By Andrew Cohen
Samson Lim’s glittering resume seems to reflect a charmed life: Fulbright Scholar. Editor-in-Chief of the California Law Review. More than 30 local and national awards.
His personal reality, however, reveals a very different data set: Eleven surgeries. Six years in a wheelchair. Countless days of uncertainty.
In third grade, a sprained ankle led to a diagnosis of dystonia—a rare neurological movement disorder caused by a genetic mutation and triggered by limb trauma. Over the next few years, Lim’s ability to walk, stand, or simply move became increasingly difficult.
“I needed crutches by fifth grade and a wheelchair by sixth,” he says. “My father emphasized the importance of incremental goals, and urged me to make it a goal to walk at my high school graduation without the help of a wheelchair, crutches, or a cane.”
That seemed like an unlikely ambition until Lim went to UCSF Medical Center after his junior year of high school in Spokane, Washington. There, he underwent a nine-hour deep brain stimulation surgery, which placed electrodes in the movement-control part of his brain to help ensure that the correct signals are transmitted to his muscles.
The results were transformative. Lim still needed intense physical therapy sessions to relearn how to walk, and he now strides with a slight limp. But he made his father a prophet by walking across the stage at his high school graduation.
A new chapter
“Personally, the profound ways in which the surgery changed my life have fueled much of my determination to lead a life in service of others,” Lim says. “Professionally, I think I’ve become a better coworker, manager, and leader, because I’ve learned how to be more empathetic about others’ circumstances, optimistic in the face of obstacles, and patient when confronted with challenges.”
Last school year Lim co-chaired Berkeley Law’s Consumer Advocacy and Protection Society (submitting multiple public comments to federal agencies and advocating for student borrowers and other consumers) and co-led its Food Justice Project (providing direct pro bono services to students who had been denied CalFresh benefits).
He was also active in the Asian Pacific American Law Student Association, associate editor at CLR, and won two awards in his Written and Oral Advocacy class.
Lim’s impressive leadership skills were evident long before law school. From 2014 to 2018, he was national director of graduate and fellowship programs at The Posse Foundation in New York. Previously, he was the founding executive director for seven years at Scholarship Junkies, a Seattle-based nonprofit that connects scholarship candidates with recent recipients for application support.
After college, as a Fulbright Scholar, Lim conducted ethnographic research in Berlin to explore how students perceive access to higher education in Germany as a means for social mobility. He also earned a masters degree in education policy at Columbia, has held many board membership and mentoring roles, and even got a hug, autograph, and several photos with Oprah Winfrey at the 2006 Horatio Alger National Scholars Conference.
Leading through empathy
Lim came to the U.S. from Singapore when he was 6 weeks old. Inspired by his own journey to college as a low-income student, he also ran a nonprofit while an undergrad. The University of Washington Dream Project, which helped Seattle-area high school students pursue higher education, taught him “a deeper sense of empathy and inspired me to think critically about how to effect systemic change.”
That thought process guides his plan for steering the California Law Review, the law school’s flagship journal. His vision includes greater emphasis on CLR Online so the journal can publish more timely responses to current affairs—such as COVID-19 and the racial justice movement —and create more opportunities for scholars and practitioners to share their work.
“I’m inspired by our team’s resilient response to the impacts of coronavirus and by our collective determination to stand in solidarity with our Black classmates and colleagues,” Lim says. “In the year ahead, we’ll take a hard look at CLR’s own role in perpetuating anti-Blackness, and more than ever I’m determined to help CLR live up to its legacy as a vehicle for reform.”
Engaged to be married and poised to join Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton in New York as a litigator after graduating, Lim relishes the thought of his final year in law school.
“Being in a community where there’s a strong spirit of service is my favorite part of Berkeley Law,” Lim says. “That commitment is what drew me here in the first place.”