Virginia Lyon ’21

Student wearing glasses and long red hair poses before fall colors in front of Berkeley LawEducation: American University (B.A.)
Affiliations: Co-editor-in-chief of Berkeley Journal of Gender Law and Justice; Mock Trial; Death Penalty Clinic; Supervising editor at California Law Review; BLASTlanta; Berkeley Immigration Group; Berkeley Anti-Trafficking Project

I wanted to attend a school that focused on public interest but was still deciding between a few. By coincidence, while I was deciding, I had a law professor in an improv class I was teaching. He told me his friends who taught at Berkeley Law were “some of the happiest people in the legal profession.” That sounded like a place I wanted to be. 

I didn’t go into law school thinking, “Oh, wow, I can’t wait to work on some feminist legal scholarship!” But I went to a bunch of happy hours, as you do when you’re 1L, and the Berkeley Journal of Gender Law and Justice (aka Gender Journal) was the best happy hour I went to. Everyone was smart, and weird, and funny, and kind, and they all had interests I’d never heard of before. They all wanted to make the world a better place and were going about it in different ways. So I went to the first meeting and just kept on showing up. 

Gender Journal publishes legal scholarship at the intersection of gender with one or more axes of subordination, including, but not limited to, race, class, sexual orientation, and disability. Gender impacts everything, so the scholarship we publish is broad, covering everything from global warming, to trans and intersex representation, to vegan feminism, to housing discrimination, to standing for abortion providers.

Something I love about Gender Journal is that we are the only journal on campus that chooses articles by a completely democratic process. Most journals have an articles committee, and they’ll read a bunch of articles and vote on what gets in. But since Gender Journal was founded on the idea that women are not a monolith, it’s only logical that we couldn’t possibly fulfill the journal’s mission if only a few people picked the articles. The entire Gender Journal membership reads every submission and votes on what we should publish. 

These article discussions really helped me through 1L. As a 1L, you read these terrible cases in your foundational, doctrinal classes–cases that were obviously based in prejudice with an eye towards subjugation. But your professors never squarely address this. After a week or so you just want to scream. Article discussions meant I could go into this room and talk about an article that called these problems in the law out. And being able to talk about these issues with my peers was soul-soothing. It was just a really great space.

Now, as co-editor-in-chief, Jessica (Williams ’21) and I oversee all of the operational facets of a journal—the production calendar, deadlines, substantive edits on a piece, cite checking, running meetings, events, etc. While we do this work that will further social justice in the future, it’s important to us that we further social justice now. We’ve shared educational resources and ways for people to get involved in social justice, set up protest groups, and offered our members the opportunity to fulfill journal obligations by protesting or doing voter protection and outreach. 

We updated our website over the summer and launched a blog. We’ve also really tried to up our social media engagement.

Incoming students should really work to find their people. And normally, you think of affinity groups for that. And that’s a good place to start. But because of Gender Journal‘s mandate, it becomes an affinity group for people who want to leverage the law for good. If that’s what you come to school wanting to do, and you don’t mind reading legal scholarship, Gender Journal is a really good way to do that. If you think you’re interested in joining, check us out @genderlawjustice or online at genderlawjustice.org.

Ian Good ’22

Student with serious expression poses in front of Berkeley Law, fall colors in backdropHometown: San Carlos, CA
Education: UC Davis
Affiliations: International Human Rights Law Clinic

During my 1L year I went to a lunch a presentation at the law school for the Keta Taylor Colby Death Penalty Project. It’s a program that places law students at under-resourced death penalty offices in the south. I came out of it thinking, ‘wow’—I get chills thinking about it now. 

My father was a prosecutor. He spent the majority of his career, and my entire life growing up, with the San Mateo County District Attorney’s Office. That was always an influence in my life. I totally acknowledge prosecutors have a very important role to play in society. The crimes that people who are accused of for death penalty-eligible crimes, which are always murder plus an aggravating factor, are heinous. But I still believe you’re more than the worst thing you’ve ever done. I believe in mercy. The possibility that I could do something so impactful, so important, so literally life or death, after my first year of law school really blew me away. It was the only thing I applied to.

I was placed at the Mississippi Office of the State Public Defenders Capital Defense Division. As I was organizing my trip out there, the coronavirus pandemic was just starting and they notified us that the program would be remote. But I went out there anyway.

I had no idea what I would be working on, but it turned out that my supervisor was one of the attorneys who had represented Curtis Flowers at the Supreme Court (see In the Dark, Season 2 podcast for in-depth look at the decades-long wrongful conviction legal saga). Following Flowers’ sixth trial (previous trials had either resulted in hung juries or were struck down by higher courts for prosecutorial misconduct) in which the Mississippi Supreme Court had not found a Batson violation (a claim of racial discrimination in peremptory strikes in jury selection), it was appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court. To paraphrase Justice Brett Kavanaugh, who wrote for the majority, he basically says: “Excuse me. Looking at the totality of the circumstances, there actually is a Batson violation.” Justice Kavanuagh looked at the Mississippi Supreme Court’s majority decision and told them they were doing the Batson analysis wrong, but that Justice King’s dissenting opinion was doing the analysis correctly. So the Supreme Court remands the case for a new trial again. Then, Doug Evans, the prosecutor who had seen this case through six trials, recused himself. The case was transferred to the State Attorney General who finally dismissed the charges (in September 2020). Curtis Flowers is now a free man, thank God.

After the Flowers opinion, there was another Batson case in the Mississippi Supreme Court, Eubanks v. State, where the majority found no Batson violation. Outrageously, the Mississippi Supreme Court basically ignores the US Supreme Court previous decision in Flowers, so unsurprisingly Justice King dissents again. To paraphrase the dissent: “Hey majority of the Mississippi Supreme Court, we just got overturned in the Flowers case and here we are again analyzing these Batson claims wrong.” So a lot of my work was looking at Justice Kavanaugh’s Flowers opinion and the lines of evidence he focused on and drafting a memo for my boss who was writing a brief for an appeal to the Mississippi Supreme Court.

I hadn’t even taken Criminal Procedure yet, so I was only vaguely familiar with capital punishment law and Batson claims, mainly from listening to the In the Dark podcast and reading some of a capital punishment textbook. I reached out to Professor Elisabeth Semel, director of Berkeley Law’s Death Penalty Clinic, to try to get resources. She shared with me their recent report on “Whitewashing the Jury Box” in California. That was very, very helpful in understanding the potential for implicit bias in jury selection and how a prosecutor could make racial appeals without necessarily explicitly referencing race. It was really cool to get to see some of my research in the brief to the Mississippi Supreme Court.

I consider my first summer a huge learning experience. A big part of that experience was, despite a virtual internship, I got to live and work in Jackson, MS. Given the history of the death penalty and the South, it was very important for me to go to Mississippi and experience what that part of the country is like.

So I arrived in Mississippi right after George Floyd’s death. I was working on these issues of racial oppression and racial discrimination during the height of this swelling racial justice movement. The State’s legislature even voted to hold a referendum and replace their current state flag, which incorporated the confederate battle flag in its design, with a new flag which did not bear that vestige of institutional racism. That is truly historic. 

Ultimately, the experience made me far more committed in my beliefs that the death penalty’s wrong in all circumstances. It was also personally very gratifying to feel like I can have a small part to play in correcting some of the injustices of racial oppression in our society.

Paul von Autenried ’20

Hometown: Princeton Junction, New Jersey
Education: Princeton University, A.B. summa cum laude in Politics (Certificate in Piano Performance)
Organizations: Berkeley Trial Team, California Law Review, Pro Bonotes, Asian Pacific American Law Students Association

Estefani Rodriguez ’21 & Katelyn Feliciano ’21

La Raza co-chairs Katelyn Feliciano ‘21 & Estefani Rodriguez ‘21“Be Brown, Be Proud, and Bring That to Law School”
La Raza Co-Chairs Bring National Latinx Law Students Association Conference to the West Coast

Q: Why did you decide to attend Berkeley Law?

Katy: I grew up in a Puerto Rican household in New Jersey with both of my grandparents from either side living in the two family home. When looking for law schools, it was really important to find a Latinx community, because that’s something that I lacked in my undergrad. One of the things that stuck out to me about Berkeley was the La Raza Law Journal, which is  one of the only journals focused on Latinx issues and scholars in the T14 (top 14 ranked law schools). Then when I came to Admitted Students Weekend, La Raza students were so welcoming. The co-chair was a Latina from Queens, and she told me about the academic and professional development, the programming, and just the great community of people. It really sealed the deal for me.

Estefani: I’m a first generation college student and the fourth of seven children. I come from an immigrant community of mixed immigration status . And so the drive for me to go to law school was to become an advocate for my community. Latinx people make up only 4 percent of the legal profession, so it’s true what they say, it takes a village to be successful. La Raza is that village. From the very beginning I felt supported by the La Raza community, from current students to the alumni network who are willing to go to bat for us. 

Q: Why did you want to bring the National Latinx Law Students Association Conference to Berkeley Law?

Estefani: The La Raza alumni community is really what makes Berkeley Law a great fit to host the conference. When we announced Berkeley had been chosen to host, they were so eager to help. They were emailing us, “We want to get involved. Let us know what you need.” Almost half of the panelists are Berkeley Law alums. 

Katy: La Raza at Berkeley Law is 50 years strong. The fact that we had Latinx leadership back in 1969 is amazing. They paved the way for us, so we wanted to emphasize the theme that we are the past, present, and future of our people through the conference programming. I think having this national conference that showcases Latinx law students and Latinx lawyers really sends a message of the strength of our growing presence in the legal profession. 

Q: Did you plan all of the panels? What type of content did you think would be valuable?

Katy: Between the two of us we planned the whole curriculum and lined up speakers for 16 panels. 

Estefani: With the past, present, and future theme in mind, we’re highlighting Central Valley Farm Workers and 50 years of Centro Legal de La Raza, which was started by Berkeley Law students. We also have someone coming from the Dolores Huerta Foundation to talk about the labor rights movement in California. In terms of the present, what’s affecting the Latinx community is immigration work and border issues. We’re also doing sessions on accessibility and highlighting Latinx attorneys in different sectors, like public defenders, prosecutors, legislative and policy making, in-house, and private practice. 

Katy: And then speaking to the future, there’s going to be a pre-law panel and opportunities for pre-law students to get one-on-one sessions with current students, a career fair, and a pre-law fair. So all of those different moving parts will highlight Latinx excellence and issues in the Latinx community, but also provide prospective law students with access that they might not otherwise have.

Q: What do you hope attendees will take away from the conference?

Katy:  Just the experience of being Latinx in the legal profession. So many of the alumni and panelists I spoke to during the organizing process were like, “I’m the only Latinx person in my office,” or “I’m the only Latinx partner in my firm.” And so I think a big part of the conversations will be learning from their experience and how to navigate a profession that didn’t contemplate you being a part of it originally.

Estefani: In terms of current and prospective law students, be brown, be proud, and bring that to law school. I think a lot of Latinx students, especially first gen students, deal with imposter syndrome. But you shouldn’t feel because you’re coming to law school that you have to lose your identity. I think this conference will help Latinx people feel like they belong here and that their voices are valuable. 

Katy: I also hope it will build morale for the older generation of Latinx lawyers. Their experience was to put their heads down and not mention they’re Latinx. They didn’t want people to know they grew up speaking Spanish because they might question whether they belong. Now, not only have Latinx numbers in law school grown, but there’s also a spirit of, “We’re here, we’re proud of our culture, and we want to contribute that to the workplace.” Having that diversity and perspective is important. We want them to see that their experience laid the groundwork for us, that we stand on their shoulders. So I think it’s going to be beneficial for all generations.

California Law Review: Women and the Law

The all-female editors-in-chief at the top 16 law reviews celebrate the release of their collaborative “Women and the Law” issue.
Reflection by California Law Review Vol. 108 Editor-in-Chief Noor-ul-ain Hasan ’20

In 1912, the California Law Review’s first editor-in-chief, Orrin McMurray (who later became a professor and dean of Berkeley Law), envisioned that CLR would concentrate on California law. The publication’s chief architects included turn-of-the-century California progressives who saw CLR as a vehicle for legal reform.

In fact, early issues offered critiques of proposed California legislation. Although CLR eventually adopted a national focus, consistent with our approach and mission today, the opportunity to work with Dr. Karen Korematsu prompted us to return to CLR’s earliest traditions.

The late Fred Korematsu’s experience as a civil rights activist and Dr. Korematsu’s work advocating for civil liberties is not only a story about civil rights on a national scale. If you look closely, it’s also an important story about California.

Fred Korematsu was born in Oakland. His parents purchased land there before California’s 1913 “Alien Land Law” took effect. It was Ernest Besig, executive director of the ACLU’s Northern California affiliate, who sought to challenge the constitutionality of Executive Order 9066, which authorized the internment of Japanese Americans and others during World War II.

Forty years after the 1944 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that detention of Japanese-Americans was a “military necessity” not based on race, Peter Irons, a political science professor at UC San Diego, unearthed a key, seemingly forgotten Department of Justice memo that led Asian Law Caucus co-founder Dale Minami ’71 to re-open the case. In 1983, Judge Marilyn Hall Patel (U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California) formally vacated Korematsu’s conviction.

Given these deep California connections, CLRs executive committee agreed that Dr. Korematsu would make an excellent contribution to the joint Women & Law publication in partnership with the law reviews of the top 16 law schools (according to the U.S. News & World Report rankings).

Thanks to the excellent editorial work of Alexandra Copper ’20 (managing editor), Daniel Ray ’20 (senior articles editor), Gus Tupper (senior articles editor), and Paul von Autenried ’20 (senior supervising editor), CLR effectively partnered with Dr. Korematsu to bring her story to life in this publication. Her essay, “Carrying on Korematsu,” along with the contributions of other incredible authors, comprises a powerful mosaic of reflections on the past and visions for an equitable, inclusive future.

We were moved by Dr. Korematsu’s work as executive director of the Fred T. Korematsu Institute and her tireless advocacy for civil rights. Moreover, we believe that her essay makes an important contribution to the joint publication because history has shown that one need not be a lawyer to influence or impact the law.

Noor Hasan ’20, Dr. Karen Korematsu, Alex Copper ’20, and Professor Molly Van Houweling at Duke University School of Law’s Honoring Women’s Advancement in Law event.

Dr. Korematsu’s story and critical civil rights work, such as her advocacy against the administration’s recent Muslim ban, reflects a systemic and intersectional understanding of racism. It builds upon the foundation of her father’s 1944 case and helps the reader understand its continuing and haunting relevance in 2020.

Her story shows that each of us must look beyond our own communities, identities, and creed and stand united in solidarity when any branch of government subordinates groups on the basis of race. And her contribution to the joint publication communicates something extraordinarily powerful, too: one does not need a law degree to change the law. Dr. Korematsu’s essay is inspirational because it prompts readers to recognize that they have the power, just as much as anyone else, to advocate for a fair and just rule of law.

Over a hundred years have passed since CLR’s creation. I am pleased that we continue to pay homage to the journal’s rich tradition of centering authors with innovative and courageous voices. I believe that participating in the Honoring Women’s Advancement in Law event organized by Duke University School of Law and the joint Women & Law publication is profoundly important for CLR as an institution and as a community.

For one thing, these experiences remind us of the importance of empowering historically marginalized people, such as women, people of color, and LGBTQ+ folks, to embrace opportunities to lead and chart a path for change.

And further, I believe this historic collaboration and milestone should prompt CLR, its peer law journals, law schools, and the legal profession as a whole to enrich their commitment to fostering greater inclusion and aiming even higher—from the pages of law reviews and journal mastheads to academic faculty appointments, law school student bodies, and beyond.

 

Ari Chivukula ’21 & Marta Studnicka ’21

Co-founders of the Legal Automation Workshop, a new Student-Initiated Legal Services Project

Ari: My background is as a software engineer. I spent four years at Facebook and a year working at the Pentagon before law school. Berkeley Law has a large technology law contingent, but they’re mostly focused on application of law to technology. I see a big opportunity in the field of applying technology to law.

I wanted to start the Legal Automation Workshop (LAW) because there was an obvious need for support among the Student-Initiated Legal Services Projects (SLPs). 

Marta: So, I am not a software engineer. Unlike Ari, My background is in biochemistry, and I got involved in computer science when I started working for a healthcare software company. But I worked with the East Bay Community Law Center’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) clinic last spring and it seemed like I was filling out the same form or entering the same information over and over again. So when I heard Ari was working on launching a legal automation SLP, I was like, ‘yeah, I’m in!’

Ari: LAW officially launched this fall, but we’ve already had a few clients. I worked with EBCLC’s Name and Gender Change Workshop to build an online workflow that eliminated a bunch of repetitive paperwork. So now, assuming you enter the correct information initially, all of the forms will be consistent and correct without having to scroll through dozens of pages and enter it manually. They are now able to process the most common cases about twice as fast as before the digital system. 

Marta: We have a whole bunch of SLPs that are interested in developing legal automation to help streamline the big processes which take up a lot of the students’ and lawyers’ time that could be better spent on substantive work. 

Ari: We want to be conscientious of the sustainability of the work we do in terms of both LAW participants and the organizations that we’re assisting. Ideally we can turn a digital solution over to the client when the project is done. Students don’t have to have a software engineering background to participate in LAW, but some familiarity with coding definitely helps. 

Marta: It’sthe type of thing that a hobbyist software engineer or hobbyist developers, as I like to call myself, can do and can both learn from it and get exposure to some skills that they might not otherwise have been able to show on their resumes. It definitely stood out for me during OCI. 

Ari: Legal automation makes a lot of lawyers nervous because I think they see it as a form of replacement. I don’t think legal automation is going to replace human judgment or human creativity in the near future. But it can free up time to enable lawyers to focus more on the creative elements and hopefully break the incredibly unhealthy culture of working long hours.

Marta: In our case, it’s really about streamlining and giving non-profit/pro bono lawyers the ability to actually get to know their clients and the time to do some of that more substantive work, as opposed to sitting there and typing up a form.

Ari: We’re really excited for the first cohort of students to join LAW. The number of people with STEM backgrounds—computer science or otherwise—at Berkeley Law has grown significantly, so we are betting on a groundswell of talent to help support other SLPs and potentially expand to other universities. 

I see automation of many processes in the law through technology as an inevitability, just as a matter of efficiency. There’s an opportunity as these systems are rebuilt to create more transparency. The risk is that if people are not there advocating for social justice as that adaptation takes place, then it’s going to be steered by whoever has the most money. What is built will be not just something as opaque and hard to interact with as the current system, but something that is even worse because you will have AI running rampant. 

Marta: That’s why it’s critical to get more people who have STEM backgrounds involved in the legal profession. There’s a lot of people making decisions about tech law and policy that don’t understand it. Starting that conversation about the application of technology to law needs to happen in law schools, and especially at law schools like Berkeley where public interest is at the forefront of a lot of students’ minds.

Ari: Students should join the legal automation workshop because they’re passionate about the potential for technology to have a positive impact on law, and specifically a positive impact on peoples’ lives. Learn more about LAW at legalautomation.rocks.

Sibylle Rost LL.M. ’19

sibylleGermany
Hybrid Option LL.M., Class of 2019

I always wanted to get an LL.M. But right after law school, I didn’t have the money, and then I had children, plus I was looking for employment. I always wanted to get my LL.M. here at Berkeley Law, because it is one of the best law schools. So I was really excited when I saw the hybrid option. For me, it was  the only possibility because longer than three months away from home would not have worked. So I applied.

My 7-year-old cried when I got the admission and said, “I don’t want you to go.” The 4-year-old and the 7-year-old both clung to my leg when I was on the way to the plane. So, leaving was really hard.

How did [the online courses] fit in my everyday? Somehow they did. [Professor Bill Fernholz] did live lectures and office hours every week, as well as occasional skill sessions. Students attended the office hours just to keep in touch, or to have something clarified. After work I had to pick up my kids and race home to be in time for the live sessions. My kids often came into my little office, in need of immediate attention. But mostly I could follow along just fine. [Professor Fernholz] wanted us to succeed. He wanted us to understand. And I see now how the classes fit into each other. I can see that what I learned in his class was not only Fundamentals of U.S. Law, but also fundamentals of case law and the IRAC system. My experience is that you really learn how to talk about the law, how to find a solution in case law, the system and logic.

It is good to be here [for an on-campus summer semester]. If you want to have a degree from a  good law school, you want the experience at that law school in residence as well. It is nice to meet in person the people you already spent some time with on the screen. You get impressions about their home country, their culture and their background. I enjoy that. Besides studies, there is often some other fun stuff going on.

We are 34 hybrid option students. It is a more or less close-knit group. We are the second round of hybrid students, so we are kind of like pioneers. What I like about the LL.M program in Berkeley is that the professors and the staff from ADP are really nice and everybody tries to take good care of us. We only get a few weeks to learn what they normally teach over a semester, so it’s really intense. They make sure that we are feeling well, that we can follow along, that we get it.

[Being back in school] is interesting, but it is totally different than the first time. It is not like you are fresh from high school and open-minded and eager to see what life can give you—because you already have a part of it. It is a different mindset, you have other responsibilities. This time I rarely skip a class because it is such a short amount of time to succeed.

Just go for it, and take it seriously. You have to work for it. But sure, you are also supposed to have fun and enjoy your stay. It depends on each person, how they want to use it. If it is just an excuse to spend a summer in California, okay—but that would be a really expensive experience! Be open to the people around you, take advantage of the fact that everybody is supportive.

David Kavtaradze

Georgia
General Counsel, Equfin
Professional Track LL.M. Class of 2019

I have worked in the banking sector in Georgia for over 10 years. Five years ago I became the general counsel at Liberty Bank, one of the biggest banks in Georgia. Being a lawyer in the banking industry is a very challenging job because you have a lot of interaction with the regulators and government scrutiny and it is a very conservative and competitive market. It’s sometimes difficult to balance between the personal life and the office.

I am a workaholic and I have a son who is six years old. I chose Berkeley, and especially the Professional Track LL.M. program, because it is so convenient. I can still work most of the year and even part time while I am in Berkeley.

The biggest benefit I have received at Berkeley is the opportunity to look outside of Georgia and compare myself to lawyers from around the world. Georgia is a very small country. When I came here and sat in class with lawyers from China and India, I realized that I am a good lawyer on a larger scale and that I could work in any kind of legal system. It gave me a lot of confidence.

After my first summer at Berkeley it was hard to go back to doing the same work I had been doing for 10 years. The conventional banking system will not be the same in 5-10 years because new technology and digitalization of products is changing the industry. Banks are not keeping up with innovation. So I decided to change jobs and join a finance technology (fintech) company. They do peer-to-peer business, everything is based off of software and digital verifications, which is a big change for me.

I will also be a GC at my new company, but I will be doing much different work because as a digital, multinational company, I will have to work with lawyers from all over the world. One day you are negotiating a deal with a lawyer in Spain, and the next you have some issue in Lithuania. You need a lot of managerial skills on top of legal skills.

The Professional Track is really great for people who have been working a few years. The age of the students is higher and we all bring so much real world experience. We learn a lot about each other’s countries and develop contacts from across the world. This is already benefiting me in my new job. I can call my classmates about issues regarding other legal systems, and if they can’t help me themselves, they can refer me to someone who can.

I will graduate with the Business Law Certificate. I am taking Cybersecurity, which will be crucial in my new job. It has been very interesting to take business law courses to compare my experience in Georgia with law in the U.S.

Reo Wang

Korea
In-House Legal Specialist, Google, Singapore
Professional Track LL.M. Class of 2020

I was born and raised in Seoul, Korea. I majored in law in university. When I graduated, the pass rate for the bar exam in Korea was very low and people could study for years and still not pass. So I decided instead to start my career as a paralegal in a law firm. I worked in the IP department and managed clients’ trademarks and domain names. After five years I joined the in-house legal team at Google in Seoul.

I spent next four years happily working on various matters including procurement deals and supporting advisory work. I was becoming comfortable in my role and wanted to push myself. So I decided to apply for a position at Google’s Asia Pacific headquarters, located in Singapore. I’d never lived abroad on my own or worked in an English dominant environment. But I wanted to specialize in commercial contracts work in a more international, diverse environment covering multiple countries.

Now, in Google Asia Pacific legal team, I support business teams through negotiating, reviewing and drafting commercial contracts. Some of my work is on hardware partnership, where I work on contracts with telcos, distributors, and retailers. I also support travel partnership deals where I work on contracts with airlines and hotels. I support Google marketing teams too, especially when they engage external agencies for their marketing campaigns.

I like contract work because I get to be a part of a business by helping the business teams to seal their deals with a contract. I also get to see how Google as a company interact with various parties to make the business run. I like helping the business team reach their goals.

I decided to pursue the LL.M. degree in Berkeley because I wanted to study U.S. law in California. California law is a big part of my everyday life, working in an in-house legal team of a tech company based in Silicon Valley.

Further, I chose Berkeley because the professional track allowed me to enjoy a nice balance between work, study, and networking. Studying and connecting with fellow LL.M. students and professors full time for three months, and being able to keep my career up for the rest of the year, is a very attractive arrangement as a professional.

I knew that Berkeley Law would offer me sophisticated and high quality education. Currently I am pursuing a business certificate and focusing on the bar courses, and I am thoroughly enjoying every lecture. Classes are small and allow easy interaction with all students and professors. Professors are always open to students’ questions and discussions. I know it will make me more confident in my work when I return home.

Oluwadamilola (Dami) Thompson

Nigeria
Venture Capital Attorney, Nonprofit Founder
Professional Track LL.M., Class of 2020

I work at EchoVC Partners, a venture capital (VC) fund in Lagos, Nigeria and we invest in African and Africa-focused tech startups. Many of these startups have HQs in the US. One of my reasons for coming to Berkeley Law was to ensure that I have full knowledge and understanding of US laws to enable me advise our fund and portfolio companies.

As VC is still nascent in Africa, and there are not many lawyers and entrepreneurs experienced in venture capital transactions. This has made the investment process very challenging.

So I co-founded a not-for-profit – Ventures Dialogue – where we educate founders, lawyers and investors and train them on how to fundraise and build a business in Nigeria’s unique consumer market. In Nigeria, an entrepreneur first has to provide his own ecosystem to thrive and then rely on the government for other perks. So essentially, everything you need for your business to survive is dependent on you. But this has proved very challenging and overwhelming for entrepreneurs. So we decided to create a support system for entrepreneurs by providing mentorship, business and legal advisory services, investment opportunities, skill-based trainings to entrepreneurs to help them scale their businesses at no costs!! As a lawyer, I also offer free legal services and trainings in my spare time to founders.

Nigerian entrepreneurs have an incredible drive that inspires me to want to do whatever I can to support them. It’s an amazing feeling to help a business that is trying to solve an important problem succeed. Helping to pay it forward means a lot to me and encourages me to do more.

Coming to Berkeley Law was an opportunity for me to develop myself and enable me give back to my community. I couldn’t afford to take an entire year off work, as that would cause some disruption to the internal processes at our fund. I knew that if I was going to take time off work at all it had to be worth it. Berkeley Law is the only law school that has a masters degree program focused on venture capital financing and offers the two-summer LL.M. program. So Berkeley was the only option for me, and I only applied to Berkeley Law.

I am thoroughly enjoying my experience here. It has been challenging and fulfilling at the same time. The education system is very different from back home. Here, you are encouraged to have an opinion and required to bring forward counter-arguments where your thoughts do not align with that of your professors. But this is not the same in Nigeria, as many professors think it an affront to be challenged or have thoughts different from theirs. That mind-shift and audacity has made a huge difference in my thought-process. Also, the broad spectrum of courses I am taking here at Berkeley Law have helped me be more insightful and will absolutely help me become an even better corporate lawyer as they encompass global real-life issues. I am looking forward to going back home to make a bigger difference!