Law in Contemporary Society

My Law School Legacy

-- By TobinKassa - Original, 06 Apr 2023, Revised 02 May 2023

When I decided to pursue a legal education, I lead with the mindset that my relationship with law school would be transactional. I had two priorities as an incoming student: (1) doing well in classes then (2) landing a job post-graduation. However, as I navigate this bleak legal landscape, I feel the need to increasingly think about my legacy.

Over the past few months, I have been working on an initiative to bring together African and Caribbean communities in the legal industry. The initiative is in partnership with my classmate and friend Shelly and under Columbia Law’s Davis Polk Leadership Fellowship Initiative. As students who partially grew up overseas, Shelly and I instantly bonded over our shared experience as first-generation immigrants. A couple of weeks into our first semester, we connected to talk about the struggle of juggling two identities – on one side, embracing our heritage and on the other, assimilating to a new space. We discussed how this struggle was more pronounced in law school and the legal industry where community representation is even more sparse. So we decided to join forces and launch a project dedicated to uplifting the experiences of African and Caribbean students and legal practitioners. We called it “Connecting Caribbean and African Lawyers of New York” (CCALNY [Cal-Knee]) and rooted it in three pillars. Through the initiative, we seek to (1) strengthen the network of our legal community, (2) celebrate the culture of our regions and (3) spotlight active legal work in our regions.

Launching CCALNY: About the Project

The first pillar aims to build a stronger network of African and Caribbean legal practitioners. Our community is based in a culture that is both foreign and Black. Historically, America has not been receptive to the needs of people with those two characteristics. As such we face a double jeopardy of adversity when climbing career ladders as we neither check the box of being American nor being white. With a lack of overlap between our identity and our career, our network tends to feel weaker as fellowship is scarce and disjointed. To remedy this, we are hosting our inaugural event on Thursday April 6, 2023, to announce the launch of the initiative. The event will be vital in reversing the feeling of isolation by creating visibility as we bring together over 150 students and practitioners together.

The second pillar seeks to embrace and celebrate culture. Through CCALNY, we want to acknowledge the unique contributions that individuals from different countries and cultures bring to the profession. We want to dismantle the dichotomy in our dual identities and promote a space where we can show up as our full selves. This emphasis on culture and tradition will help our legal community build strong relationships and maintain traditions that are central to our identities.

The third pillar focuses on raising more awareness of the varying legal issues that Black-majority countries face. We will seek to build partnerships with lawyers, students, and organizations of various backgrounds to spotlight legal activities in African and Caribbean regions. The legal issues could range from the overrepresentation of Black migrants in deportation proceedings, to the successful development of technology innovations, to the consequential climate policy issues that impact our regions. There is a breadth of cutting-edge developments in African and Caribbean international law that many students would benefit being engaged with. Highlighting similar work affecting our home countries goes a long way in spreading knowledge, fostering mentors, and guiding careers.

Through CCALNY, I hope the legacy of our work carries on through community-building and research. Our mission is to create a sustainable space for African and Caribbean Black lawyers that will transcend our years at Columbia Law School. I am excited for CCALNY’s legacy and future events centered on the experiences of Black international students. I am also hopeful that the next generation of students grows inspired to carry on the dialogue and advance research on various social issues affecting the African and Caribbean communities.

Beyond CCALNY: About my Practice

Working on this initiative has instilled in me the confidence I needed to reclaim agency over my career and way of life. The most impactful feedback we got on the event was “I can’t believe you did this as a 1L. I am a partner at my firm and have never been in a legal space that felt so much like home.”

As Eben has consistently challenged us over the semester, we must think of ways to integrate our passions into the practice we want – not just in law school but in our general way of life. When I think of CCALNY, it transcends any job or law school goalpost. It is a passion project that I want to continue building on, whether as a for-profit organization or philanthropy. The reach of the event has opened so many opportunities. This summer, I am working on building a newsletter and a LinkedIn? group to promote sustainability. This will help me maintain contact with the 200+ individuals we have already met, continue to build my Rolodex, and identify new partners. Since the event, a few firms and organizations have also reached out to me offering to host a mixer in the fall. Other schools are also looking to Shelly and me for collaboration, including hosting similar events and helping kick-start their local chapters.

With more time and flexibility in the summer, I am looking forward to brainstorming ways to make this initiative as successful as possible. I can sense I have a unique opportunity to build something for my community and myself. I want to lean into this creative side to create something impactful and lasting.

"Impactful" is a perfectly legitimate word, according to the OED, which traces its use back to at least 1939. But it seems to old ears like mine bureaucratic and insincere. I think there are many good substitutes, if you care.

Another memorial to the way you have traveled in your first year. Every confidence I have expressed in you since we met you see is shown to be justified. You are learning what your powers are, which is he most important step that can be taken by extraordinary young people like the ones I live by teaching. You have begun to understand just how you will transcend limitations. I can be of some use to you at later stages, but for now what I had most in charge to convey you have safely and happily received.

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r4 - 21 May 2023 - 22:10:48 - EbenMoglen
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