From large firms to nonprofits and government agencies to startups, Berkeley Law students took part in a dizzying array of enriching jobs this summer. Here is the last of our first-person accounts from students who engaged in compelling summer work.
Maïmouna Diarra ’23 has worked with localized grassroots and large global organizations in human rights, education, government accountability, global health, and migration. A Berkeley Law Human Rights Scholar, she won Pomona College’s Cordell Hull Prize in International Relations for her senior thesis that analyzed contemporary immigration patterns and policies between Senegal and Morocco. At Berkeley Law, Diarra is involved with the Law Students of African Descent (recruitment chair), California Law Review (associate editor), Berkeley Journal of International Law, and International Refugee Assistance Project.
Below, Diarra describes her summer work experience with Accountability Counsel:
1L year can be overwhelming, and by the end of my first semester I was already feeling inklings of burnout (likely spurred by the pandemic). After hours of Zoom classes, studying casebooks, and finals, I was ready— and dare I say, desperate — for a change in pace. Although I knew my summer experience would also likely consist of many virtual connections, I took to my job search with great excitement at the possibility of actually applying some of my newly learned legal skills to a field of my own interest.
I’ve always had a strong passion for human rights, specifically concerning issues that have touched my family, such as immigration, access to education, and global health — passions that helped guide my decision to attend law school. Although I had gained interest in a variety of different legal fields in just my first semester, when looking for a 1L summer position I prioritized my interest in human rights for two reasons.
First and foremost, after one semester of robust (but not always the most inspiring) 1L curriculum, I really needed a reminder of why I was in law school; a reminder of my passion for preserving human dignity and advocating on behalf of those who may not be able to do so for themselves. With large swaths of populations worldwide experiencing racial reckonings, unequal access to healthcare, and extreme xenophobia, I felt that, due to my privileged position of being a law student, any legal support I could give should go directly to some of the most disenfranchised among us.
Secondly, a 1L internship in the human rights field would be my first opportunity to approach human rights issues from a purely legal perspective (I had done policy and grassroots advocacy work surrounding such issues). With these two broad goals in mind, I gratefully came across Accountability Counsel (AC).
AC focuses on legal and policy advocacy on behalf of communities who have been harmed by internationally financed projects, defending their rights and remedying harm caused by these projects. AC uses its legal expertise to support locally led strategies for human rights and environmental justice, and shares knowledge with local and regional human rights organizations.
I was particularly drawn to AC’s strong aversion to a neocolonial model of assisting developing nations and their communities. Instead of having a “western-savior” complex, AC prioritizes centering, consolidating, and amplifying local community power in order to challenge big government, international institutions, and corporations’ actions that have yielded grave harms to surrounding communities.
While at AC I supported the community’s team — made up of five human rights lawyers. Partly due to its intimate size, I had the amazing opportunity to work directly on various projects, and to receive consistent feedback from individual attorneys.
Be it writing research memos on types of Ugandan land titles and World Bank project categorization requirements, analyzing and disseminating survey results from communities, assessing the strength of arguments in live complaints, or investment chain mapping, the projects I worked on continually developed my legal writing capabilities.
One of my most interesting and rewarding tasks was attending numerous client calls with communities and their representatives from all over the world. From Uganda to Mongolia, hearing the voices and determination of international advocates was so inspiring, and having the ability to work side by side with them on cases was such an honor and privilege.
Ultimately, working with AC gave me everything I needed from my 1L summer experience. It reinforced my passion for advocacy on behalf of historically wronged communities, reinvigorated my drive and excitement for when law school would commence, and taught me so much about international legal ecosystems.
It was exciting to use some of the skills and substantive law I had learned in International Law, Civil Procedure, and Written and Oral Advocacy to support AC this summer. My 1L summer experience was refreshing, enlightening, and challenging, and I hope to take the lessons and advice I learned from the AC lawyers as I continue my own journey with the law.