Roxana Akbari ’24

portrait of female student with dark hair, red sweater

Education: UC Irvine (B.A.)
Affiliations: Berkeley Journal of Gender Law and Justice, Women of Color Collective, Middle Eastern North African Law Students Association

I grew up in Tehran, Iran and immigrated to the US in 2010. I went to high school in Orange County, California and UC Irvine for undergrad, where I double majored in political science and sociology. 

The Middle Eastern community is smaller than larger minority communities within the US and within the legal profession. I’m a first generation immigrant and I don’t have any lawyers in my family, so during college I volunteered at events hosted by the Iranian American Bar Association (IABA). After college, while I was preparing for the LSAT, I worked for an Irvine city council member, who then ran for and was elected mayor. We collaborated with IABA to host events focusing on hate crime and incident prevention for the Iranian community (e.g., knowing their rights and what they should do if something were to happen). So, it’s been a valuable resource to get to know Iranian American lawyers doing different kinds of work in the legal profession and to be able to help Iranian Americans in my community. I was proud and grateful to be a recipient of an IABA scholarship as an incoming 1L.

Being a first generation immigrant I have first-hand experience navigating the US immigration system. I’ve seen directly how the immigration system can provide opportunities and a better life, but also how it can create trauma for people who are seeking refuge. So, I’m very passionate about making sure that people who are trying to immigrate to the US, whether it’s just immigration or through the refugee or asylum system, can do so in a fair and equitable manner. 

When I heard about the Afghanistan Project, launched by two Berkeley Law alums as the crisis was unfolding there this fall, I immediately wanted to get involved, even though I was only a few weeks into my first semester as a 1L. I felt a connection to the Afghan people and I speak Farsi, so I thought it would be rewarding to help people who come from a similar background as me. 

The primary goal of the Afghanistan Project is to harness resources from the law school and law students to aid Afghans who are trying to flee Afghanistan, specifically women, activists, judges, scholars, and government officials. We were paired with an individual who was applying for humanitarian parole for their parents, who were involved with the US government, so their lives were at risk. Humanitarian parole is sort of outside of the formal asylum and refugee system. It’s immediate relief to get individuals fleeing persecution to the United States temporarily so that they can apply for asylum in safety. We aided that individual with filling out that application for their parents. The work was a combination of guiding them with forms and assisting with drafting documents laying out their story and helping them make as strong a case as possible to get this relief.

The reason I came to law school was to advocate for human rights to help people who are overlooked within the legal and political system.​​ My work with the Afghanistan Project was an early lesson in how complicated the immigration system can be to navigate, especially if you don’t have access to legal services. So it reaffirmed for me the importance of pro bono work, to aid people who can’t afford services or don’t have access to it. Working directly with clients and learning from seasoned attorneys has also been a refreshing complement to my doctrinal 1L classes. I definitely plan to commit at least part of my life as a lawyer to helping marginalized people access legal resources to navigate their problems and to bridge the gaps caused by societal inequity to make the world a more inclusive, just place.

For people like me who come from communities that are underrepresented in law schools and the legal profession, it’s not always easy to imagine yourself becoming a lawyer if you don’t know someone who looks like you or shares a similar background as you. But I would encourage anyone considering law school to reach out to other lawyers that share your identity, whether that be your race, ethnic, gender, sexual orientation, or even other immigrants or children of immigrants. In my experience, people are really generous and want you to succeed. Your experience as an immigrant or as an under-represented minority is so valuable and so unique, and quite frankly so needed within the legal profession. So, believe in yourself and find other people like you that can support you along the way.