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Vol. 1 June 2006

Making a Connection: A JD Student's Summer with an LLM Alumna


By Beth Kaplan

WCL strives to create a unique legal education which combines classroom lectures and real world experience. With this in mind, the Externship Office works to match JD students who are seeking an international legal experience with LLM alumni. When first-year law student Jamie Renner walked into the Externship Office last year looking for a summer position, he was looking for a legal internship usually defined by research and writing, and what he got was nothing short of an adventure.

Jamie sought international experience that combined his interests in human rights law, religion, philosophy and ideological conflicts. While researching in the Externship Office's database, he came across the contact information for Hauwa Ibrahim, a 2003-2004 Humphrey Fellow from Nigeria, who is an internationally renowned attorney, recognized for her dedication to promoting human rights and rule of law in Nigeria. Having only sent a short introductory email, explaining that he was searching for a summer externship, Jamie was surprised and pleased when Hauwa quickly replied, inviting him to work with her in Nigeria.

Hauwa's invitation provided Jamie with the chance to gain international legal experience and broaden his understanding of non-Western cultures. Hauwa wanted the chance to give an American student a "broad experience of Nigerian life...to educate him about the country, and sensitize him to other cultures."

Upon his arrival in Nigeria's capitol Abuja, Jamie quickly discovered it would not be the typical intern's desk job. Hauwa, whom Jamie describes as "full of life and open-minded," planned for him to become familiar with all levels of Nigerian society: the good and the bad. She arranged interviews for him with lawyers, judges and international professionals and included him in her meetings and trips throughout Nigeria in order to provide him with an understanding of the complex legal system and culture.

During Jamie's three-month stay Hauwa was appointed by the president to a tribunal investigating an alleged incident of extrajudicial killings by the police. With corruption embedded in an under-funded and demoralized police force, violent beatings and executions are not uncommon with public outcries choked off by fear. In this particular case however, riots flared up in the victims´┐Ż village sparked by the ethnic tensions between the villagers and the police.

Jamie was able to assist Hauwa in nearly every aspect of her work on the tribunal, from being present during the public hearings, to assisting with research and helping Hauwa draft a minority report. Hauwa wanted to provide Jamie with more than an understanding of the specifics of criminal prosecution in Nigeria. She wanted him to see the infiltration of corruption at every level of government and how it can severely damage not only an individual case, but the rule of law itself.

Another high point of Jamie's summer was the opportunity to return with Hauwa to her village, where he was able to meet her family and attend a special ceremony in honor of Hauwa's gift of a computer to the local school. The ceremony included the entire village, people from neighboring villages, the government media and the Finnish Ambassador to Nigeria. Jamie's mother, a teacher, also donated books to the local school, and he addressed the village on his and her behalf. A particularly moving experience for Jamie occurred after the ceremony when he was invited to meet with the imam and other men from the village. The imam informed Jamie his presence at this ceremony gave them hope for future relations between Muslims and the "Christian West."

Jamie returned from his time in Nigeria with a deeper understanding not only of the legal system of a different culture, but the struggle it takes to create a democracy. Even having witnessed the deeply rooted corruption which exists at all level of society, Jamie remains optimistic for Nigeria's future. He believes that as long as there are courageous individuals such as Hauwa, a woman who is "not afraid to die for her work and ideals," there will be positive reforms and progress in Nigeria.

WCL hopes that more JD students and international LLM students will connect and be able to share in the mutual benefits of the summer session's International Externship Program. If you are interested in having a student work with you, please contact Avis Sanders, Director of the Externship Program, so that you can be added to the program's database. She can be reached at asanders@wcl.american.edu or 202-274-4072.

Office of Development & Alumni Relations  -  4801 Massachusetts Avenue, NW  -  Suite 373  -  Washington, DC 20016-8181  -  202-274-4029