata G. Waggeh L’20 is one in a series of firsthand accounts detailing how students’ summer employment opportunities are preparing them for their legal careers.
Waggeh is from The Bronx, New York City and attended NYU. A former corporate paralegal at a big law firm and an organizer at an African immigrant rights organization, she has a public and private interest in the law. She aspires to become a litigator at a corporate law firm working in the field of either international arbitration and/or labor & employment law. Fatoumata hopes to translate such experience into a career lawyering for social justice, in which she will use the law as a tool to advocate for underserved communities in inner-city America. She is also passionate about New York City local politics.
This summer I had the opportunity to summer at a big national law firm in New York City called Akerman LLP. During my time at Akerman, I was able to explore further the realm of litigation. I had the opportunity to work on a number of litigation matters, ranging from intellectual property to real estate to land use, as well as two pro bono matters. As the only 1L and Summer Associate at the New York office, Penn’s rigorous academics and CP&P’s professional development resources and mentorship helped me have a fulfilling and productive summer experience.
LPS came to my rescue and my Bluebook was my sidekick this summer! I drafted a memorandum of law, it was specifically an advocacy piece, in which I argued why a particular legal defense should not be used against our client. In drafting this memorandum, I was able to see the bigger picture of the many defenses to a contract that a party can evoke that Professor Tess Wilkinson-Ryan taught me in my Contracts class. Specifically, I was able to see the power of diction and the importance of diligent contract drafting – language is an art and one word in a contract can make all the difference! I drafted a motion to intervene, including an order to show cause and affidavit, requesting the Court to allow our client to intervene in a pending matter. Though not my favorite class during 1L year, I realized the importance of learning Civil Procedure early on in my legal education. Knowledge of the procedural aspects of the law is a prime skill that every litigator must also perfect – it can make a huge difference on whether your client is granted relief.
While most of my summer, included legal writing and research, I had the opportunity to engage in very meaningful experiential learning opportunities. I assisted an associate with an expert witness deposition for an employment discrimination matter. In doing this, it informed me of the employment and labor law landscape and above all, I learned that I enjoy depositions. There is a thrill and an art to asking questions for discovery purposes. I participated in a New York City Council committee hearing on a rezoning matter, in which our clients were affordable housing developers. I was able to witness public testimony and concerns of the rezoning and specifically, saw the intersections of corporate law and local governance.
Given my inherent interest in social justice and long-term career interest in lawyering for social change, I found my pro bono assignment fulfilling. For the pro bono matter, I was able to assist a partner on a Title XI sexual misconduct matter at a university. I was able to attend federal district court (which included sitting at the attorney bench and go on the record). My assistance on the matter primarily included case research but having the opportunity to see the partner contest the matter in court was very fulfilling. Our client won! It was a great experience which informed me of the power of the law as an advocacy tool and it’s ability to redress a wrong for victims of social ills. I was also reminded of my many learnings in my Constitutional Law with Professor Maggie McKinley and Reproductive Justice class with Professor Dorothy Roberts, while I assisted in this matter. Specifically, I was reminded of the histories of the Court in recognizing women’s reproductive freedoms and their protection against sexual discrimination. This experience also affirmed my interest in doing pro bono work as a litigator at a corporate law firm, before transitioning into a career lawyering for social change. I realized from this that freedom fighters come in all shape and forms, that can include being a litigator at a big corporate law firm.
-Fatoumata G. Waggeh